Sunday, April 20, 2008

Want to Know What Everyone in Your Company is Making?

Earlier this week I received via e-mail an Excel file that I needed for a project that I am working on. When I opened the Excel, I noticed that it contained many more tabs than I was expecting, and one of those tabs listed the salaries of EVERYONE in my company, including every executive and the CEO.

Could you resist taking a look? I couldn't. Here is what I found out: I am the lowest paid executive in the company, which is not surprising given that this is my first executive position. What surprised me was the fact that the difference between my pay and that of the highest paid executives (other than the CEO) was fairly small - about 25%. Interesting.

I also found out that some of the engineers in the company make about the same salary that I make. Once again, this does not surprise or dismay me. Some of these guys are very, very experienced and fill positions that are in extremely high demand. The only discovery that really surprised me was that a particular individual - who the CEO last week proposed to add to my team - is making more than me. If he does end up on my team, and I would officially be told his compensation package, I wonder how the CEO is going to explain the fact that one of my team members is more highly paid than me.

The real benefit of getting this information is the fact that per my employment conditions my salary will be reviewed in 5 months from now. I now know exactly what compensation I should be negotiating for. If you are about to ask for a raise or enter into salary negotiations, and do not gain such serendipitous access to internal documents, check out this post about how to find out what your market value is.

Do you think I crossed an ethical line by looking at the document?

10 comments:

Traciatim said...

It's only unethical if you bypassed security to get to it. For instance if they have it in a password protected area but if you access it from the another employees computer it auto-fills the password for you and you sneak a peek.

If it was sent to you, or you have clean access to the file I think it's perfectly acceptable to read the information.

ryan said...

unethical? it was a clean score.

remember your childhood response. "sucks for them"

traineeinvestor said...

In some areas ethics are a matter of perception. It is not your fault that someone sent you the document. Unless it was obvious that it was not intended for you, you have done nothing wrong by "opening the mail" so to speak.

That said, even if the company cannot complain that you have received it, they may not be too happy if they become aware that you are using information that you were not supposed to have to negotiate a better salary for yourself.

Depending on the situation in your company, you should either (i) make certain that the powers that be never become aware of the fact that you have received and read that information or (ii) point out to the person that sent the e-mail that the information should not have been sent to you in a manner that makes you look like the good corporate citizen (preferably without being viewed as a snitch).

In my firm, I'd go with option (ii)every time - but I have the confidence of knowing the people likely to be involved in such a situation.

Shadox said...

Thanks for the feedback. No, I got the file fair and square. It was not password protected, and was sent to me for use on a project that I am working (preparing our CEO for our upcoming round of financing). I needed access to the high-level financial data, but was not expecting to get access to all the salary data - to be honest, I don't think that our CFO meant to sent me that data, but I did not ask a clarifying question... I guess that some questions are better left unanswered.

I have no intention of tipping my hand and referring to that document directly or indirectly in my salary negotiations. I just intend to set my negotiations target accordingly.

enoughwealth@yahoo.com said...

The ethics would also depend if there is a general company policy against sharing salary information. Sometimes there's a blanket policy not to share any remuneration information with other employees. If that was the case then once you had realised that you had access to information that you're not supposed to know, you shouldn't have read it. Continuing to work for a company is tacit agreement to adhere to any general employment policies that are in place.

Also, just by being someone else's confidential information makes it a bit like reading your teenage daughter's private diary - just because you'd really, really like to know what's in it, and it was left unlocked on the bed, doesn't mean it's OK to read it...

However, even if you knew what you did was 'wrong', this is very small beer on the "unethical behaviour" scale. And one can always argue that a big company already has the upper hand in most salary negotiations with individual staff, so seeking to gain a further advantage by enforcing information assymetry is unethical corporate behaviour. Do two wrongs then make a right?

CollegeSavings.About.Com - Ken Clark, CFP said...

what would you tell your own child to do someday?

Ted said...

I think the world would be a lot better if everyone knew what everyone made. The only people that benefit from the ongoing status quo of taboo are those that don't rightly earn what they make.

frugal zeitgeist said...

Wow. I honestly don't know what I would have done in that situation. I went through a lot of angst before asking for a huge raise last year, which I immediately got in full, since I'd obviously cottoned on to the fact that I was being underpaid.

Yeah, I probably would have looked too.

basicfinancial said...

While the ethical question is not that bad, even if it was unethical, are you afraid that someone in your company would read this entry. While I'm sure you take the anonimity of the internet to an advantage, do you ever post or frequently check your blog while on the compnay network or vpn? Do you think someone in the IT department might be one of your subscribers if they store surfing information?

Shadox said...

Basicfinancial - you have a good point there. I don't post or manage my blog at work, god knows I am waaaay to darn budy, but I do forward my blog e-mail traffic to my work account. Oh well.