Thursday, 1 July 2010

Ten explosive myths of pay and value

The Radio 4 programme The Moral Maze is never reluctant to address some of the big issues affecting society, and last night’s edition was no exception.

Taking as a starting point the issue of how it can be that football players earning such astronomical salaries can perform in such an abject manner when representing their country, the programme went on to consider whether there can ever be any justification for the extreme disparities in pay rates between the lucky few at the top and the unfortunate many at the bottom of many organisations.

I’m not sure if many HR professionals specialising in reward will ever question if it’s part of their remit to make a link between virtuous effort and just reward and if so, how, but these were some of the issues covered in the programme.

One of the major contributors to last night’s The Moral Maze was a spokesman from the new economics foundation. The foundation is “an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being”

New economics foundation website

Of particular interest for any of us with an interest in answering the question of the extent to which the amount an employee is paid actually confers any degree of “worth,” I defy you to glance at the findings of the new economic foundation’s “A Bit Rich: Calculating the real value to society of different professions” and not be either inspired or enraged (or possibly both!) The report sets out to shatter some myths about pay and value. Chief among them is to show that there is not a straightforward relationship between high financial rewards and good societal outcomes.

New economics foundation: A Bit Rich

How about these explosive statements to get the intellectual juices flowing?

  • Myth 1: The City of London is essential for the UK economy
  • Myth 2: Low paid jobs create a ladder for people to work their way up – opportunities to advance are open to all
  • Myth 3: Pay differentials don’t matter, so long as we eradicate poverty
  • Myth 4: We need to pay high salaries to attract and retain talent in the UK
  • Myth 5: Workers in highly paid jobs work harder
  • Myth 6: The private sector is more efficient than the public sector
  • Myth 7: If we tax the rich, they will take their money and run
  • Myth 8: The rich contribute more to society
  • Myth 9: Some jobs are more satisfying, so they require less pay
  • Myth 10: Pay always rewards underlying profitability

Let’s have some comments!

Because you’re worth it!


  1. Myth 5: Oh now that’s tricky - what constitutes working hard? If arriving early and/or leaving late plus taking home the laptop with a bulging bag of work (whether it gets opened or sits in the hallway until tomorrow) = working hard, then they do. If spending all day in meeting after meeting or on the road travelling between meetings = working hard, then they do. If it’s about carrying the can when things go wrong (other than the few who appear to have Teflon-coated shoulders) = working hard, then they do. If bottom line profitability or provision of front line service to the all important customer = working hard, then ?????

    Myth 9 intrigues me: It has long been argued hasn’t it that a vocational role has part of its reward in satisfaction, a fact seemingly abused by pay reward bodies who rely on the fact that those driven to do their jobs are less likely to strike or generally kick up a stink in order to get more pennies.

    But turn it round – if you are on the receiving end of a service then the more satisfied you are the more you are willing to pay (and if the price is low you are more likely to give a bonus).

    So if we are willing to reward being satisfied, why not reward appropriately those who satisfy us (even if in providing that service they too receive a degree of satisfaction)!

    And yes, I’m definitely worth it (well in my mind anyway)!


  2. I thought the programme was interesting though a little fruitless - perhaps I will read the report now.

    I recognise organisations pay handsomely for scarce skills and experience and the market is hard to kick.

    It's important to understand the market reflects what people are prepared to pay (in fees or taxes) for access to those skills - watching footballers or using the services of teachers, nurses.

    I liked Michael Portillo's comment the difference between footballers and bankers was that one group was benefitting from the scarcity of their skills and the other had "rigged the market". How widely does that apply I wonder?

  3. Vince: Thanks a bunch for your comment. To be honest, I was expecting a bit more from the programme than it actually delivered, but it was worth following up on some of the ideas being raised (hence the new economics foundation reference above)

    Also, seems to me that Micael Portillo speaks more sense out of politics than he does within it! I was particularly impressed with his comment about fairness being the big political talking point of the next decade. If only!

  4. Michael Portillo is sounding increasingly sensible as he moves further away from party debate.

    This might reveal something about how I am changing over the years (increasingly annoyed by politicians and commentators - more conservative?)

    I am hoping it says more about how both those in power and the media alike treat the reporting of serious and complex issues - through soundbites and over-simplifications. The worrying thing is this is just about what people want to deal with.

    In contrast, Mr Portillo makes thoughtful and balanced statements (now he doesnt have to get anyone to vote for him).

  5. Vince: totally agree with your comment on the regrettable increase in "soundbites and over-simplifications." That was one of the reasons why I was very much taken by the edition of Moral Maze, as it explored the issue of pay and worth in a level of detail that is rare these days.