Buffer’s pay transparency has great effects on internal culture

In November 2013, following several months of internal salary transparency, social media management organisation Buffer took its pay information public, and has since become a prime example of the benefits of open communication about compensation.

In the years since, the organisation has grown from a mere 12 staff to have 80 employees, based in various cities across several continents. It continues to share its pay data, which can be viewed on a spreadsheet available on its website.

Buffer chooses to publicise specific pay information for each employee. It also publishes a salary formula, which takes into account various factors, including role, location, experience and loyalty.

Hailley Griffis, public relations manager, says: “When you have really firm reasons why someone is being paid something, it makes people more comfortable. We put that salary formula in place even before things went transparent, and that’s a key reason why we had such positive reactions, and why we continue to have such positive reactions from [employees].”

The employee pay spreadsheet simply needs an overall update twice a year during the organisation’s promotion window, with additional information added when new employees are hired, but a great deal of work goes into overhauling the formula, which takes place once every two years.

“One of the reasons the salary formula is so much work is that any changes that get made are about how the salaries are going to be grandfathered, and how many are going to go up,” says Griffis. “It’s a big change to someone’s livelihood. It’s a big decision to make and there’s a lot of financial maths that goes into it.”

As well as citing the salary formula as a key element of the strategy’s success, allowing for constructive discussion and easy understanding of differences in pay, Griffis urges other employers to note that, while Buffer has taken an all-encompassing approach, that is not the only option.

“Putting it all out there on a spreadsheet is not necessarily the right way for everyone. Sometimes, [organisations] are transparent internally just in terms of what the role range is. There are different levels of transparency that [organisations] can start opting into, they don’t have to look at us and think that’s the only way to do it.”

Initially, Buffer aimed to use pay transparency to build on its already established atmosphere of openness and communication, tackle issues such as the gender pay gap, and provide an example to other up-and-coming organisations that might be struggling with pay strategy.

However, it has also had other, unexpected positive results. “We got [around] 2,000 applications after our salaries went live,” says Griffis. “One of the things we heard from a lot of people was that they loved our transparency. It didn’t feel good to work at an office where you’re always wondering if you’re being paid fairly.”

In addition, transparency changed the internal atmosphere of the organisation, notes Griffis. “Our culture around finances is very different. The conversations around finance just became so much more open and helpful.”

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