OM blog

Time to End Pay Secrecy?

A recent Ted Talk by Management Researcher David Burkus looked at the question of pay transparency. This is a hot topic and it was a fascinating talk. Here’s a summary.

How much do you get paid?  Or the person next to you at work? These tend to be uncomfortable questions and, whilst we all ask them, we rarely get the answer. Pay is usually subject to secrecy. The assumed reason is that if everybody knew what everybody got paid there’d be arguments, even a few people who’d leave their job.  

Pay secrecy is also a way for employers to save money.  During the hiring or promotion process, or at annual pay reviews, pay secrecy gives employers the negotiating edge. As Burkus said: “Imagine how much better you could negotiate for a raise if you knew everybody’s salary”.

But this secrecy leads to dissatisfaction. When employees don’t know how their pay compares to their peers’ – and most don’t – they’re more likely to feel underpaid. In the US, in 2015, a survey of 70,000 employees found that two-thirds of people paid at the market rate felt they were underpaid, and 60 percent of that group said they intended to quit.

Pay secrecy also adds to discrimination and to feelings of discrimination. In 2011, a US report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that the gender wage gap between men and women was 23 percent.  This compared with Government departments where the gender wage gap was 11 percent because they’re pinned to certain levels which everybody knows.

Burkus points out:

 “If we really want to close the gender wage gap, maybe we should start by opening up the payroll… Letting people know what you make might feel uncomfortable, but isn’t it less uncomfortable than always wondering if you’re being discriminated against, or if your wife or your daughter or your sister is being paid unfairly?” 

So, what would happen if we removed the secrecy and provided pay transparency instead? Some companies already do, from technology start-ups like Buffer, to WholeFoods with their tens of thousands of employees.  Some post individual salaries, some post pay levels, some keep the information inside the company, others go public. There are many different approaches.

The results are clear. Studies have repeatedly found that when people know how they’re being paid, and how that pay compares to their peers’, they’re more likely to work hard to improve their performance. They are more likely to be engaged, and they’re less likely to leave.

Pay transparency makes for a better workplace for both employees and the organisation. Burkus believes the time has come for pay transparency and urges organisations to deliver. He concludes:  “How much do you get paid? And how does that compare to the people you work with? You should know. And so should they.”

(Here’s a link to the full Ted talk: )

2021 – Staying out of overwhelm by Getting Things Done!

Highlights from Getting Things Done, a great book on time management by David Allen:

Like any busy person multi tasking between work, family and trying to do some exercise, my time management can leave a lot to be desired. I read this book ages ago and have just revisited it – still as great as before and like any form of training, it’s all about the implementation (stupid!)

GTD theory is based on the fact that our brain is great at thinking but terrible at remembering things especially when we’re constantly being interrupted by zoom calls with colleagues/urgent emails/changing deadlines, etc. So on the basis that trying to remember everything is distracting and feels impossible, how can we organise our lives so that we remember to write that report, fix the the one to one with your boss, organise the half term activity, get a date to go for a socially distanced walk with your best mate and research that holiday of a lifetime (when we’re allowed to leave the country!)

The Getting Things Done process is done in five stages: 

  1. Capture everything – get it all down either on paper or digitally, whatever though flies though your head at any time.
  2. Clarify what each item is and what to do about it – can it be done quickly, does it need several stages/research or other people’s input?
  3. Organise the outcomes into a structure of lists
  4. Reflect on what’s important to you and review the items on your list
  5. Engage your tasks. Pick which action you want to take at any one time and do it.

To start the process, you need to organise your workplace. This involves creating your ‘cockpit of control’! This is  where you feel comfortable and in command of your day – and currently at home amongst the clutter of your domestic life!

A bare minimum would be to have a space to write and depending on how last-century you are (maybe now called ‘retro’) an in-tray, spare paper, post-its, stapler, calendar, pens, etc. Today most of this can be found somewhere in the cloud, which is even harder to lose things in!!  It’s key to go through it all regularly as what was critical 6m ago, may not be so important now!

  1. Capture phase: as anything comes into your brain, get it down. This should be anything and everything – birthday presents, great ideas, researching a new kitchen, a light bulb moment in your business plan, etc. This means that if you suddenly think of something in the middle of doing something else, you have a way of writing it down/logging it so you know you won’t forget. Have as few collection tools as possible but as many as necessary. Keep them close!
  2. Clarify – empty all your external tools weekly, this system only works if you do this regularly otherwise it’ll turn into a never ending long list. We do this by clarifying what each item is and then organising it:
    1. Clarify each item – look at each one and ask – what is it – is it actionable? This basically means:
      1. It’s no longer needed so get rid of it
      2. It’s not needed right now, but you may need it later (eg – an invitation you’re not sure you can confirm)
      3. It’s info you may need later like the budget for a project you’re planning to undertake.
    2. If the item is actionable then you need to work out what is the desired end result: if it’s pretty concrete – make a call, buy something then that’s one thing but if it’s to do research on something or plan an event, that’s a whole different ball game. But rule of thumb is:  
      1. If it takes less than two mins to complete – do it
      2. If it takes longer than two minutes then are you really the right person to do it – if not  then   can you delegate it?
      3. If you are the right person, then defer it to another time.
  3. Organise – this is where you decide exactly how and when you’re going to do the tasks and involves emptying your capture tools and putting them in the right place. Most traditonal ways are too disparate and it’s not clear what your next steps need to be.
    1. Items with no value are dumped, quick things are done but if it’s actionable but needs more steps then it’s a project and goes into the project list. If it’s one action but someone else needs to do something then it’s a ‘waiting’ list or if you need to do it – then put it in your calendar to do at a certain time.
    2. All your to do actions end up in the same place and then you can divide – things that need access to your PC or can be done away from the screen. Long term plans can also be added.
    3. Reference material can also be stored – take away menu, reports/research you’ll need, etc.
  4. Projects list – these are for steps with several moves, or a long term goal with more than one actions. Eg – planning a party or a holiday (remember those?!) Each project needs a clear and concrete next action, this is a key habit and will keep things moving. If it’s vague then it won’t be done – this needs to be stored in the right place. This should also be a standard practice at meetings – work out who needs to do what to take things forward.
  5. Natural planning clarifies goals/projects. Planning can be daunting – what if you don’t have a concrete goal? Natural planning is supposed to mirror what you do in every day life. Planning supper – recipe, shopping, when/where, etc or a meal out – what where when who? You do this naturally at home so copy it – why are you taking a project, purpose? What’s the reason for writing a business plan – the key is to discover the principle.
    1. Envision outcome – what will the project look like?
    2. Brainstorm ideas to help – don’t judge them just capture all of them – go for quantity not quality.
    3. Organise ideas – id most significant ones,
    4. Define next visible physical action that must be done and who should do it – then create next actions based on this. This gets things off the drawing board and into reality.
  6. Instead of a daily to do list, maintain a calendar and next action list. Such lists tend to fail as you don’t always know what you’ll be able to accomplish on a daily basis.
    1. Calendar – only to fix appointments, time specific actions, day specific actions, day specific info – which files do you need, etc. Don’t clog up with anything else. All other tasks should be put on next action lists. This is what you put on more than 2 mins. Sort tasks by context. This list will enable you to do tasks at any time.
    2. ‘Waiting for’ lists – v helpful wen you work with other people. If you review or update this then you’ll know v quickly who hasn’t done what – then you can do a next acion – remind someone to do it/swing by their office, etc.
  7. All ideas with possible future relevance should go into a tickler file – some day/maybe list. These things still buzz  round your head so do need to be addressed – these could be home renovations, learn to do something, organise a road trip, etc. These can be split into sub categories.
  8. Tickler file – v precise and logical system, 31 for days and 12 for months. This is quite technical and detailed. In each folder you can put items relevant for that day/month, but be sure to transfer them over to the right month/day. You must use this and update it every day. Lists are great but you have to address them¬
  9. Reflect – constantly reviewing your system is key – it must work for you. The goal of this is to feel relaxed and in control. But for this to happen it’s essential that your productivity system is up to date and you trust the system.
    1. Every day check your calendar if you’re in meetings then you won’t be able to do a lot of other


  • Check your next action list to see what you could do that day
    • Weekly review – tie up any loose-ends from the previous week, capturing any item not done and reviewing your next actions. How’s the waiting for list, how’s the project list, look at the someday/maybe list – anything you want to get moving or delete. This should take a few hours but it depends – build a solid habit of conducting it each week.
  • Engage – choose what to do depending on what’s going on. This is where things actually get done. There are 4 criteria:
    • What can you do in the current context
    • What do you have time for – eg – if you’ve only got 10 mins then don’t start something big
    • What do you have energy for?
    • Which task has the highest priority?
    • Keep your lists with you all the time so you’re ready
  • Understand your own priorities via the bottom up method – think of horizons:
    • Ground – current actions,
    • Horizon 1 – current projects
    • Horizon 2 – focus and accountabilities – what is expected of you, they steer the way you operate
    • Horizon 3 – 1-2 year goals, these goals influence areas of focus
    • Horizon 4 – long term visions, 3-5 year time frame, where do you want to be.
    • Horizon 5 – your life purpose, this is the ultimate big picture perspective. All the previous items are influenced by this and all of them should lead here. 

The key message of the GTD system is that it enables you to tackle a wide range of tasks in a calm way, staying out of overwhelm especially when our lives have been turned upside down by a global pandemic!

1. capture thoughts to free up your mind

2. clarify what each item is

3. organise outcomes into lists

4. reflect on what’s important to ensure you stick to the system

5. engage with your tasks and begin to tick them off!

Interesting TED Business talk – the importance of finding a sponsor within the workplace, someone who can be your advocate and speak up for you, which is especially important in lockdown when we’re working from home and have no visibility at all.Carla Harris, vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, explains the crucial importance of identifying a person who will speak on your behalf in the top-level, closed-door meetings you’re not invited to (yet).Have a listen and
In July 2019, Orange Malone sponsored a Diversity and Inclusion Roudtable discussion, hosted by The Actuary Magazine and Chaired by Chika Aghadiuno, who heads the Diversity Advisory Group for the Institute of Actuaries. Together with internal HR, hiring managers and external agency recruiters we discussed the importance of ensuring the whole chain of influence was up to speed and on board with each companies goals for diversity and inclusion. Getting each stage right is the

Office Romances: Swipe up for HR?

Posted by Sophie Peterson on  October 22, 2020
Category: The Office Life
With the news a few months ago that the head of McDonalds has been sacked for having a relationship with an employee, I thought it would be a good time to re-release this article!! There was an interesting edition of The Bottom Line on Radio 4 recently on ‘Managing Workplace Relationships’. It discussed the complexities of handling romance and dealing with inappropriate behaviour in the workplace which can cause a real headache for both HR
Just read a very interesting article about class inequality which is sometimes seen as the ignored part of the ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ agenda.Kenan Malik, in Sunday’s Observer, explores the rise in identity politics which has changed the way we think about social problems and social solidarity from being framed by politics and class to being rooted in culture and ethnicity.He feels we need to stop thinking about colour and look upon class as the key

2020 – The Race for Talent

Posted by Sophie Peterson on  May 13, 2020
Category: Uncategorized
Hi there, in the next installment of my (very) occasional series of articles, this is the first part of a ‘Recruiting Skills’ series focusing on writing great job posts. I think it’s fair to say that in my niche – actuarial/risk/investment – great talent is not easily found so any new ideas may help all of us! The goal of a job post is to sell not only the position, but also the organisation and

Zoom – Don’t Interrupt!

Interesting article by Nancy Kline about not interrupting! All the zoom meetings in our lives has meant that the usual visual clues about wanting to speak or noticing someone else wants to speak have gone! So at the end of the meeting you either feel you’ve done too much talking or been the frustrated bystander unable to get their point across!
More important (in these times) was her point about polarisation which she said wasn’t a result of disagreement but a result of disconnection: ‘I think polarisation starts with, and is fed by, interruption. The minute one of us in stark disagreement interrupts the other, the brain registers the interruption as a pysical assault.’ (We all remember the first debate between Trump and Biden….)
Let me know what you think (and it might even work when you speak to your partner…….!)
From the book: The Promise That Changes Everything: I Won’t Interrupt You by Nancy Kline

Sophie Peterson