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Under what circumstances should raises given to employees be announced publicly or communicated in private? There seem to be two conflicting schools of thought:

  1. Give them in private in order to not demotivate those employees who did not get a raise.
  2. Announce them publicly so that other employees can see what kind of performance and behavior is rewarded.

By "publicly" I mean giving the raise in a way that every team member knows about it. It does not have to be a big celebration. I'm thinking more about sharing a few, brief words in a meeting announcing the raise and explaining the reasons behind it.

Salaries can be assumed to be private information and the amount of the raise does not have to be public information either.

What are the pros and cons for each approach? Are there specific situations in which one is clearly better than the other?

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    This is attracting a fair number of downvotes. I think the question and title can be phrased better but it seems like a useful and on-topic question for the site. @Downvoters: can this question be improved or are you (incorrectly) downvoting to indicate disagreement? – Lilienthal Sep 14 '15 at 15:30
  • I can only encourage everyone to give me hints on how to improve the question. This is my first question on the site. To me it seems less subjective than many highly voted question in the past. I checked them out to make sure I was on topic. – boot4life Sep 14 '15 at 15:37
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    @boot4life Your question should be on-topic and it's a fine first question. I've taken the liberty of editing it to correct some of the language and make the title flow better. I encourage you to edit it again if you think I went to far. Note that I removed the line "The employee receiving the raise might even be disallowed from telling anyone." as it almost certainly falls afoul of employment laws in various countries such as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in the US. – Lilienthal Sep 14 '15 at 17:46
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Sep 15 '15 at 12:01
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Salaries are private information. While there are arguments to be made for disclosing them (pay transparency is a big one), in Western workplace cultures it's up to the employee to disclose his salary if he so chooses1 and up to the employer to not spread the information around. Employees in those culture have the reasonable expectation that their employer will not publish their salary info without consent. The employer-employee is a business transaction like any other and the salary they negotiate is of no concern to a third party.

With that in mind, is it a good idea to announce raises publicly? No, it's not. The only perceived benefit I can see would be recognising high performers and incentivising others to similarly perform at a high level. This can be accomplished perfectly during regular performance evaluations or other one-on-one meetings between employee and manager. Meanwhile, the possible downsides or averse reactions vastly outweigh any benefit they might have, from upsetting people who didn't get a raise to animosity between coworkers when someone receives a higher raise. Even worse, people generally have a very incomplete picture of how coworkers spend their time and how well they are really performing. Because of that, instead of having the intended effect, it's vastly more likely that disclosing raises would result in one of the following:

I worked so much overtime on my project while Jim just puts in his 9-to-5 and yet he got a much larger raise. Clearly performance isn't being rewarded here.

The only way to combat this would be to provide arguments for every raise and that is even more likely to cause problems. If you want to acknowledge or publicly recognize people for putting in amazing work, do so in a status meeting, a work event or a project debriefing. It's likely to have a much more positive effect.

To summarise: disclosing raises is a potential minefield for workplace morale with little to no benefit.

Note that companies that have made salary information public are an exception here. But even there it's better to acknowledge people directly and not tie it to raises as it's unlikely that people will link the two as you might want them to.


1 In fact, that right is usually protected.

  • +1, but there is also no reason for a public performance review. It has the very same drawbacks with the very same lack of advantages, compared to talking directly and in private with under-performers. – John Hammond Sep 14 '15 at 15:49
  • @LarsFriedrich I don't think I suggested doing a public performance review Lars. Those are indeed a great deal worse than publishing raises. Performance, whether good or bad, should always be a matter for discussion between an employee and their manager. People who went above and beyond the line of duty can be publicly commended but that should also be done tactfully. That's something to explore in a different question though. – Lilienthal Sep 14 '15 at 17:38
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I don't think it's ever appropriate to make salary details public (even the fact they received a raise even if you don't mention how much) as this is the private information of the employee.

However a company I used to work for had a sort of a bonus scheme they called the "Pat On The Back" for performing really well, going above & beyond, etc.

Silly naming notwithstanding, it sort of did the job that you are trying to do, where it was publicly announced that an employee received the bonus and they were congratulated for being great either in a meeting or by group email as part of general announcements. I believe it was a fixed amount so everyone knew what they were getting but it didn't reveal anything about their actual salary.

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Let me answer the question with a provocative counter question:

Why should two people who do the same job get a different salary?

Let's say Joe can craft 300 Gorgels in 6 hours. Bob can craft 200 Gorgels in 6 hours. Both do their very best though. Now Joe decides to work 4 hours and chill 2 hours. Should Joe be paid for 6 hours, because he gets as much finished as Bob or should Joe be paid 4 hours only, because he only works at 66%?

And finally - who do you praise? Joe, for getting in 4 hours the job done or Bob for working at 100%?

There is no satisfying solution that involves a public performance review. When you praise Joe, Bob will be unsatisfied because even 100% is not enough for you. When you praise Bob, Joe will be unsatisfied because his output is higher than Bob.

The solution to the problem is to praise Bob in private for his dedication and to find ways together to improve his output; and to praise Joe in private for his superior output and to find ways together to improve his dedication.

And all this already starts from the premise that you are actually able to properly and accurately judge the overall performance of Joe and Bob. Now imagine you don't know that Joe spends 2 hours slacking off, nobody told you. And then you start praising his dedication for the company in front of everyone.

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