Should Doctors Tell Each Other How Much They Earn?

Shelly Reese

Disclosures

May 15, 2018

In This Article

Talking About Salary Can Motivate or Demoralize

Pay transparency—being open about what each person is earning—is getting a lot of attention these days as a way to identify and address pay inequities, particularly those that might stem from bias against women, minorities, or other groups.

What transparency means varies from one workplace to the next. At the extreme, a few organizations, such as the social media company Buffer, are going so far as to post their salary formulas on the Web for all the world to see.[1] For most, transparency is far more subtle. It may involve sharing the employer's compensation formula with workers, eliminating language in contracts that bar employees from discussing their compensation, or turning a deaf ear to employees' informal watercooler conversations about pay.

But in the Byzantine world of physician compensation where pay—even within the same specialty and the same organization—can vary, such conversations are fraught with potential problems.

"I think pay transparency is definitely a double-edged sword; it can motivate or demoralize," says Dr Roberta Gebhard, president-elect of the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA) and chair of AMWA's Gender Equity Task Force.

A Double-Edged Sword

Many people of all professions are averse to discussing their salaries. Some say it's no one's business. Others, who may be high earners, don't want resentment from coworkers or don't want to be accused of favoritism—even if the pay is completely based on performance. And some managers or supervisors say that people whose salary is less than that of others on the basis of their performance simply don't believe that their performance is not as outstanding as someone else's.

Should doctors breach an age-old social taboo and start talking to each other about compensation? The answer is complex.

The idea behind pay transparency is simple: By providing individuals with the information they need to benchmark their compensation against that of their peers, transparency will enable people to determine their value in the marketplace and promote equity.

Although the idea may sound straightforward, the execution can be anything but. What's more, for every argument touting the benefits of transparency, including linking it to better employee collaboration and improved employee performance, there's another body of research showing its dark side, including increased employee dissatisfaction, turnover, and a decline in productivity when employees feel they have been treated unfairly.

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