Bee searching for nectar. Image: CC, Paul van de Velde

Imagine you’re writing a job ad for a new office administrator. You make sure to include required skills, health benefit info, a bit about the organization and a deadline, but you have offices in four cities and you fail to say which this person would be working from. “But Lyndal, that’s ridiculous – it would never happen,” you say. But this is exactly what we do, all the time, with pay.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a capitalist economy and that means people work for money. Even if they also work to build their skills, feel good about their impact or to catch a break from their family, they’re also expecting a pay check so they can do other fun stuff like eat and pay rent. We managers know that, we are doing it ourselves. And yet, we feel entitled to mess with people’s lives every time we have a new job opening? I call bullshit. Let’s do the math.

TheĀ average corporate job opening in a city will receive about 250 applications. Say half of those applicants took 10 minutes to research, personalize and click through your awkward application form; a further 30 per cent took 25 minutes and the balance just submitted their standard “to whom it may concern,” which took 3 minutes each. That’s 54 hours collectively spent by your applicants before you even get to the review stage. And they don’t know what you’ll pay them.

Say, your budget for this position caps at $45,000 but you didn’t say as much. What if 10 per cent of your applicant pool wouldn’t accept a position for that rate? What if those same people are the applicants you decide to move forward to the next round? Now you’re also wasting your own time.

So you’ve reviewed applications (three hours of work) and you want to move forward with 10 for phone interviews. Each one takes 15 minutes to set up at your end, 15 minutes to complete plus an hour for the applicant to research and prepare. That’s 15 more hours. Smart applicants will ask about pay in the phone interview and self-select out. Many will not, because you have all the power here. Will you volunteer the information?

Wait, it gets worse. There are three people you want to bring in for an interview. Each spends a further two hours researching and pre-empting questions you might ask, takes an afternoon or entire day of PTO and shuffles their calendar, suits up and spends at least an hour traveling to your office and back for the one-hour meeting. You and three other staff members conduct the interviews. 24 hours.

I’m going to pause here for a moment and admit that yes, talking about money is awkward. Our predominant cultures celebrate success and the spoils of work but when it comes down to brass tacks, we are total weirdos about money, especially pay. We don’t discuss pay or pay inequity in our workplaces, we rarely think about the criminally low minimum wage – hell, even some families don’t talk about where the money comes from and what that means!

But you know what else is awkward? Performance reviews. Staff meetings. The politics of the office fridge. And Jane in accounting’s collection of vanilla, yet somehow still kinky, masquerade masks. Some things in the workplace can be weird and put us on edge, but we work through it. We owe it to ourselves to be open about pay.

So your interviews are done and your team huddles for 15 minutes (collectively +1 hour) to choose their favorite applicant. There was a clear standout – Lauren – so you ask for references. Lauren spends 15 minutes telling her references that you’ll be calling, and five minutes excitedly car dancing on her commute home from her current job. Each of three reference checks costs you and them 20 minutes (+2 hours.) They all come up trumps. You prepare to make the offer call.

You reach Lauren on the third ring, she answers brightly, with office hubbub in the background. While you exchange pleasantries, you hear her walk out of her office to a private space. She seems excited and happy to hear from you. You tell her that you were impressed with her background and at the interview, and you’d like to offer her the job. “That’s great!” she says. You go on, detailing the timeline and benefits, and then you say what your pay offer is. Lauren says “OK” slower than normal, then asks if there is any wiggle room on the pay. You say you can probably do another $4-5000 a year because she’s such a good candidate, and you reiterate the benefits. She says she’ll think about it, but all the excitement has gone from her voice.

Later, you receive the inevitable email: The maximum you can pay her is still $5000 a year under what she gets at her current job. She thanks you for the opportunity and wishes you the best. You get it – it’s an expensive city and everyone has bills to pay – but your other candidates just don’t seem that great, and several weeks have gone by since the application deadline so you’re afraid you might have to start again.

You do the math:

  • Your organization spent: 22+ hours
  • Lauren spent: 7.5 hours
  • Collectively, the process took: 88.5 hours

So you sit down to revise the job ad for a second run. This time, you include pay.

Image: CC, Paul van de Velde, Flickr