Discussing money with friends, or wages with colleagues, has long been a taboo subject in this country.
But in Channel 4
’s eye-opening documentary entitled ‘Show Me Your Money’, viewers were introduced to Charlie Mullins, business mogal, founder and owner of Pimlico Plumbers
, who has his own ideas on the matter.
The story is based around his company, which has 129 employees. In a controversial decision to “put a fair pay structure in place”, big boss Charlie encourages workers to disclose their annual salary and redistribute money among themselves in order to even out any discrepancies.
Despite some initial resistance, most employees get on board. They are asked to write their name and salary on a piece of paper and pin it to a notice board for all to see – an easier method than announcing it verbally, apparently.
Not surprisingly, the highly paid managers feel under most pressure to reveal what they are paid, with PR manager Karl saying he felt as if there were “35 sets of eyes on my back, just waiting for me to get out of the way so they could actually see what was written on my card”.
With the cat out of the bag on the management side, fellow employees expressed their disbelief at the sums involved, with canteen worker, Tina, the lowest paid person in the company, saying that she found the situation “shocking” and it “made me sick”.
Another blow was that newcomer Ben received £3,000 more than his five (uh-hem) female co-workers who did the same job.
Redistribution of wealth
The team was then asked to write down what they felt was their true worth and to express it in monetary terms. Whereas normally individuals would need to pluck up the courage to ask Charlie for more money on a face-to-face basis, immediately testing how confident, proud and/or vulnerable they felt, filling in a pay form proved much more popular.
While some modest workers wrote that they were happy with their wage, astonishingly, the highest paid worker, PR manager Karl, asked for the biggest pay rise of £19,000, justifying the hike as “what I contribute to the company is worth more than what I am currently getting”.
Company owner Charlie hits the nail on the head, however, when he says: “If they had to face me and say this, they wouldn’t say it”, noting the obvious flaw in the somewhat ‘anonymous’ system.
The programme then follows three days of negotiations over the proposed redistribution of wealth. Call centre workers approach higher paid managers and tradesmen and garage staff are left to battle it out among themselves.
Interestingly, some employees also choose to switch roles for the day in order to put themselves in their colleagues’ shoes, with often unexpected results.
For example, on realising that full-time canteen worker, Tina, is left with just £5 per week in disposable income after her outgoings have been accounted for, manager Karl offers to take a £1,000 pay cut.
On the flip-side, however, call centre mechanic ‘Lurch’ refuses to give up a penny, maintaining that staff knew what they were signing up for when they took their jobs and arguing that “It’s a dog-eat-dog world”.
Although the programme was apparently based on a 1950s experiment, confusingly, the results, rationale or even relevance of this fact were never explained.
But ‘Show Me Your Money’, while moderately entertaining, did highlight the need for transparency in operational, managerial and HR terms. Throughout the show, questions are raised about the effectiveness of staff communications and the relationship between employees and managers.
For instance, although most of the garage workers had never set foot inside company boss Charlie’s office before, he had in the past appeared to base pay rises on his personal view of individuals.
But while the programme introduced some interesting concepts, it also raised more questions than it answered, never seemed to provide proper explanations and overlooked key HR issues.
For example, why was call centre newbee, Ben, paid more than his female colleagues? HR manager John was unable to answer – and didn’t even know what hours of the day Ben worked.
The transparency of overtime agreements was also a concern. For instance, garage worker Mark was told that the company couldn’t afford to give him paid overtime, but his colleague John had regularly been picking up extra hours for years.
Moreover, the ethics of boss Charlie asking staff to publically disclose their salaries and then leaving them to battle it out among themselves were questionable. Although with the £1 million salary that he awarded himself, he personally had little to worry about, his workers were left feeling frustrated, undervalued and targeted personally.
The resulting conflict between individuals who had otherwise been quite close was then emphasised by the pressure put on them to redistribute salaries, leading to tension, competition and a sense of distrust in the workplace.
The programme also brought into light relief the invulnerability of the company’s ‘top dogs’ compared with the rest of the workforce and their concerns over job security.
Charlie’s son, Scott, epitomises this situation by appearing to have little empathy with his co-workers and justifying his six-figure salary by saying “It’s dad’s company – get off my case”.
Although the show ended with a unanimous vote in favour of the new pay system, the validity of the flawed scheme was unconvincing throughout.
While Pimlico Plumbers will no doubt lap up the publicity generated by the programme, it would be interesting to revisit this “happy workplace” at a future date in order to see how beneficial it really was to take a ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine’ approach to pay awards.
- Our reviewer this time was Cara Struthers.
- If you’d like to see a film, TV or book review of your own in print, please either send it to the editor at [email protected] or post it directly to our blogs section at www.hrzone.co.uk/blogs based on the format above.
- We also have a book club area, which provides a list of possible works for review too – all you have to do is email the editor as above, have the book of your choice sent out to you and we’ll publish the review for the rest of the community to read when you’re done.