Buffer sees clear benefits to transparent employee salary policy

No readers like this yet.
Lots of hands trying to climb a ladder


At social media startup Buffer, a single leadership decision eliminated salary negotiation for new employees, preempted gender-based salary discrimination, and prompted a flood of job applications.

The decision? Make all employee salaries transparent.

"We set down transparency as a core value for the company," CEO Joel Gascoigne said in 2014. "And then, once we'd done that, we went through everything. And salaries was one of those key things that we found that [made us] question ourselves: 'Why are we not transparent about this?'"

Years later, the policy is still in place (go ahead and calculate your salary as a would-be Buffer employee)—and it presents a fascinating case study for anyone interested in the ways open organizations approach a rather prickly subject: transparency.

"For us, transparency came quite naturally," Gascoigne wrote of the company's infatuation with what's clearly its core value. "It helped us get more feedback about decisions and it was a way to help others who are getting started."

Today, most aspects of life at Buffer are transparent. Distributed around the world, Buffer's approximately 60 employees broadcast their locations. The company isn't shy about sharing user statistics or revenue numbers, either. Even its failures are public.

As is every email. A complex set of electronic communication policies ensure no one is in the dark.

"Email can pile up," Buffer PR specialist Hailley Griffis said, "but our team is awesome about applying the right filters to make sure they're seeing what's important for their role and in their team while also being able to peek into any other team they are curious about. It's definitely a filters game."

Griffis is new to Buffer, but she's already immersed in its culture. At the moment, she's part of Buffer Bootcamp, a 45-day initiation designed (transparently, of course) to inculcate Buffer's culture. That very culture, Gascoigne said, will ensure its "default to transparent" ethos remains firmly in place as the company continues to grow.

"We had a vision to continue becoming more open," Gascoigne said, "and we've been lucky to find people to join the team who encourage more openness rather than warning and being hesitant about potential downsides."

For Gascoigne and Buffer COO Leo Widrich, transparency's benefits are clear—even if its unintended consequences (like the eradication of salary negotiations) do occasionally surprise them. Buffer's leaders have always been—well, transparent—about their reasons for stressing transparency.

More transparency, they say, leads to faster innovation, more rapid feedback, a just and equitable workplace, and a greater sense of integrity.

"It makes us live up to a higher standard," Widrich said, "because we feel like if anyone can see it we want to have a sound reason behind it."

Bryan Behrenshausen
Bryan formerly managed the Open Organization section of Opensource.com, which features stories about the ways open values and principles are changing how we think about organizational culture and design. He's worked on Opensource.com since 2011. Find him online as semioticrobotic.


Start-ups frequently do really stupid stuff like this, then pull it back later when it inevitably goes to hell in a handbasket.

I dunno. I like the idea of an open salary policy. I played with their salary calculator a bit and it would help me as a prospective applicant to see what the roles and ranges are. More importantly, though, I can see their culture very clearly on that site and within their twitter stream. Being that open about their culture helps ensure new employees aren't surprised by what's in store for them when joining. And if they instill that culture in everything they do, it would be fantastically fun.

The idea of transparent salaries would likely make everyone a little uncomfortable at first, as it is something that has been a very private subject traditionally. That said, I think its a fantastic example of a company truly living up to their values and as the author points out goes a long way to preempt gender-based salary discrimination.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.