The equality was surface level
'We hoped it would change our ways of working, perhaps encouraging everyone to be more self-directed and ideally resulting in fewer meetings. This didn’t happen. Giving everyone the same salary was a bit like implementing dress-down Fridays, rather than a full programme of organisational behaviour change. We still needed the same number of meetings to get things done effectively. We still needed people to project manage and chase. And a few people still had ultimate decision-making power – those with more experience or skills.'
It disrupted the hiring process
'Being forced to pay below market rate obviously priced us out of the best senior talent. After six months of searching, we were unable to find a senior developer who was both a good fit for Spill and willing to take a pay cut, so we hired an ambitious junior developer instead. For junior roles, paying above market rate also produced a strange selection effect. We had a lot of applicants for sales roles with no sales experience, for example, who seemed to believe in the salary more than the company’s mission.'
The dynamics at the social events changed
'Beforehand, there was an awkwardness around who was going to get the drinks – either senior employees ended up paying or it would go on the company card. Once we were on equal salaries, everyone started buying their own or each other’s drinks. The amount the company spent on socials went down. And the nature of the socials changed too. We moved from doing big ‘company’ activities to things like dinner at someone’s house, hanging out in the park, or a regular pub trip. Because everyone was paying, we did the normal things that friends would do. We also stopped calling them ‘socials’.'
It proved to be inherently unfair
'The thinking behind equal salaries was that it would make for a fairer workplace. But we were paying people the same salary for doing (often drastically) different amounts of work, taking on different levels of responsibility, and having different skill sets. Tensions arose when some people worked nine to five while others were working on evenings and weekends, which hadn’t been voiced as a problem before. Eventually, we reverted to the norm. It was a difficult decision, and prompted a lot of heated debates about whether we were abandoning our desire to build a more progressive kind of business and therefore ‘selling out’ to accepted conventions.'
It changed how we spoke about salaries
'The equal-salary experiment has left one enduring positive mark on Spill’s culture. When setting salaries for 2020, the conversation was a lot more open and everyone was happy to have their salary put on a spreadsheet. Interestingly, the starting point for salary discussions seemed to move subconsciously towards what people need – their monthly expenses, dependents and life priorities – rather than what society deems they ‘deserve’. Employees felt comfortable commenting on, and questioning, what the business is spending – from cutting certain software subscriptions to asking that Spill’s cash reserves and burn rate be shared monthly on Slack.'