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Looking for Assistance in the Dark: Pay Secrecy, Expertise Perceptions, and Efficacious Help Seeking Among Members of Newly Formed Virtual Work Groups

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Purpose Adopting an information processing perspective, we argue that in pay-for-performance contexts, pay secrecy may adversely affect the ability of members of newly formed, virtual work groups to source assistance from those most able to provide it, referred to here as efficacious help-seeking. Design/Methodology/Approach We conducted a repeated-measures laboratory study in which one hundred forty-six participants interacted with three confederates, each with a varying level of skill. Participants’ help-seeking behaviors were recorded and efficacious help-seeking was examined as a function of the four pay transparency conditions. Findings Our findings reveal that accurate perception of task expertise of the highest paid work group member mediates the impact of pay transparency on members’ efficacious help-seeking. The findings also show that the positive relationship between pay transparency and efficacious help-seeking is amplified for average and high performers and that for these same individuals a shift from secrecy to transparency is accompanied by a significant increase in efficacious help-seeking. Implications This study extends pay secrecy research by shifting the focus away from fairness, instrumentality, and sorting and toward information processing. More specifically, the study highlights how pay and pay comparisons can influence inter-relating behaviors in organizations in general and expertise identification and help seeking behaviors in particular. Originality/Value We believe this is the first study to directly examine how the availability of pay comparison information determines inter-relating behaviors in organizations. The study offers insight for pay policy in organizations that rely upon employee help-seeking, showing that efficacious help-seeking can be enhanced through transparent pay practices. This is particularly evident in the virtual teams examined in the present study.
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ORIGINAL PAPER
Looking for Assistance in the Dark: Pay Secrecy, Expertise
Perceptions, and Efficacious Help Seeking Among Members
of Newly Formed Virtual Work Groups
Elena Belogolovsky
1
Peter Bamberger
2
Valeria Alterman
3
David T. Wagner
4
Published online: 8 January 2016
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract
Purpose Adopting an information processing perspective,
we argue that in pay-for-performance contexts, pay secrecy
may adversely affect the ability of members of newly
formed, virtual work groups to source assistance from
those most able to provide it, referred to here as efficacious
help-seeking.
Design/Methodology/Approach We conducted a repe-
ated-measures laboratory study in which one hundred
forty-six participants interacted with three confederates,
each with a varying level of skill. Participants’ help-seek-
ing behaviors were recorded and efficacious help-seeking
was examined as a function of the four pay transparency
conditions.
Findings Our findings reveal that accurate perception of
task expertise of the highest paid work group member
mediates the impact of pay transparency on members’
efficacious help-seeking. The findings also show that the
positive relationship between pay transparency and effica-
cious help-seeking is amplified for average and high per-
formers and that for these same individuals a shift from
secrecy to transparency is accompanied by a significant
increase in efficacious help-seeking.
Implications This study extends pay secrecy research by
shifting the focus away from fairness, instrumentality, and
sorting and toward information processing. More specifi-
cally, the study highlights how pay and pay comparisons
can influence inter-relating behaviors in organizations in
general and expertise identification and help seeking
behaviors in particular.
Originality/Value We believe this is the first study to
directly examine how the availability of pay comparison
information determines inter-relating behaviors in organi-
zations. The study offers insight for pay policy in organi-
zations that rely upon employee help-seeking, showing that
efficacious help-seeking can be enhanced through trans-
parent pay practices. This is particularly evident in the
virtual teams examined in the present study.
Keywords Pay secrecy Help-seeking Virtual team
Introduction
Pay secrecy is one of the most ubiquitous HR practices,
with studies suggesting that most private enterprises
restrict the amount of pay-related information (e.g., pay
ranges, average bonus size, etc.) available to employees
and/or enforce policies designed to stop employees from
communicating their personal pay information to others
(IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security 2011;
&Peter Bamberger
peterb@post.tau.ac.il
Elena Belogolovsky
elena.belog@gmail.com
Valeria Alterman
valeria.alterman@warrington.ufl.edu
David T. Wagner
dwagner@uoregon.edu
1
Department of Human Resource Studies, ILR School, Cornell
University, Ithaca, NY 14853-3901, USA
2
School of Business Administration, Tel Aviv University,
Ramat Aviv 69978, Israel
3
Department of Management, Warrington College of Business
Administration, University of Florida, Gainesville,
FL 32611-7165, USA
4
Department of Management, Lundquist College of Business,
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA
123
J Bus Psychol (2016) 31:459–477
DOI 10.1007/s10869-015-9427-4
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... Pay transparency may increase productivity (Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2010;Belogolovsky and Bamberger, 2014), or pay transparency has a sorting effect, which means that under-performing employees leave transparent organizations while well-performing employees retain (Belogolovsky and Bamberger, 2014;Shaw, 2015;Wade et al., 2006). Pay transparency also signals task expertise (Belogolovsky et al., 2016). On the other hand, in a corrupt environment, transparency may also negatively affect organizational performance (Mironov, 2015). ...
... Third, the interpersonal effect mirrors the effect of pay transparency on interpersonal relationships. At this level, pay transparency affects envy (Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2017), cooperation (Belogolovsky et al., 2016), or conflicts among employees (Shaw, 2014). And finally, pay transparency affects individual motivation (Hartmann and Slapničar, 2012), perception of fairness (Day, 2007(Day, , 2011, or feeling of employee privacy (Bernstein, 2012;Marasi and Bennett, 2016). ...
... Since pay transparency is an emerging topic, theoretical underpinnings in previous empirical studies vary. Most of the studies are grounded in equity theory (Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2010;Day, 2007Day, , 2011Marasi et al., 2018), but authors framed their studies also with social comparison theory (Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2017), signaling theory (Belogolovsky et al., 2016), attribute substitution theory (Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2017), or efficiency wage theory (Rosenfeld and Denice, 2015). The use of such a spectrum of theories was caused by lack of findings in the theory of organizational transparency, because all mentioned studies focused on the effects of pay transparency. ...
... Pay transparency may increase productivity (Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2010;Belogolovsky and Bamberger, 2014), or pay transparency has a sorting effect, which means that under-performing employees leave transparent organizations while well-performing employees retain (Belogolovsky and Bamberger, 2014;Shaw, 2015;Wade et al., 2006). Pay transparency also signals task expertise (Belogolovsky et al., 2016). On the other hand, in a corrupt environment, transparency may also negatively affect organizational performance (Mironov, 2015). ...
... Third, the interpersonal effect mirrors the effect of pay transparency on interpersonal relationships. At this level, pay transparency affects envy (Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2017), cooperation (Belogolovsky et al., 2016), or conflicts among employees (Shaw, 2014). And finally, pay transparency affects individual motivation (Hartmann and Slapničar, 2012), perception of fairness (Day, 2007(Day, , 2011, or feeling of employee privacy (Bernstein, 2012;Marasi and Bennett, 2016). ...
... Since pay transparency is an emerging topic, theoretical underpinnings in previous empirical studies vary. Most of the studies are grounded in equity theory (Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2010;Day, 2007Day, , 2011Marasi et al., 2018), but authors framed their studies also with social comparison theory (Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2017), signaling theory (Belogolovsky et al., 2016), attribute substitution theory (Bamberger and Belogolovsky, 2017), or efficiency wage theory (Rosenfeld and Denice, 2015). The use of such a spectrum of theories was caused by lack of findings in the theory of organizational transparency, because all mentioned studies focused on the effects of pay transparency. ...
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The interest in pay transparency has been growing recently. However, current research brings contradictory results on the effects of pay transparency policies in organizations. An important factor determining the effect of pay transparency may lie in employee attitudes, and thus this study aims to explore factors influencing employee attitudes to pay transparency. The exploratory nature of the study employed a multiple-case study research design, in which four organizations with various levels of pay transparency were surveyed. The data comprised structured interviews, non-participant observations, and internal documents on human resource policies. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. The results categorize the factors into three groups. First, personal factors show how values may strongly hinder or support pay transparency policies. Second, interpersonal factors unveil a critical nexus of pay transparency and team dynamics. And third, organizational factors reveal how the quality of human resources practices enables implementation of pay transparency. Implications for pay transparency theory and human resource policies are discussed.
... Relatively little academic research has been conducted to explore pay communication, pay transparency, pay secrecy/openness and their effects. Previous studies have shown that pay communication increased organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) and reduced workplace deviance (Marasi, Wall & Bennett, 2018), increased affective organizational commitment (Day, 2012), increased individual task performance (Futrell & Jenkins, 1978;Bamberger & Belogolovsky, 2010;Belogolovsky & Bamberger, 2014), influenced inter-relating behaviors in organizations (Belogolovsky et al., 2016), improved employee retention (Mulvey et al., 2002;Belogolovsky & Bamberger, 2014), increased employee mobility (Danziger & Katz, 1997;Day, 2007) and related to job and pay satisfaction (Lawler, 1967;Futrell & Jenkins, 1978;Heneman & Judge, 2000;Day, 2007;Jawahar & Stone, 2011;Day, 2012). Nonetheless, it must be emphasized that pay communication construct has two facets, organizational and employee considerations (Marasi & Bennett, 2016), and whilst organizational considerations are somewhat explored, little is known about employee attitudes on the level of desired pay communication. ...
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This paper explores employee attitudes on pay communication and pay transparency and compares perceptions from private and public sector employees. Primary research was conducted among 353 employees working in the public and private sector in Croatia. Research results indicate that employees from the public sector, when compared to employees from the private sector, showed a more positive attitude towards pay transparency, higher preference for pay transparency and willingness to communicate one's pay. Employees from the public sector perceive greater beneficial effect of pay transparency than employees from the private sector. The pay communication policy and level of pay transparency can act as additional factors that attract employees to the public or private sector and thus cause employee sorting between the two sectors.
... Employees making comparisons with higher paid coworkers, enabled through high organization PID, report higher envy, which is negatively associated with helping others (Bamberger & Belogolovsky, 2017). Perceptions of group members' task expertise are more accurate under high organization PID than under low organization PID, and this mediates the impact of high organization PID on efficacious help seeking (Belogolovsky, Bamberger, Alterman, & Wagner, 2016). ...
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The amount and type of pay information made available by organizations to employees and between employees can have important effects on employee attitudes and behaviors as well as organizational performance. Although a large body of research on pay information exists, on topics ranging from pay transparency to pay secrecy, researchers have used inconsistent definitions (pay secrecy, openness, transparency, pay communications) and operationalizations that hinder knowledge development. In this paper, consistent with the theory of information asymmetry and based on research reviewed here, we promote a new integrative definition (“pay information disclosure”) that anchors both current and future research. We define the concept of pay information disclosure (PID) as the communication of relevant pay information between and among actors. By viewing pay information disclosure research in an information asymmetry context, with its focus on the causes and consequences of unequal access to information, we can synthesize research that examines motives for and outcomes of PID for individuals, organizations, and society. Based on our review, we outline a research agenda that identifies research questions and methods to stimulate studies to better understand the role of pay information in the workplace and in society.
... Paralleling this shift in pay communication policy and practice is increased interest in the issue of pay secrecy on the part of scholars, with researchers studying the impact of one or more of three distinct dimensions of pay secrecy, which is lower (higher) when these components are more (less) strongly endorsed (Arnold, Fulmer, Sender, Allen, & Staffelbach, 2018;Fulmer & Chen, 2014;Smit & Montag-Smit, 2018, namely: (a) Procedural pay transparency -the degree to which the organization shares information regarding how pay is determined, (b) Distributive pay transparency or disclosure of pay -the degree to which the organization discloses actual pay levels of individual employees or employee groups to its workforce, and (c) Communication openness transparency -the degree to which the organization allows employees to discuss personal pay matters with one another. On the one hand, this research suggests that pay transparency (i.e., the opposite of secrecy) has largely beneficial implications with respect to individual task performance (Bamberger & Belogolovsky, 2010;Belogolovsky & Bamberger, 2014;Greiner, Ockenfels & Werner, 2012;Tremblay & Chênevert, 2008), help-seeking (Belogolovsky, Bamberger, Alterman, & Wagner, 2016), and gender pay gap size (Bennedsen et al., 2019). On the other hand, pay transparency (relative to secrecy) has also been associated with increased envy towards, and a lower tendency to provide unsolicited helping to coworkers (Bamberger & Belogolovsky, 2017), increased privacy and social concerns (Smit & Montag-Smit, 2019), and greater pay compression (Mas, 2017). ...
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