How Corporate Transparency Has Changed Over Time
Assemble Content Team
August 24, 2021
Assemble Content Team
August 24, 2021
Corporate transparency has been shown to reduce work-related stress for employees and help with morale within a company. At its core, corporate transparency is the action of a workplace openly sharing information as a means of elevating the business and its workers. This transparency can be exercised on an individual or team level, company-wide, or even be made public.
Using news reports, studies, and expert opinion, Assemble compiled a list of 20 ways corporate transparency has changed the workplace in recent years.
Business transparency used to be a rarity, whether in terms of openness about salary bands or clarity around harassment complaints. But times are changing: Today, nearly 90% of workers hope for more transparency at their next job, according to a 2018 Future of Work study conducted by Slack. That’s because corporate transparency empowers employees. The more access to information they are given, the more likely employees are to come up with big ideas to benefit the company. And this doesn’t just apply to mid-level employees: Any level of employee who is given access to important information and company objectives can come up with a company’s next great big idea.
What comes to mind when you think of your own workplace? Is it a rigid hierarchy, with corner offices and once-yearly reviews? Or do you think of collaborative floor plans, weekly one-on-ones with your manager, and regular reports on company financials?
Keep reading to discover how corporate transparency has changed over time.
A 2016 study from Robert Half Management Resources found 56% of private organizations share financial records with workers. That number represents a jump of 32 percentage points from 2012. The thinking goes that sharing this information empowers employees to make decisions that may bolster the company and makes workers feel like stakeholders in the business. It also provides employees a bigger-picture look at the company, allowing them to connect their individual duties with the financial health of the business.
In traditional office structures, everyone knows who’s the boss. But in recent years, decentralizing where employees have more of a say in decisions has become more popular. Decentralized decision-making also means more transparency as employees are granted more access to information. One reason offices have moved to flatten traditional hierarchies? The belief their employees will be more engaged if given the ability to make decisions.
Photo-sharing and video-editing app VSCO, featured in a 2019 Slack piece about corporate transparency, embodies this decentralization with all-public Slack channels (besides budget planning or HR topics), internal wikis, and giving employees the autonomy to make decisions without leadership approval.
Email has increased corporate transparency in several ways. Companies and executives could previously conduct business through handshake deals and over the phone, but now email serves as a permanent record. Companies and leaders know they may be held to account for anything they put in an email. The benefit of such transparency? This means they may be more likely to consider their behavior before engaging in unethical business.
From monthly Google surveys to a host of new softwares and programs that facilitate specific kinds of communication, more companies are seeking consistent and honest feedback from their employees. New strategies are being used to encourage honest assessments, like the ability to send anonymous feedback, targeted questions to tease out specific areas for room for improvement, and facilitating strong relationships with managers so employees feel comfortable communicating honestly. Digital means of communication go beyond Slack, with a crop of platforms designed to act as a centralized hub for team collaboration, human resources work, and implementing feedback. Platforms like Nectar, Lattice, and Monday.com are just a few of the offerings companies are using.
If an employee senses a pay gap—whether or not one exists—the result is a 16% drop in that worker’s intent to stay at the company, according to a 2019 pay and gender gap survey by Beqom that was sponsored by Microsoft. Beqom’s co-founder Tanya Jansen further explained to Inc. that the report showed 58% of employees were open to the possibility of changing jobs in pursuit of more pay transparency. Among Gen-Zers, that number is 70%.
As calls increase for more pay transparency, workers have been talking to one another about how much they make. Two reasons for the shift? The first may be the internet, which has made salaries for various positions open knowledge on sites like Glassdoor. Another is because women have been encouraged by leaders in their communities to compare notes with male peers on salaries. Thus, what was once a taboo topic has become something many experts encourage.
Many tech companies and startups have led the way on this effort, while others have fallen short; by early August, Apple had shut down three informal surveys that were circulated asking employees about their salaries.
Facing mounting pressure from workers and advocates and the scrutiny of the #MeToo movement, some workplaces are ending the practices of forced arbitration and confidentiality clauses. These have become widespread since the 1990s, with employers mandating employees waive the right to sue as a condition of their employment. This is good for companies and bad for workers, effectively stopping employees facing discrimination from taking action, especially women and people of color—the very demographics at heightened risks of facing workplace discrimination in the first place.
Google in 2018 transformed its harassment policies in the wake of a global employee walkout. Among those revisions was an end to forced arbitration following reports of sexual harassment in the workplace. Organizers had pushed for the move in light of the fact that forced arbitration in workplace culture has historically been tied to confidentiality clauses that make tracking reports or outcomes impossible. Similarly, in 2019, Microsoft announced a new tack in discrimination cases for the following year, including growing internal-investigation infrastructure and publishing a report at least annually on the violations and reports of the year prior.
Employee stock ownership plans, called ESOPs, provide a way for employees to get ownership interest in a company. This is a way for employees to both benefit from their company’s profitability, and acts as a carrot toward that end of profitability. When employees are also shareholders, the reasoning goes, they’ll be more invested in profitability, and ESOPs can help align employees with bigger shareholders. Unsurprisingly, these plans are good for business: According to a 2000 Rutgers study, ESOP companies grow faster after setting up ESOP programs than would have been projected without the programs. A different study found a correlation between shares owned and commitment to the company, with employees reporting greater job satisfaction.
Many white-collar workers are familiar with the idea of an “open-door” policy: simply, that a manager’s door is always open—literally or metaphorically—so employees can enter and chat any time. Such a practice can be more easily said than done, however, and without commitment from management, employees may feel too daunted to stride boldly in to give a manager direct feedback. Proactive approaches will make open-door policies yield better outcomes. That can include establishing regular open-office hours, where time is set aside specifically for employees to walk through the open door. Working to build trust is an important step in employees making use of open doors.
And importantly for managers to remember, they must set up protocols for dealing with the issues their employees might bring to them. They should work to ensure the meetings are productive and don’t become a conduit for certain managers receptive to issues being the go-to person employees talk to instead of their own management. In such cases, open-door policies can shed light on workplace dysfunction.
“Town halls,” also called “all-hands meetings,” can have a range of functions, including fostering transparency. At their most basic, these meetings get everyone at the company on the same page—with company updates, new policies, or simply as a forum to share news, progress, and goals. But they also present an excellent opportunity for company decision-makers to open up, explaining why they’re making the decisions they’re making, especially by sharing the data and thought processes that go into their choices. This can help employees feel more in the loop and can increase commitment to shifts in strategy if they feel they understand the reasoning. As more companies moved to online work, virtual town halls have grown, with technology providing both more challenges and more rewards for facilitating communication. Preparation goes into a good town hall, and asking employees to submit questions ahead of time can keep meetings within allotted time.