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

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 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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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Preliminary analysis tested and found no support for an alternative hypothesis, namely that pay transparency motivates all help-seeking and not necessarily only help-seeking from that team member with the greatest problem-related knowledge and competencies.

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Correspondence to Peter Bamberger.

Appendices

Appendix 1

See Table 4.

Table 4 Layout of the study design: the application of measures by time

Appendix 2

See Fig. 3.

Fig. 3
figure3

An example of the graph viewed by participants assigned to the pay transparency condition

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Belogolovsky, E., Bamberger, P., Alterman, V. et al. Looking for Assistance in the Dark: Pay Secrecy, Expertise Perceptions, and Efficacious Help Seeking Among Members of Newly Formed Virtual Work Groups. J Bus Psychol 31, 459–477 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-015-9427-4

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Keywords

  • Pay secrecy
  • Help-seeking
  • Virtual team