Do Formal Salary Systems Really Matter?
Drawing on a single large U.S. corporation’s personnel records for the years 1989-93, the authors analyze an example of the kind of formal salary system used by most large firms. They find that this firm’s practices were consistent with most of the important conclusions of prior empirical research on internal labor markets. The system was highly centralized, covering salary levels, salary ranges, raises, and bonuses. Supervisors had little discretion over pay other than through subjective performance ratings. The firm held fairly strictly to the salary rules, leading to observable constraints on pay for employees near the top of the salary range. These constraints, however, apparently did not impose important costs on the firm in the form of increased turnover. Although the system operated without any apparent connection to external factors, the authors conclude that it transmitted external labor market forces with little distortion.