Many managers are influenced by dangerous myths about pay that lead to counterproductive decisions about how their companies compensate employees. One such myth is that labor rates, the rate per hour paid to workers, are identical with labor costs, the money spent on labor in relation to the productivity of the labor force. This myth leads to the assumption that a company can simply lower its labor costs by cutting wages. But labor costs and labor rates are not in fact the same: one company could pay its workers considerably more than another and yet have lower labor costs if that company's productivity were higher due to the talent of its workforce, the efficiency of its work processes, or other factors. The confusion of costs with rates persists partly because labor rates are a convenient target for managers who want to make an impact on their com- pany's budgets. Because labor rates are highly visible, managers can easily compare their company's rates with those of competitors. Furthermore, labor rates often appear to be a company's most malleable financial variable: cutting wages appears an easier way to control costs than such options as reconfiguring work processes or altering product design.
The myth that labor rates and labor costs are equivalent is supported by business journalists, who frequently confound the two. For example, prominent business journals often remark on the "high" cost of German labor, citing as evidence the average amount paid to German workers. The myth is also perpetuated by the compensation-consulting industry, which has its own incentives to keep such myths alive. First, although some of these consulting firms have recently broadened their practices beyond the area of compensation, their mainstay continues to be advising companies on changing their compensation practices. Suggesting that a company's performance can be improved in some other way than by altering its pay system may be empirically correct but contrary to the consultants' interests. Furthermore, changes to the compensation system may appear to be simpler to implement than changes to other aspects of an organization, so managers are more likely to find such advice from consultants palatable. Finally, to the extant that changes in compensation create new problems, the consultants will continue to have work solving the problems that result from their advice.