Why Salaries Shouldn’t Be Secret: How and Why to Talk About Money at Work

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Is it rude to ask your coworkers how much they make? People in our parents’ generation and previous generations would say yes to that question. Some bosses still discourage their employees from talking about money at work, but nowadays, many young people in the workforce are exchanging salary information anyway. Millennials are famous for oversharing on social media, but oversharing when it comes to salary is a good thing.

First of all, while your boss may ask you not to tell your coworkers how much you make, they can’t actually fire you for doing so. As this Atlantic article points out, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects the right of workers to discuss their pay.

Should you share your salary information with coworkers?

Yes. I’m not saying you need to walk around the office right now showing everyone your latest paycheck, and demanding to see theirs, but it’s possible to talk about money at work without being nosy. If you’re talking to a coworker you trust, and the subject comes up, I don’t see any reason to avoid it. The conversation might be uncomfortable if you discover that someone in a similar position is making quite a bit more (or less) than you are, but having that information is only going to be helpful in the long run.

If you discover that you’re making considerably less than your coworkers, it may be time to ask for a raise or to think about looking for a job elsewhere. While I don’t recommend marching into the boss’s office and asking, “Why aren’t you paying me as much as you pay Kristen?,” knowing your coworkers’ salaries puts you in a better position to negotiate for yourself.

I’ve never had a job where I was asked not to talk about my salary, because for most of my adult life I’ve been freelance. It’s common for freelance writers to discuss with each other how much different publishers pay, because it’s hard to make a living on a freelance income, and we can all help each other out by sharing pay information. For example, if I know a publication pays very little, I won’t waste my time sending them ideas—and I’ll warn my friends so that they won’t waste their time either.

salary information

Where else can you find salary information?

Your work friends aren’t your only salary information resource. You can do further research on salaries at your company or elsewhere in the industry by searching online. There are several websites where people share salary information anonymously. A few of the big ones are Glassdoor, Salary.com, and Indeed.com. They may all have different numbers, but they can help you estimate an appropriate salary range.

Some companies have determined that it’s best for employees if salary information is public knowledge, and they’ve built that into how they do business. According to the Wall Street Journal, Whole Foods employees can see salary information for anyone in the company by making an appointment with a human resources manager. At Buffer, an international social media management company, everyone employee’s annual salary is listed on a public website.

If your company doesn’t make salary information public, check the website where they list job openings, because each listing may include a salary range. A friend of mine saw a job listing for a new position at her company that was very similar to hers. She saw that they were offering the new person a higher starting salary than what she was earning after being there a few years. When she pointed out the discrepancy, they gave her a raise, but if she hadn’t seen the job listing, she would never have known that the new hire had a better deal than she did.

Why pay transparency matters

On a personal level, I greatly prefer working with companies that are open about what they pay people. I know it’s a stereotype that women aren’t as good as men in salary negotiations, but in my case, that stereotype is accurate. I find it hard to talk about money, probably because I struggle with self-worth in every aspect of my life.

I think whenever we talk about pay, we have an idea in mind of what our time is worth. If someone offers us more than that number, we feel good about working with them, and if they offer us less, we feel like they’re taking advantage of us. There’s a major problem with this way of thinking, though. Just because someone else believes they deserve more money, does that mean they’re entitled to more money? I don’t think so, and I hate the idea that I could end up making less than someone else just because I have less self-esteem than they do.

When companies are transparent about their salary information, workers don’t have to wonder if they’re being fairly compensated. They know they’re making a particular salary because that’s what the company pays everyone in that role.

Pay transparency isn’t just important on an individual level—it’s a way to ensure that companies aren’t discriminating against certain employees. In 2016, President Obama signed an executive action requiring companies with 100 or more employees to share salary information with the federal government, broken down by race, gender and ethnicity. Since women still only earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns, records like this are essential for recognizing where pay disparities exist and figuring out how to fix them.

President Obama’s policy was intended to help close that gender wage gap, so I was very disappointed when the Trump administration put an end to it last month. In the future, I hope we will elect people who support equal pay for women and minorities, but in the meantime, we have to do what we can on our own. Talk about your salary with your coworkers, and with your mentor. Share salary information with friends who work at other companies in the same industry, too. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to salary negotiations.

If you avoid talking about money because you think it’s tacky, you’re not doing anyone any favors. In fact, you’re helping to maintain the secrecy that makes it possible for companies to pay women and minorities less.

salary information

If you avoid talking about money because you think it’s tacky, you’re not doing anyone any favors. In fact, you’re helping to maintain the secrecy that makes it possible for companies to pay women and minorities less.


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