People have very strong opinions about whether it's OK to talk about salaries, so when this survey from Glassdoor.com crossed my desk, I knew I had to explore it further. Would you tell someone what you make if they asked? Are you more or less likely to do so since last year at this time? It's an interesting topic I explored for my recent Gannett column:
The workplace has been turned upside down in the last year because of the recession, and it appears it has even changed our attitudes regarding an often taboo subject: talking about our salaries.
Whether to reveal to others what we make has prompted more than a few debates, and a new survey reveals that Americans are becoming even more guarded about sharing the details of their compensation. According to a Glassdoor.com survey, 17 percent of respondents say they are not comfortable talking about what they earn, up from 11 percent in 2008.
Why are workers talking less about their pay?
“There’s a lot of fear and insecurity out there,” says Rusty Rueff, a Glassdoor workplace expert. “People don’t want the boss or human resources to think they’re not grateful to have a job if they question their salary. And, I think there is some survivor guilt, as well. People just don’t want to talk about it if things are going well for them.”
The survey found that a worker’s age and gender may determine whether they’re willing to share income amounts with others. For example, 11 percent of men age 18-34 share salary information with casual acquaintances, compared to only 2 percent of men over 55 and 2 percent of women age 18-34.
Veronica Schaefer is a 26-year-old finance employee in New York, says she believes strongly that salaries should be openly discussed. She says she is surprised that more people are keeping mum about their earnings, and says she and her co-workers are talking about money more than ever before.
“My colleagues and I have been talking about how we’re doing the work of two or three people, and not getting paid for it,” she says. “I think a lot of people are being taken advantage of in this economy, and companies know employees are willing to suck it up and take what they can get. That’s why I think we should reveal what we make – that way you know if you’re getting paid what you’re worth.”
Rueff notes that workers like Schaefer show that while they’re willing to commiserate with co-workers or friends, employees often don’t complain to bosses because they don’t want to call attention to themselves in a way that might bring a negative backlash from management. “They don’t want to be vulnerable in any way,” he says. “It’s like they go into a cocoon.”
One of the concerns facing employers these days, however, is what will happen once the economy improves and workers decide to emerge from their cocoons. Already operating with only key players, these companies could be facing some real threats to their ability to compete if workers discontented with their workload and their salaries decide to leave.
“I believe from the boardroom on down, there has been the attitude by many companies of: “Oh, yeah? Where are they (unhappy workers) going to go?” Rueff says.
That attitude is short-sighted and arrogant, a combination that could prove to be a costly mistake for many employers, Rueff says. He says that companies who have cut staffs and then reduced salaries for existing workers now consider this the “new normal” for conducting business. Employees, on the other hand, expect to see not only more people hired to help them as business picks up, but also expect to get pay raises.
“We’re living in a time of very mismatched expectations,” between companies and workers, he says.
Schaefer says she and her colleagues may be some of those ready to head for better jobs when the economy recovers. “We’ll all definitely be looking for another job if we don’t feel like we’re being paid fairly. If we think the ‘favorites’ are getting paid more, it’s not fair to those who work really hard and don’t get as much. That’s why I think it makes sense to reveal what you make. At the end of the day, what works is all of us making sure we get paid fairly for the job we’re doing.”
Notes Rueff: “The workplace is like a game of musical chairs, and while the music has been stopped for a while, when it starts up again you’re going to see employees be on the move.”
Unless you're in a position where salaries are common knowledge (government, union jobs) I don't think it's ever a good idea to discuss salary with your fellow employees. After all, what are the possible outcomes?
1. You make less than they do which can be a blow to your ego. You may decide to ask for more money which could lead to an ugly confrontation, especially in this economy. The last thing I want to hear is "You make less than he does because you're worth less than he is." Ouch!
2. You make more than they do which is bad for their ego and may lead them to confront the boss. This isn't good for either of you.
I'm sure you speak for a lot of people with your reasoning. Still, I've interviewed people who feel that more transparency is better for the employees -- and puts employers in the position of justifying the pay scales. One thing is for sure...it's not a debate that's going to end anytime soon! Thanks for adding to this discussion.
Many people have picked up on the 'employees are disposable' corporate vibe. Treat people that way and you risk losing your most important asset. Disgruntled workers just wait for the the tide to turn, then abandon employers who don't get it.
And yes - people do talk about salary. There are lots of reasons for it, but when a company puts together pay packages it should just assume it will probably become visible at some point. That's just one reason why male-female pay parity is important.
Thanks for a great post, Anita!
Pay parity will become even more critical as the economy improves and more employees start looking to see if the grass (and money) is greener elsewhere. Thanks for your comments!
Saring how much you make is important for many business or employment situations and in some ways is part of how we do business ...
As a consultant or freelancer, you will get that question a lot and as a job seeker, you will definitely have to be ready to answer that question ... good post!
I agree with Mike. I have been in work situations turned ugly when employees found out what each others salaries were. Sure you can challenge the company or call the company out on it but what good will it do when the employer starts coming up with all of the evidence to get rid of a disgruntled employee. Seen it too many times.
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