Many years ago, I was celebrating with some colleagues. I'd just been promoted from my first, entry-level job to an exciting new role. As I gushed over my new title and responsibilities, one of my bolder colleagues asked loudly, "So, how much are you on now then?"
The question took me by surprise. I'd never really discussed my salary before, and certainly not at work, surrounded by all my colleagues. But to be honest, I find it difficult to talk about money – period. So much so that I was once turned down for a sales position for "not talking about money enough" in the interview.
But the group was eagerly awaiting my answer. So I gave a vague, "Oh just a bit more than I was on before," and quickly changed the subject.
Are You Ready to Discuss Your Salary?
Money can be a touchy subject for anyone to discuss, let alone around colleagues. But why are we so scared to talk about it? We decided to poll our social media followers and ask, "Do you feel comfortable to talk about your salary with your co-workers?"
The answer was a resounding "No," with 76 percent of respondents on LinkedIn and Twitter saying that they don't feel comfortable discussing their wage.
These results weren't exactly surprising. Even though discussing your pay with co-workers is often protected (by the National Labor Relations Act in the U.S., for example, and the Equality Act in the U.K.), it's often considered a taboo subject to discuss around the watercooler.
In fact, one of our followers didn't even see the need for discussion. Educator and Researcher Anna Coutsomitelli MEd said she saw no reason "... why you should talk about your salary with anyone at all!" Solutions Consulting Director David Lush agreed, adding: "Why would anyone ever do this? It's just a recipe for causing friction in the business."
Manager Justina Ikpe was also in favor of keeping your salary under wraps. "It has more setbacks than benefits especially if the colleagues commenced work on the same day and at the same level." She added that it "... could motivate a right-thinking team member to be results-oriented in order to earn more. Conversely, it can lead to unproductive/low-quality output as a result of resentment, unnecessary envy/jealousy which in turn can hamper the growth of the company."
But Founder, Coach and Community Creator Erikka Baker disagreed. "I would argue the same about not having transparency. Assumptions or lack of insight can also cause friction," Erikka said.
Mind the Pay Gap
Discussing salary is certainly a complicated and layered subject. For example, if you found out that another person in the same role was earning more than you, you might feel upset or undervalued. You're doing the same job, so why shouldn't you get the same wage? It just doesn't seem fair, right?
However, there may be several reasons why their salary is higher than yours. For example, they might have spent longer at the company, have more training, or even have had a cost-of-living adjustment based on their location.
On the other hand, not knowing or assuming the reasons for these differences can also create an uncomfortable working environment, and could land organizations in hot water, especially if employees suspect discriminatory factors are at play.
Leadership Coach and Learning Facilitator Holly Wright argued that being transparent with pay "... helps with overcoming pay inequality and can reduce the gender pay gap."
In order to create a fair and harmonious working environment, organizations need to make sure that any inconsistencies in pay are based on non-discriminatory reasons.
How to Overcome Salary Secrecy
The Director and Co-Founder of Elev-8 Performance, Rob Clarke, believes that transparency and culture is key. Rob said: "In our business we know exactly what each other earns. We built it that way."
Marketing Manager Alisa Hamzic suggested that this isn't a problem everywhere, just in certain countries: "This is a cultural thing. In Scandinavia it is totally transparent and normal to talk about [salary]."
So, could there be a time when more of us are open to sharing our salaries? Maybe. So, if you decide to open up about your wage, just consider the situation you're in, and approach the subject with sensitivity.
Talking About Pay and Promotion – Our Brand-New Podcast!
We've just launched The Mind Tools Expert Voices Podcast, and the first episode explores conversations about pay.
In "Can I Ask for More Pay?" hosts Rachel Salaman and Jonathan Hancock delve into the Mind Tools interview archive to get expert advice on when to hold pay conversations, and how to handle them – whether you're the team member or the manager.
Hear from world-leading researchers, writers and thought leaders, including Emma Seppala, Corey Kupfer and Dorie Clark. And find out how you can share your own experiences and ideas in future episodes.
Make sure you know how to get fairly rewarded for the work you do – and feel more confident to talk about pay, whatever your role.
Our podcast is available free from all main providers, or direct from the Mind Tools Expert Voices Podcast page.
Do you feel comfortable talking about your salary? Let us know in the comments, below.