Money, Money, Money – Is Talking About Pay a Good or Bad Idea?

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They caught my attention in the hall as I passed two colleagues chatting and overheard the question, “How big was yours?” The question was about the latest round of pay increases.

The first question raised a different series of follow-on questions for me: Is everyone sharing pay information? Is that good? Is it ok to do that? The short answers to all of the second set of questions are: Maybe, Sometimes, and Probably.

Almost all of the rules in today’s workplace are changing. In some cases, what was taboo just a few years ago is either widely held now or in the transition of being accepted. Discussion about pay is in the murky category of “in transition”. So should you make announcements about pay or not? It’s complicated, but if you do talk about pay with your coworkers, be on red alert. Sharing pay numbers could get you in trouble or come back to haunt you. Sharing pay numbers could also illustrate to you that you are not being paid equitably for the work that you perform and lead to a raise. Lots of women are finding this out the hard way. Before you start the dance of, “This is how much I make, how much do you make?” here are a few questions to consider.

  • Can you ever make enough money? If you feel like you are being paid fairly, is there any thing to gain from sharing? If you love what you do, will pay have a bearing on your satisfaction? In general, the research says no. Comparing could lead to lots of emotions about money and its role in your career.
  • Are discussions about pay all about bragging or complaining? There is not much in between bragging or complaining. Boasting about a big increase could alienate your colleagues. Complaining about pay could alienate people too. It is rare when someone share, “here is my pay and I am satisfied with it”
  • What is the company policy? Although the law here can be murky and vague, some organizations have an explicit policy that information about pay should not be shared. A 2011 survey from the Institute for Women’s Policy Researchfound that about half of workers “report that the discussion of wage and salary information is either discouraged or prohibited and/or could lead to punishment.” Some organizations have the policy in place although it may be illegal. Check your local employment law experts to determine what is legal and not.

More questions than answers but the big unknown remains – is it a good idea to discuss with coworkers how much you make? Answer is, probably not. First, people in similar jobs can make different amounts based on experience, skills and tenure. Comparing salaries is not always apples to apples. Second, the entire sharing experience can be toxic and wasteful, to you and the organization. Most organizations are pretty good at paying within the accepted range of a particular job. Organizations do not want to over or under pay and will adjust according to market rates and you should understand the thinking behind your pay. Third, if you think you are underpaid, you can get a sense of your pay through career sites or professional organizations, without having to ask a colleague.

Almost every organization has the legendary story of someone leaving the list of all salaries inadvertently on the copying machine. The resultant storm of activity lasts for a few days, some adjustments might be made but usually, not much changes. We recognize that people in similar jobs can have different salaries based on experience, tenure or other factors.

In the end, sometimes it is probably just not possible to meet everyone’s salary needs regardless of whether or not all pay numbers are well known. At that point you have a decision to make about staying or not. And remember, as the wise man on the mountain said, “The fastest way to give yourself a raise is to work less”.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Sam72

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