Should Employees Talk Salary? The Benefits and Drawbacks
Should you discuss your salary with your coworkers?
It’s a loaded question if there ever was one. Salary discussions have traditionally been considered taboo in the workplace. Management discourages it, and few of us are willing to offer up the details on our own.
But is this “salary shyness” really the way things should be?
As it turns out, there’s a surprising amount of contention around this simple question.
The Biggest Drawback of Salary Transparency
There’s certainly an argument for keeping your salary to yourself.
According to Susan Brennan, Associate Vice President of University Career Services at Bentley University, the biggest problem is resentment. “Sharing salary information can create tension between colleagues and resentment toward management—so it can really lead to a toxic work environment,” says Brennan.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s true. It can be demoralizing to hear that your coworkers make more than you, which can create cracks in the friendly corporate culture you’ve worked so hard to build. And while this resentment is natural, it’s also misguided. No two employees are the same, and your newer coworker may indeed have more experience, justifying a higher salary.
Keeping salaries private helps subvert these interpersonal issues, without a doubt. But keeping things private also hurts employees by keeping them in the dark.
The Benefits of Open Salary Discussion
It’s clear why management would want to keep employees in the dark about company salaries, but from an employee perspective, this information can be helpful in several ways.
- You know whether you’re being compensated fairly. True, you don’t know every detail of your coworkers’ qualifications, but their pay rates can provide an important benchmark for your salary. If you’re being undercut regularly by your newer peers, it might be a sign that management is giving preferential rates to newer hires.
- It helps you understand your worth in the marketplace. Aside from your position in the company itself, knowing coworker salaries helps you understand your worth in the marketplace overall. How much are your peers making? Are other companies offering similar rates? Could your company be overly generous compared to the industry averages? Having more salary data can help you find answers to these questions.
- It can help in negotiations with management. Yes, it CAN help, provided you go about it correctly. We’re not suggesting that you go to your boss and complain that your coworkers are making more money than you. Salary data isn’t a point of leverage or an excuse to give an ultimatum. But you can arm yourself with the information and use it to inform your salary negotiation. Based on the above points (your pay relative to your coworkers, and the industry overall) you’ll have a much better idea of whether the “bottom line” rate they’re offering is a fair deal.
Should I Keep It Private or Talk About It?
The benefits of discussing salaries outweigh the drawbacks. We’re confident in that.
However, we suggest that you approach these discussions with care. Some companies might be more amenable to this type of honesty than others, and getting too personal here is a quick way to make waves. There’s no “right’ answer to the salary talk question. It all depends on your situation, so take care before opening up this particular box.