Should you talk about your pay? Career experts weigh in


Even with nearly every cultural taboo thrown to the wind− from discussing sexual orientation to politics; one last conversational taboo still exist among Americans − how much we get paid.

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"These days, it's okay to talk about the troubles we're having with our children or even our marriages," noted one blogger from PayScale. "We can talk about race, religion, identity, etc., outside of work. But, do we talk with each other about our salaries? Oh goodness, absolutely not. That's way too personal, and it's a conversation fraught with danger."

But what if this is a mistake? Salary transparency at work can be beneficial right on down the line. First, it could ultimately help right the gender pay gap. (Think about what might have happened if Michelle Williams had learned in conversation early on that she was getting literally millions less than Mark Walhberg for the reshoot of “All the Money in the World”, for example.) 

"Pay transparency helps workers understand their earnings in relation to the salaries of their peers," PayScale noted. "Openly sharing our financial truth with one another, both inside and outside of the office, is one of the best weapons we have against it."

Openly talking about earnings can also support job satisfaction and employee retention. PayScale studies have shown that people most often leave their jobs over pay issues, for example. But 55 percent of the respondents who thought they were being underpaid actually weren't, a factor that would be eliminated if people talked readily about their earnings.

On an individual level, though, there are two strong points of view about whether you should talk about what you earn with co-workers.

In a 2015 Huffington Post article , the answer to "Should you talk about what you earn" was a loud, yes.

"If you want to make sure you're being paid fairly, go ahead and talk to your co-workers about how much you make. Seriously," HuffPost said. 

The article cites the now landmark case of Erica Baker, a former Google engineer, who posted a shared spreadsheet asking co-workers to reveal their salaries. About 5 percent of her co-workers responded, Baker noted in a Tweet.

"People asked for and got equitable pay," she tweeted, "based on the data in the sheet."

But the "go ahead, it's all good" mentality is by no means widespread even three years later. In an early 2018 LinkedIn viewpoint roundup, based on an anonymous spreadsheet of entertainment employee salaries being shared widely that week, biotechnology executive Barrett S. McGrath gave a top-rated answer to the question, "Should you tell your co-workers what you earn?"

His final answer: "No, no, hell no. Never discuss comp with coworkers."

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McGrath based his answer on advice from his first district manager. 

"He told me, 'There is absolutely nothing good that can come from discussing salary and compensation with a co-worker, ever. At best, everyone feels fine because comp about the same. Inevitably, one of the two parties will be compensated less. A person who, just prior to the conversation, felt perfectly fine about their job and comp, now does not."

No matter whether you side with McGrath or Payscale, it's a tricky wicket. 

Other business experts shared these tips to help make the decision, and, if you decide to talk, how to go about it:

Make sure you're allowed to. Supervisors aren't protected under federal law, according to the Huffpost piece, and neither are government employees, though typically their pay levels are publicly available. 

Be discreet. Pay is still a pretty touchy subject, Huffpost noted, adding, "Don't corner your colleague in the bathroom and demand to see his pay stub." 

Choose your words. HP advised something like, "Hey, I want to make sure I'm being paid fairly. Would you mind telling me how much you make?" Also assure your colleague you'll keep his name out of any salary negotiations you initiate.

Consider talking outside the office. Talk over a cocktail or coffee.

Speak for yourself. "Once you have shared your earnings, don't necessarily expect to get the same information in return," PayScale advised. "Although being open about pay might be good for us, it's a personal choice. Don't share what you earn because you want someone to return the favor. Leave that decision to them."


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