Discussing Salary At Work

Find out why a new openness about discussing salary at work may be affecting job negotiations.

By — on / Salary Negotiations

how to negotiate pay, discussing salary at work, How to Ask for a Salary Increase, Salary Negotiations

Have you ever been tempted into discussing salary at work? Have you revealed how much you earn to a coworker? Your answer to these questions may depend on your age.

Comparing salaries has long been a social taboo in the United States, but members of the Millennial generation—people born in the 1980s and 1990s— are changing that, according to Kevin Hallock, director of Cornell University’s Institute for Compensation Studies.

When 25-year-old Dustin Zick was preparing to leave his job with an online retailer, he compared salaries with five or six coworkers, write Lauren Weber and Rachel Emma Silverman in the Wall Street Journal. Several of the coworkers strategized about salaries they hoped to attain and how they might negotiate for them. The discussions helped Zick meet his target salary at his next job.

Accustomed to sharing minute details of their lives on Facebook and Twitter, Millennials appear to be carrying that penchant into discussing salary at work. Websites such as Glassdoor.com, where people can post their salaries and other information about their jobs, are spurring this trend. That may be bad news for employers, who see value in encouraging employees to keep mum about their salaries.

Breaking the taboo of discussing salary at work

Employers have long believed that discussing salary at work can create problems. Knowledge of pay differences can reduce morale and productivity, researchers have found. To take just one example, the smaller the salary gap between the highest- and lowest-paid players within Major League Baseball teams, the better the team’s performance, Craig Depken of the University of North Carolina found. When we feel unfairly compensated by our organizations relative to others, we may not work as hard as we would otherwise.

Human beings have a strong desire for fairness. Yet our interpretation of what constitutes a fair salary is strongly skewed by our perspective. If you learn that a colleague who has the same job earns more than you do, you may overlook the fact that she has more experience or greater responsibilities. Our perceptions of unfairness, whether factual or not, can breed envy and discontent and lower productivity.

Moreover, we tend to be highly driven by status concerns—that is, we care a great deal about how we measure up to others. Finding out that someone you consider to be a peer is earning more than you do could cause you to be less satisfied with your own accomplishments and also more displeased with your organization.

Should you disclose your salary?

If salary disclosure is, indeed, a growing trend, how can managers and employees alike engage in salary negotiations that satisfy both parties’ interests?

For employees, it’s important to move beyond your own perspective to consider possible explanations for pay discrepancies that you might have overlooked, such as whether similar-seeming colleagues have stronger credentials, greater seniority, or longer work hours. Consult others in your field, or review objective industry standards before making demands that could offend or annoy your employer. If you do find solid evidence that you are underpaid, present your employer with the facts as you see them, being careful to stress that you believe any discrepancy is unintentional.

As for employers, many rely on elaborate job grade systems that divide employees into levels with set salaries. Such clear guidelines may seem rigid, yet they can improve the odds that employees will feel fairly treated relative to others at their level. Some employers are throwing the old rules about salary sharing out the window and striving for complete transparency.

What is your opinion on discussing salary at work?

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