March 21, 2010
The salary taboo: Hard times cause fewer people to talk about what they earn
The workplace has been turned upside down in the last year because of the recession, and it appears it has even changed our attitudes regarding an often-taboo subject: talking about our salaries.
Whether to reveal to others what we make has prompted more than a few debates. A recent survey reveals that Americans are becoming even more guarded about sharing the details of their compensation. According to Glassdoor.com, 17 percent of respondents say they are not comfortable talking about what they earn, up from 11 percent in 2008.
Why are workers talking less about their pay?
“There’s a lot of fear and insecurity out there,” says Rusty Rueff, a Glassdoor workplace expert. “People don’t want the boss or human resources to think they’re not grateful to have a job if they question their salary. And I think there is some survivor guilt as well. People just don’t want to talk about it if things are going well for them.”
The survey found that workers’ age and gender may determine whether they’re willing to share income amounts with others. For example, 11 percent of men age 18-34 share salary information with casual acquaintances, compared with only 2 percent of women age 18-34 and 2 percent of men 55 or older.
Veronica Schaefer, a finance employee in New York, says she strongly believes that salaries should be openly discussed. She says she is surprised that more people are keeping mum about their earnings and says she and her co-workers are talking about money more than ever before.
“My colleagues and I have been talking about how we’re doing the work of two or three people and not getting paid for it,” says Schaefer, 26. “I think a lot of people are being taken advantage of in this economy, and companies know employees are willing to suck it up and take what they can get. That’s why I think we should reveal what we make -- that way you know if you’re getting paid what you’re worth.”
Rueff notes that workers like Schaefer show that while they’re willing to commiserate with co-workers or friends, employees often don’t complain to bosses because they don’t want to call attention to themselves in a way that might bring a negative backlash from management. “They don't want to be vulnerable in any way,” he says. “It’s like they go into a cocoon.”
One of the concerns facing employers these days, however, is what will happen once the economy improves and workers decide to emerge from their cocoons. Already operating with only key players, these companies could be facing some real threats to their ability to compete if workers discontented with their workload and salaries decide to leave.
Schaefer says she and her colleagues may be some of those ready to head for better jobs when the economy recovers. “We’ll all definitely be looking for another job if we don’t feel like we’re being paid fairly,” she says.
“If we think the ‘favorites’ are getting paid more, it’s not fair to those who work really hard and don’t get as much,” she says. “That’s why I think it makes sense to reveal what you make. At the end of the day, what works is all of us making sure we get paid fairly for the job we’re doing.”
Notes Rueff: “The workplace is like a game of musical chairs, and while the music has been stopped for a while, when it starts up again you’re going to see employees be on the move.”
Is your pay competitive? Check the Salary Wizard at NWjobs.com/careercenter.
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