Workers are pushing for more pay transparency, but that doesn’t mean we want our salaries posted with our names attached for all to see.
Employers are facing growing pressure to be more open and honest about compensation. And even though it’s legal for most private-sector employees to discuss how much money they’re making, not everyone wants to share that information. Many of those that do say they would prefer to disclose their pay anonymously.
Talking about our own financial situations — especially with the people we see around the water cooler — still makes a lot of us feel uncomfortable. Fewer than 1 in 4 (24 percent) say they’ve shared their salary with a co-worker, according to the latest Bankrate survey.
“What you’re being paid, I mean, it really reveals a lot about you,” says Dow Scott, a human resources professor at Loyola University Chicago. “It’s how much you’re valued by the company, how much your job’s valued, probably what neighborhood you live in, whether your kids go to a good school or not. I mean, it just, it exposes people.”
Who’s sharing salaries with whom
Many people who avoid telling colleagues how much they’re paid have no problem sharing that information with loved ones. Among respondents, 68 percent have told a spouse or live-in partner how much money they make, and 54 percent have shared their salary with an immediate relative other than a spouse.
Members of high-income households are generally more likely to reveal how much money they’re making than their lower-earning counterparts. And though the difference is small, men are slightly more likely than women to spill the beans about how much money they’re bringing home: 29 percent of men have shared their salary with a co-worker, compared with just 20 percent of women who reported doing so.
“Men assess communications about pay more positively than women,” Scott says. “Men also have more positive perceptions of pay fairness and pay satisfaction.”
Bankrate’s survey also shows that the younger you are, the more likely you are to talk about pay. Among millennials, 58 percent of millennials have talked with a friend about their take-home pay. Just 47 percent of Gen Xers and 33 percent of baby boomers said the same.
Sharing salaries: Younger, wiser?
Sharing your salary information has long been considered taboo, but that notion could be slowly changing, especially among young adults. One in 3 millennials (33 percent) have shared their salary with a co-worker. That’s true for only 18 percent of their parents, the baby boomers. Of course, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the way young adults use social media platforms.
“They’re posting other pictures of what type of car they drive, where they go on vacation and so on and so forth,” says Ricardo Perez-Truglia, an assistant professor of economics at University of California Los Angeles. “So, given that you’re already revealing all of that, I think that revealing what your salary is may not seem like a big deal. Whereas maybe older generations where people were private about everything, being private about salary was even more important.”
Still, even among millennials, a lot of them aren’t talking about how much they get paid while they’re at work. And if they are, they’re opening up mainly to colleagues they feel close to, Perez-Truglia says.
“If I tell you my salary, I’m sort of telling you how much I am worth to the economy or something like that,” Perez-Truglia says. “People don’t like talking about private stuff like that.”
When you’re ready to negotiate your salary at a new job, knowing how much you’re earning relative to others can be helpful. A Bankrate survey released last fall found that just 48 percent of Americans had earned a raise or snagged a higher-paying job in the past year.
But salary discussions among co-workers can create tension and lead to resentment, says Danielle Dayries, founder of DMD & Associates Outplacement and Career Consulting Firm. And a salary by itself doesn’t give you all the facts. There could be something related to someone’s background or experience that justifies a higher salary. Plus, Dayries says, your co-worker could lie and inflate their salary to make themselves look good.
Discovering you earn less than your peers at work can have a negative impact on employee performance, Perez-Truglia and a Harvard professor found. Conversely, if you find out you’re getting paid more, you may feel guilty about slacking off.
The right way to talk about pay
Perez-Truglia encourages his students to break the taboo and openly discuss salaries. But he recommends sharing your salary first if you’re open to it and seeing if a colleague is willing to reciprocate.
If you want to understand your true market value, Dayries says you’re better off speaking with a manager or human resources about the salary range for your position. She suggests exploring websites like Glassdoor or LinkedIn, checking job listings for salaries and speaking with others in the industry — including former employees of your company. That way, you’re armed with enough market research to make your case for a bigger paycheck based on the value you bring to the table.
If you’re going to speak with a co-worker about salaries, talk in general terms, Dayries suggests, and provide a range, not an actual figure.
Whether sharing your salary at work is wise is debatable. But what is clear is that sharing your salary with a live-in significant other is critical to your ability to achieve your financial goals. Being honest about your financial situation is key if you’re preparing to take on a mortgage or finance a car. Surprisingly, 31 percent of survey respondents (including 19 percent who are currently married or live with a partner) have not shared their salary with a live-in spouse or partner.
“If you are planning on making financial decisions together, you need to discuss your income levels, but possibly even more importantly, you need to discuss you spending habits. Are you spending less than you make?” asks Elizabeth Scheiderer, a financial adviser at NCA Financial Planners. “Outlining how much you both make helps with budgeting and cash-flow allocation.”
This study was conducted for Bankrate via landline and cellphone by SSRS on its Omnibus survey platform. Interviews were conducted from Oct. 2-7 among a sample of 1,017 respondents. The margin of error is +/- 3.72 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. SSRS Omnibus is a national, weekly, dual-frame bilingual telephone survey. All SSRS Omnibus data are weighted to represent the target population.