Keeping up with your colleagues: Is it okay to talk about salaries?

By Robert Half September 30, 2014 at 10:09pm

In a world often fuelled by the urge to overshare, volunteering your salary details has remained firmly taboo. Understandably, people often view discussing pay packets with your colleagues as a minefield that can spark jealousy, low morale and resentment. However, comparing wages with your work friends doesn’t have to be a disaster – as long as you exercise common sense.

Collateral damage

Comparing salaries with a colleague that earns less than you can create feelings of animosity. This goes double if you’re in a similar role and tend to socialise together outside work. Enjoying expensive outings can breed ill feelings if one of you needs to make sacrifices and the other can easily afford it. If you’re the one earning less, it’s pointless attempting to draw accurate conclusions based on what a colleague tells you they’re making. It’s worth remembering that pay scales can vary depending on education, certifications and past experience. Falling into the comparison trap can prove highly demotivating.

Dwindling morale

Discussing salaries around the water cooler can set off gossip as well as debates about who is worthy of their current salary package. This can develop into resentment and affect everything from productivity to team morale. It’s also a dangerous game to play with your employer, who may have firm policies in place about the discussion of such confidential information. If it comes to light that you’ve been spreading the word about your colleagues’ salaries, without remaining sensitive to potential issues, your manager could determine that you are unprofessional and untrustworthy.

Getting what you’re worth

If you suspect your employer is underpaying you – or your teammates – then it can be useful to know what your colleagues are earning. If you think this is the case, a one-on-one conversation with a workmate you trust can empower you to make the right professional decisions. It’s also important to research the award rates for your industry and experience by consulting professional bodies and surveys, such as our Robert Half Salary Guide, before deciding how you want to proceed. Swiftly jumping to conclusions can hurt your professional credibility and impact your chances of getting a pay rise.

Striking a better deal

If you want a pay rise and you’re preparing to start a salary negotiation with your boss, it’s beneficial to know how much colleagues are taking home. Again, subtlety is key when broaching this topic with a co-worker. Instead of asking for a figure outright, it might be worth comparing notes about pay range. If you’re friends with a colleague who no longer works for your organisation, this might present an opportunity to be more detailed. Don’t forget, however, that any negotiation with your employer should also take into account up-to-date information from salary databases. Bringing up a colleague’s salary in a meeting is highly unprofessional.

Although employers often frown upon talking about salaries directly with your co-workers, there are certain situations in which broader pay discussions are acceptable. Just remember to be respectful and sensitive with confidential information.

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