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Has It Become Socially Acceptable to Discuss Salaries Openly?


At some point or another, we were all informed of the politeness (or otherwise) of asking other people how much they earn. It’s all part and parcel of growing up and getting into work – we’re programmed from an early age to avoid the subject of salary at all costs.

To such an extent that even in today’s enlightened and liberal 21st century society, discussing our salaries can be the ultimate taboo.

But it seems the winds of change are blowing for a new generation of millennials, who unlike their formal and stuffy predecessors aren’t nearly as afraid to talk cash. In fact, a report published by The Cashelorettefound found that almost two thirds of millennials (63%) between the ages of 18 and 36 have talked about their salaries with their family members. Moreover, 48% have discussed what they earn with their friends and 30% have talked about their take-home pay with their co-workers.

By contrast, little over 40% of adults aged 53 to 71 stated that they discuss their salaries with family members, 21% shared salary information with their friends and just 8% talked about what they earn with their colleagues at work.

This would seem to suggest that younger generations find it more socially acceptable to discuss salaries openly than older generations, but does this add up to a good thing? Are there positives to be taken from discussing salaries openly, or is it a personal and private subject that’s best kept under wraps?

The Importance of Workplace Transparency

A number of experts have already shared their thoughts on the subject, of whom the majority have reached the same conclusion. In an organisational setting of any kind, transparency has the potential to be enormously positive. When members of a workforce share information about their salaries openly with others, there’s none of the typical scepticism and scrutiny that surrounds salary secrecy.

Roughly translated, if you know exactly how your pay compares to that of your peers, you understand your position and the extent to which you are valued.  Assuming you’re all paid pretty much the same (in accordance with experience), knowing this makes it easier to feel part of a cohesive team and focus on the job accordingly.

By contrast, when workers have no idea how much their counterparts are being paid, they may assume they’re being underpaid and undervalued. Even if this isn’t the case, they’ve no way of finding out for sure and could therefore reach misguided conclusions. It’s the classic case of ensuring everyone is on the same level and treated in the same way when doing the same job.

Though of course, this isn’t the way the vast majority of businesses operate.

The Issue of Salary Secrecy

From the moment new recruits are brought on board, salary secrecy can be problematic. For example, by keeping the salaries of employees secret, employers enjoy an enormous upper-hand during the negotiation process. The same also applies to interviews for promotion and general career development, wherein the applicant may accept a salary exponentially lower than that of their colleagues.

Salary secrecy is also blamed for the perpetuation of the wage gap between female and male employees. As there is no requirement for employees to openly discuss or disclose their salaries, men and women doing the same job can get away with receiving very different rates of pay.

Of course, confidentiality legislation provides employees and employers with certain protections regarding salary disclosure. Hence, it’s unlikely sweeping reforms will be implemented anytime soon, resulting in complete disclosure and open discussion of salaries in the workplace.

Still, it’s reassuring to learn that younger generations are gradually eradicating the taboo that’s held back honest and open discussion for so long. If true equality in the workplace is to ever become a reality, open discussion of salaries could be an important part of the process.

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