13 July 2008

Is it ever OK to tell someone how much you make?

Someone asked me the other day what my salary was. I was taken aback. Then she proceeded to tell me how much she earned. I was even more surprised at that. What bothered me the most however was learning she was making more than I was for the same job.

Years ago we were taught never to reveal our salary. We might be quite happy in our job until we learn someone else is making more money, then we suddenly are not so happy anymore. I thought the biblical story of the Parable of the Workers was a good demonstration of that very thing so I thought I would include a link to it.

I remember when I started my first job in the mid 70s. I was so excited about getting a steady salary that I wrote the amount in my calendar on each payday. I was making $137 every two weeks. That may seem like a little bit of money today, but when you consider my rent was only $50 a month, it really wasn't that bad for a young girl right out of high school. When my boss noticed what I had written, he took me aside and told me that I should never write my salary down for others to see. Have things changed in this new generation of transparency and having everything out in the open? Is it now OK to tell what you earn?

I think employees are torn about what is the best thing to do. While I was considering this question, it did cross my mind that by not being open about my salary an employer could then pay employees whatever they wanted and none of us would be the wiser. We don't know what the other person is making so we have no idea if we are getting what we are worth. I think it is to the employer's benefit that we don't discuss salary.

I wondered what others thought and posted the question on AdminSecret.com. I wanted to write about it, but wasn't sure if what I thought was just something that I was influenced to think or if I had a valid point to keep it secret.

Coincidentally, the next day I noticed on my blog roll that Penelope Trunk had just posted about that very topic and she was taking the view that salaries should be transparent.

I am not so sure I agree with her. On the one hand I can see her point, but on the other hand I really don't want others knowing what I make. That is my own business. What I would like to see being more transparent is the salary range for different positions and the benefits that a company has to offer. At least you would then be able to see if you were close to the mark or not.

Recently someone sent me a job posting which I forwarded on to someone I thought might be interested in the position. Before I passed it on I asked the salary range so I could give that information to my friend. I was told they do not give the salary range out, but that it was something potential employees negotiated with them when an offer was made. My friend didn't want to bother with sending her resume unless she knew it was going to be worth her while. She didn't want to go to the trouble of trying to get an interview only to find the salary and benefits were never in her range to begin with.

I am not sure what I will say if I am ever asked that question again, but more than likely I will reply, "I'd rather not say".

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