Salary discussions at the office rarely happen but they should. It’s the very thing that causes everyone to be there for work in the first place, but it’s the last thing anyone wants to bring up.
Let’s be real. We’ve been told for so long that it’s tacky to talk about how much we make because the more silence there is around what employees are making, the more a company can profit off of those who are underpaid.
This taboo can bring up insecurities and make conversations about pay difficult to start. Knowing how to approach the subject of salary with coworkers in a respectful manner is essential for having a productive conversation that helps everyone.
- There are policies in place against pay secrecy that protect employees when talking about pay.
- The best salary discussions are mutually beneficial and lead with clear intentions.
- There is a difference between your peers' salaries and your market rate. Be sure to research your market rate either before, during, or after these discussions.
Can you be fired for talking about pay?
No, you can’t be fired for talking about your pay at work. There are pay transparency laws in place to combat pay secrecy and protect employees from retaliation when talking about pay. According to the National Labor Relations Act, “employees have the right to communicate with other employees at their workplace about their wages.”
It’s an important right that you should exercise as much as you can, as appropriately as you can.
What you can’t do is talk about other people’s salaries if you found out. For example, if you find out what colleague A is making and you talk to colleague B, you can’t tell colleague B what colleague A is making. Even HR can’t have conversations with other people about other people’s salaries.
You can only share what you make.
When it gets legally tricky is if the company you work for has any clauses that restrict you from having salary discussions on company time or company property.
If this is the case for you, invite your colleague out for coffee or lunch to start that discussion. When these conversations are in more relaxed environments outside of the office, they tend to be much more productive anyway.
Icebreakers to Begin Salary Conversations at Work
It’s awkward and intimidating to start conversations about salary at work. First, give yourself grace. These conversations certainly aren’t normalized and it’s natural for you to feel weird about them.
The best way to frame it is to present what your situation is first. Maybe you want to ask for a raise or are simply curious to see if you’re being underpaid at your job.
Start with something along the lines of, “After working at the company for X amount of time, I’ve been thinking about asking for a raise. After watching Salary Transparent Street, I’m wondering what is a fair number to ask for. What’s been your experience in your career with salary negotiation?”
If you’re curious to see if you’re being underpaid, bring up the topic of something like employee reviews coming up or a new project or responsibility you’ve been given. These topics can be used to naturally steer the conversation into talking about pay.
Try to frame it in a way that isn’t directly asking them how much they make. Give them the opportunity to get the feel of the conversation and have it naturally evolve from there. Gauge how comfortable they are with it because it isn’t fair to force that conversation if they’re not ready.
Something that tends to make starting these conversations easier is to first practice on friends and family.
Do’s & Don'ts of Discussing Salary With Coworkers
Whenever you have these conversations, come from a place of respect and wanting to learn something that benefits you. Your intention behind wanting to start these conversations is an important element for how they’ll play out. There’s a difference between being nosy and wanting to have a productive conversation to learn something that can help with your career development.
The conversation should also be mutually beneficial. If you’re wanting to ask someone about their compensation, are you willing to share yours in return?
What to Do With The Information
If you find out you’re being underpaid from someone else’s salary, DO NOT storm into your manager’s office and point fingers.
Legally (see above), you can’t tell them that your colleague is making [$X], which is higher than what you make, and then ask for a raise. You’ll need to present an argument for a pay increase competitive with the market rate of your peers based on your experience, skills, etc.
Use what you’ve learned from your colleagues and then do your own research to find your market rate. Download our free Market Research Guide to learn what you should be making.
Then, use a sample script from our free Salary Negotiation Guide (coming soon!) to ask for a raise, or learn how to negotiate a job offer if you need to start looking for another job).
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