Talking about your salary can be incredibly taboo, but that’s not necessarily true for millennials. A survey conducted by The Cashelorette found that 63% of millennials ages 18-36 have shared their salaries with an immediate family member, 48% have shared with friends and 30% have shared with co-workers. Only 41% of baby boomers ages 53-71 have shared their salaries with an immediate family member, 21% have shared with a friend, and 8% have shared with a coworker.
David Burkus, professor at Oral Roberts University, has spent years studying corporate and entrepreneurial leaders who question conventional wisdom about how to run a company. In his TEDx talk, Burkus says, “It turns out that pay transparency — sharing salaries openly across a company — makes for a better workplace for both the employee and for the organization. When people don’t know how their pay compares to their peers’, they’re more likely to feel underpaid and maybe even discriminated against.” It’s not hard to imagine employees that feel like that searching for greener pastures elsewhere.
When salaries are kept secret, employers have access to way more information about compensation than new hires, which gives them the upper hand in negotiating salary. They know what everyone at the company makes, as well as how much they can afford to pay based on skill set, level of experience, and qualifications. Meanwhile, all new hires have is likely whatever they could find on Glassdoor.com and the salary range for the position. Salary secrecy sets employees up to fail.
Not only does salary secrecy leave new hires with little to go on in negotiation, but it allows the wage gap to persist. If a male employee makes more than a female employee in the same position with similar qualifications but neither of them knows it, pay secrecy allows the wage gap between these two to exist, and in the employer’s favor to boot.
Unfortunately, it’s a complicated issue to remedy since there are a lot of factors that may come into play if you do start discussing your salary with coworkers in a decidedly secretive culture. There are caveats; before you go around with a bullhorn announcing your salary, you need to think about your workplace, your employer, and the possible adverse effects it might have for you. Retaliation by your employer may be illegal but subtle retaliation is a lot harder to prove.
There are no clear cut answers for changing the culture of an organization from the bottom up and it will likely take more time for millennials’ salary sharing ways to become more pervasive, but knowing your rights as an employee is a good place to start. As millennials age and begin to move into more leadership positions as Baby Boomers phase out of the workforce, the hush hush culture around salary may very well change for the better.