By: Revanche

Salary transparency: where do you stand?

January 6, 2009

Does the idea of your salary or net worth being public knowledge make your skin crawl? And I don’t mean within the relatively sheltered PF blogging community where many of us blog anonymously, I mean in your everyday life. Would you share the details of your financial life, to any degree, with friends and family willingly?

I always thought that salary transparency in the workplace made sense for the employees. After all, as the question is commonly asked, what does the company/employee have to lose? The opportunity to be paid a fair wage? The arguments for sharing salary information are cogent, as blogger Penelope Trunk points out that “the only party protected by secrecy is HR ― no one can see how arbitrary salary decisions are. Who wins the highest dollars? Good negotiators, personable people and people who bring in intangible benefits, she says.”

Then again, those not in favor of transparency argue that comparing salaries by job title doesn’t take into account many other factors, like abilities, performance, and motivation. Or negotiation skills.

I’ve recently used both PayScale and Glassdoor to suss out the salary range for my current job as well as my boss’s job to get an idea of what kind of salary requests and expectations are reasonable in my field, yet find myself strangely uncomfortable with the notion of telling a personal friend how much I make.

I feel like I goofed big time this holiday when my best friend in the whole world, with whom I can discuss almost everything, asked me in front of another longtime friend how much I made. (The longtime friend and I aren’t terribly close.)

My big mouth slipped and revealed my base salary, even though she thinks what I consider a modest salary range to be “a lot of money,” right in front of the other friend. Their body language both said “whoa!” Immediately, my reaction was, “aw crap, I should not have gone there!” It’s silly – my discomfort stemmed from not wanting them to think I was rich. I’m not! And I did point out that if I were to make a little more than that, it still wouldn’t be much because moving out would create two households to be supported. But even if they were aware that I make ok money, what does it matter? If they’re going to be part of my network, doesn’t it make sense for them to have an accurate sense of what I’d expect to be paid? Yeah, that doesn’t matter, I still feel weird about it. Even my family doesn’t know how much I make! (There’s a good reason for that: my …special…. brother would definitely assume that I was rolling in easy money and try to take even more advantage of me than he already has.)

How would you feel if your friends knew how much you made? Would you feel comfortable discussing that?

Related reading:

The case for sharing your salary details
: MSN Money UK
What Am I Worth?:

18 Responses to “Salary transparency: where do you stand?”

  1. My friends and I discuss each other’s salaries. We’re all still in pretty much entry level jobs, so the pay could always be better.

    What’s even more fun is comparing my pay to my friends’ pay in other countries, and we also compare our benefits. It seems to me that they are being paid considerably less for similar positions.

    Then again, there’s the friend who pulls in $200,000 at the age of 24. I kid you not, he’s an investment whiz. Blah. (I’m not hating on him, just wish I could make that kind of money myself!).

  2. mOOm says:

    In the public service world here if you know someone’s rank then you can easily look up their salary – e.g. Senior Lecturer or CSIRO researcher level 8 etc. The same is true in at least some US states. Though say at University of California many professors are paid extra money from the endowment. Not sure if you can look up their actual salary then. In some states you can. But not as easy.

  3. My company gives us a range of salaries for our job based on pay level & geographic area. Sometimes I think I’d like to know what other people at my comapny are making more specifically, but I don’t know if I’d want that to be revealed to my family and friends.

  4. Sunflowers says:

    Back when I was working full-time, I made the mistake of telling a friend (actually my best friend at the time) how much I was making… kind of added to the jealousy issues she was having. So, it really depends on the friend… and the knowledge of how much (or approx how much) they’re making and how secure they are with that.

    Probably the only person I am completely comfortable with sharing all my financial details is my bf, with my dad as a close second.

  5. Miss M says:

    I think it depends on the friend, with most of mine I would be totally comfortable sharing. My family, not so much. Most of them are losers and I don’t need them asking for money, they’re the main reason I keep my blog anonymous. At work some people are very secretive about their salaries while others are happy to share. The thing is, our salaries are all kept in these cost estimate spreadsheets that are open to anyone. So if you really want to know what the boss makes it’s super easy to find out! I make good money but it doesn’t go far in the big city.

  6. Awesome post and great comment fodder.

    I don’t really tell people what I make.. Well. No I lie, I do. Because we all make around the same figures (or we did when I made 65k a year)

    now that I make $110-$130/hour, I just say the hourly rate.. and no one does the math so no one knows how much that is…plus I don’t work full-time.. it’s contract based so my income varies.

    If they’re open in sharing with me, I am too. But I’m finding that I should just shut up even if they ask and be vague.

  7. Karen says:

    My friend recently asked me how much I make. I know she makes more (she has a different type of job/degree/title/job sector but same general industry) and I told her but not that willingly. She’s got a bit of an ego. She also asked a mutual acquaintance what she made but hasn’t fessed up her own salary. I want to ask one day. I know she has some debt (it sounds like a lot actually but I don’t ask) but something in savings at least.
    My company is against employees discussing salaries. I’ve never seen a grade scale/pay range for any job. I think there’s a lot of unfair pay. But supposedly that is being re-evaluated.

  8. I get weirdly uncomfortable with it. I told my parents in the past, but might not going forward. I would tell a friend, if pressed, but if they aren’t in my industry, it almost seems like some sort of weird competition.

    If they are in my industry, it makes more sense, but I don’t know if I could banish the “competitive” feeling even there (within myself).

  9. In general, I don’t discuss salary, I say that I get a base and $$ based on commission and bonus (which is partialy true). I had a bad experience with a close family member taking advantage of my “salary”. I did let it slip at our new years eve party that one year I only made X amount of dollars, not realizing what I considered a bad salary year was an exceptionally good one to that person.

  10. J. Money says:

    Always makes for a great discussion – i love it! I’ll have to admit i’m pretty much the same as you are.

    Whenever it slips i shiver because from that point forward the friend thinks of my lifestyle different no matter who it is…probably because i always used to be the “poor” one and now i make close to what they do.

    if a best friend opens up i’m all for it, but i’m tired of the others getting all sorts of wrong impressions…i guess that’s why it’s so fun to blog about our salaries 🙂

  11. Matt says:

    Personally I won’t go advertising my salary, I make a pretty good salary but that piece of information by itself doesn’t actually mean much. I can make 100K a year but have debts that require 150K – people will think I have money but my reality would be that I’m struggling. If my friends ask me how much I make I have no problem telling them but they’re also likely to know where I’ve been and other details about my financial situation which will put the dollar amount into perspective.

    As for overall transparency I don’t know how good it is, if I work with 5 other people who do a similar job to me I want my salary to reflect my abilities and performance and not be a baseline for everyone.

  12. Revanche says:

    Wow, great discussion everyone! Matt’s comment reminded me that my bosses used my request for a raise back in ’07 as motivation to give *everyone* raises. Their getting extra money didn’t bother me as much as the fact that I had to do all the work to make the bosses even think about doing it. Oh well.

    losangelesdaze: Hah, don’t we all wish we were doing as well as your friend?
    Are your friends in the same industry?

    mOOm: I’ve used salary grades published online at some universities to get an idea of what a potential job paid here in the US. Wonder if that makes a difference in salary negotiations or promotions? (ie: I produce 2x as much as Prof X, I should make Z amount more?)

    paranoidasteroid: So yes professionally, but no personally.

    Sunflowers: that’s pretty much what I was concerned about since I don’t know what they’re making and we have different goals and responsibilities.

    Miss M: I hear you on the money not going far in the city. Deadbeats or not, my family’s just too gossipy!
    I’m surprised that your company’s that open access about salary, though. Most companies forbid discussion of salary.

    FB: “shut up and be vague” hah! Exactly how I felt after the fact. Too bad it was too late!

    Karen: was she just asking because she wanted to know? Salary only comes up when we’re talking about career planning or job hunting so it’s relevant to the conversation.

    Stackingpennies: Maybe that weird discomfort is competitiveness, or feeling challenged. It might be different if they were in the same industry, but I suppose it depends on the friend.

    Bouncing Back: Yech, I remember my mom telling my family (brother, or aunt?) how much I made once, for some stupid unjustifiable reason, and that really ticked me off.

    J.Money: Haha, yeah, why are people in pf blogland so much less judgmental? Probably ’cause they have more of the whole picture than any other random person, and we really care about building our financial empires. 😀

    Matt: Yep! I would be for transparency if performance, goal achievement, and other relevant issues were clearly factored into the equation so it’s not just a matter of title and seniority, or negotiation skills. But then again, I don’t know of many managers who are objective enough or willing to take the time to deal with that.

  13. mOOm says:

    In the public/university sector here all that matters is whether you can work a the level that was advertised for the job in question, which is probably going to be very precise about these “selection criteria”. After that there is little wiggle room on pay – there are a few “increments” within each rank and you can start higher or lower. So they’ll say: “for the associate professor position you need to do a, b, c, d, e, f…” or for the “level 8 (public service position) you need experience 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…”

    Now in the private university sector in the US things are entirely different and it is much more like private companies.

  14. Miss M says:

    Our salaries are often part of the public record, I work on large transportation projects paid for by government entities. When we bid jobs it includes our resumes and the cost estimates have hours multiplied by rate. The spreadsheets don’t have names but they all have job title, so as long as you know who is who it’s pretty easy to figure out.

    On an interesting and related note, one of our local papers recently exposed the salaries of everyone working for the city government by name. I of course went and checked my counterparts salaries! The govt employees were furious, but the paper had the freedom of information act on their side.

  15. Karen says:

    Revanche: Hmm my comment yesterday didn’t post.
    We were discussing my move and I was commenting on what I didn’t want to pay and she asked what I was making. I might make less but my cash flow appears to be better. 😉

  16. Revanche says:

    Moom: I didn’t realize the public u sector was so stringent, thanks for sharing!

    Miss M: I didn’t know we had a similar “leak” to that of the Italians .. did you compare favorably with your counterparts? 🙂

    Karen: Oh, so it was relevant. In some cases (most?) cash flow is king. 🙂

  17. Katie C. says:

    Thankfully, I have few friends outside of the blogosphere and work. Ha, that sounds horrible, but it’s true. Amy knows how much I make. We talk about our budgets and expenses and salaries just about every time we get together. It’s nice to pick each other’s brains and get feedback from a different perspective. 🙂

    • Revanche says:

      Hah yes, that *sounds* horrible but I suspect that might not be as true as you think it is. We’ll argue about that later. 😉

      I think it’s nice to have one or two close friends who know what you make where you can get that good feedback and perspective. I do have that with one person – no more than that, though. We’re from different industries, different educational backgrounds (degrees), and are different genders. We both wanted to earn 100K by 30, earn 1M by … soon, and retire early on multiple income streams though. He’s sort of beating me by a little. Dammit. 😀

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