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Is Talking Salary a Good Idea?

By Maurie Backman - Oct 28, 2017 at 8:02AM

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Apparently, the subject is no longer totally taboo. But is discussing it a wise move?

It used to be that talking salary was considered taboo among colleagues, friends, and even family members to a certain extent. But apparently, the topic is no longer off the table -- especially when it comes to younger workers. In fact, 48% of employees between the ages of 18 and 36 regularly share salary information with their friends, while 30% share it with coworkers.

Not surprisingly, older workers tend to be more tight-lipped when it comes to salary details. Only 21% of those aged 53 to 71 talk salary with friends, while just 8% share with coworkers.

Professional man and woman talking and walking

Image source: Getty Images.

Regardless of these disparities, the question remains: Is it smart to discuss salary information with others? Or is that information best kept under wraps?

Benefits of talking salary

Discussing salary information can be a good thing in that it'll help you get a sense of whether you're being fairly paid. If you have an open conversation about salary with your colleagues, all of whom have similar job titles and responsibilities, and you discover that they're all making more money than you, it'll prompt you to fight for a raise rather than sit back and leave things status quo.

Furthermore, talking salary with others might give you some insight as to why you're not earning the same amount they are. For example, you might think you have the same qualifications as your colleague, only to discover that he or she holds several certifications you don't. If you come to learn that that same person makes $5,000 more per year than you do, it might motivate you to build your skills.

Talking salary might also help you feel better about your earnings level. If you're worried you're being underpaid and come to learn that your coworkers are in the same boat, it might serve as a source of reassurance.

Drawbacks of talking salary

On the other hand, discussing salary in detail can backfire under certain circumstances. For one thing, it might lead to resentment among your coworkers if it turns out you make more than they do. That, in turn, could impact your relationship. The flipside is also a possibility. If you discover that they're all earning more than you, you might grow to resent or dislike them, which will make for a rather unpleasant work experience.

Another thing to consider is that your company might have a policy that prohibits talking salary. If you violate that policy and word gets back to the big bosses, you could end up compromising your job.

Of course, that's not something you have to worry about if you limit salary talk to friends alone. But even that has its risks. For one thing, your friends might start taking advantage of you if they learn you earn considerably more (think getting stuck with the bill when you go out, or constantly being asked to bring the most expensive item to your rotating dinner parties). Additionally, your higher salary might prompt your friends to ask to borrow money, which makes for an uncomfortable situation regardless of how much you earn.

The bottom line

Though learning what other people are making can help you stay on track in terms of income, it can also open the door to a host of negative consequences. Therefore, if you're going to talk salary, do so sparingly. Confide in family members or trusted friends, but be wary about sharing that information with the folks you work with. You never know who might blab, and the last thing you want is to wreck relationships or -- worse yet -- compromise your future at your company.

Furthermore, if your goal in talking salary is not to be nosy or overshare, but rather to see if your compensation is adequate, then there may be a better way to get at that information. Glassdoor, for example, has a useful "Know Your Worth" tool that lets you pull up salary data based on your job title and geographic location. You can also reach out to an industry-specific recruiter who knows the market and can shed some light on the going rate for your position. Discussing salary with friends and colleagues might seem like the easiest way to know how yours stacks up, but if you're willing to do some research, you'll get the same results without the potential awkwardness.

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