3 Good Reasons to Talk to Coworkers About Your Pay

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  • Your right to discuss your pay with your colleagues is protected by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
  • Discussing salaries could help eliminate the gender pay gap that is still leaving women (and especially women of color) making less than their male colleagues.
  • Salary transparency can lead to better coworker relationships and more job satisfaction.

It's your ticket to a more fair and equitable workplace.

There is often an employer-enforced code of silence around salaries. If they don't outright prohibit it, companies might discourage pay discussions among staff because they say it creates discomfort or resentment within the ranks of employees. The benefit to employers of making these rules is that they can save money by paying some staff members less for doing the same job as others, and they can save themselves headaches by leaving employees in the dark about pay inequities. Regardless of your employer's perspective, your right to share salary information is likely protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The law is broad and intended to cover as many employees as possible; you can check whether your company is of the type and budget to fall under the law at the National Labor Relations Board.

The NLRA was passed in 1935, with the intention of protecting workers' full freedom of association. This means that employees have the right to seek better working conditions and engage in collective bargaining without fear of retaliation by their employers. With this in mind, here are three ways that discussing salary with your colleagues can make your work life better.

1. It could make salaries more equitable

When it comes to your pay, if you're a woman, odds are you're already at a disadvantage. The gender pay gap has been gradually improving since 1960, when the average woman made $0.60 to the average man's $1 of salary. As of 2020, that figure was $0.83 on average, for all women. We've still got a lot of work to do to eliminate this gap entirely, and you can help the process along by talking about salaries with your coworkers. If you're a woman and you find out that some of your male colleagues make more than you (with similar experience and qualifications), it could be worth digging into further and possibly sitting down with your manager for a discussion. Pay inequality is even more pronounced for women of color; Black women make just 64% of the salary of white men, and Hispanic women 57%, according to the Department of Labor. If you learn of big inequities by gender or racial lines at your workplace, it could be a red flag worth discussing with an employment lawyer.

Even if the pay divides in your workplace have nothing to do with gender or race, it's for the good of all employees that they be standardized. After all, if you know that a colleague with more experience and training than you justifiably makes more money, that gives you something to strive for as you advance in your career.

2. It could improve coworker relationships

While this may sound counterintuitive, discussing salaries with your colleagues could improve your working relationships. It requires a lot of trust to discuss money and compensation with people you associate with for work. Some people are even uncomfortable discussing salary with their friends and family, after all. But if you have salary transparency, you can also build the kind of workplace where colleagues advocate for one another, encourage skills training, and work together for the common good: fairer salaries for all.

3. It could improve job satisfaction

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if your employer takes an arbitrary approach to salaries, rather than a standardized and transparent one, it could be an indication of a random approach to other aspects of the business. That's not a marker for success. Plus, employees are happier and more productive when they feel they are paid fairly, and have the encouragement and ability to rise to more challenges and negotiate for higher pay as they advance in their careers.

Armed with these reasons, you might feel a bit more confident initiating a salary discussion with some trusted coworkers. It is important to note that while your employer cannot legally forbid you from this, they can say you're not allowed to discuss pay on company time when you should be working, and some confidentiality agreements may forbid salary discussions with those outside the company. So keep these points in mind as you work toward a happier and more equitable workplace -- not to mention more money in your savings account to achieve your financial goals.

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