Asking someone how much money they make is pretty high up on the list of things that most of us were raised to believe is taboo and impolite. But there has been a movement in recent years toward more salary transparency . Supporters say salary transparency can make workplaces more equitable by helping to eliminate the gender and racial pay gaps. Even in companies that haven’t decided to officially make all salaries open, some employees are taking matters into their own hands and sharing their pay rate with their coworkers.
We asked career experts about what you should consider before you reveal your salary to your colleagues. Here’s what they said.
First, Check The Information That Is Already Out There
While casually inquiring about your fellow marketing associate’s take-home pay over happy hour brews might feel natural, career expert for Monster.com Vicki Salemi suggests conducting your own due diligence first. She explains many companies provide transparency to their employees via intranet sites by showcasing salary grades for a myriad of positions. Helpful-ish—sure—but not always straightforward. “Many times pay grades may overlap, so the highest pay grade of one level may be equivalent to the lowest for the next,” she says. That’s why seeking the wisdom of other trusted sites (like Glassdoor) can be meaningful, too.
Another way to exercise your detective skills is to approach mentors, friends, and networks outside your company who you might be more comfortable getting into the nitty-gritty details with. Because you aren’t swimming neck-and-neck with one another, any tension will lessen. “Always pursue external resources for guidance such as a mentor, former boss, or professional industry organization to ask if they or someone in the organization may be a helpful resource to assess the current salary in your field of interest based on your level of experience, skill set, and region,” says Salemi.
Pinpoint Your Reason
With your Googling and lunch dates with past employers behind you, you’re now ready to approach your colleague. It’s not time to jump headfirst into this could-be awkward experience just yet, though. Before you ask, Salemi says to check your intentions and understand your ‘why.'”The purpose of even having this conversation is for employees to gain a better understanding of their value in the market and ensure they’re not settling for less than they should be,” she explains. If, instead, you’re coming from a place of competition, you should rethink your motivation.
Be Careful Who You Talk To
Much like with any sensitive information, salary information is not only useful and powerful—but Salemi warns it can also backfire or cause jealousy or animosity. The best-case scenario is a confidential conversation in a private setting with a trusted peer you know won’t be sending an iMessage the second you separate. If you can’t be certain this colleague is that person, refrain from the chat.
But if your confidant is someone you know will have you and your career’s best interest at heart, discussing money can actually be an impactful tool that connects you together. As career coach Colene Elridge explains, everyone has a “money story,” and many people harbor money fears, so when you break the barrier, you allow people to express—and overcome—how they feel.
That’s why it’s a win-win: You might be empowered to ask for the pay you deserve, and you could be helping your work pal, too. “As a society, we’ve been taught to just not talk money. But, what I have found is the more I talk about money, the less power it starts to have over me. So as you become more comfortable talking about it in a casual situation, you can talk about it with ease in a more formal situation, such as negotiating your compensation package,” she says.
Prepare For Backlash
No matter how close you are to your coworkers, the topic of money is often emotionally charged. That’s why Salemi says to brace for backlash. “Some people consider it to be deeply personal and feel it is intrusive to broach the subject, while others may embrace an open dialogue. For many, there is still a stigma around the topic—years ago, it was considered rude to share this kind of confidential information and often discouraged by employers,” she explains. While it’s not illegal, accept that your workmate might not want to get into the numbers— and respect their decision if they pull back from the dialogue.
Remember: Compensation Packages Aren’t Just About Money
So, your coworker dished and your jaw is on the floor. Regardless of whether you thought they made more or less, you now have to determine how to digest this information. Before you set up a frantic meeting with your manager, Elridge reminds employees that compensation is often much more than salary. And determining a pay grade takes experience, education, skill set and most importantly—negotiating ability—as determining factors. The same goes for cost analysis: Some employees value vacation and flexibility over cash.
In other words: Your same-level friend might make $10,000 more, but do they have agency experience, and you’ve only worked at startups? Perhaps they make $5,000 less than you, but they have an additional week of paid time off and are allowed to work from home on Fridays. “You’re usually only privy to so much information, so you usually don’t know their budget or lifestyle, or how much wiggle room you or they might have,” Elridge says.
The best tactic to best use this information is to make it a habitual conversation and a reminder to always stand up for your worth. “The more salary information you gather, the better you can position yourself in your industry and start commanding the pay you deserve. The more you feel comfortable knowing your worth in your current job and having that number top of mind, the more at ease you’ll be during salary negotiations for your next job,” Salemi says.