For a generation that's quick to share everything on our social media accounts, we sure hesitate when it comes to sharing how much we earn. What is it about discussing the fruits of our labour that make us cringe when someone generates interest in it?
To me, it's probably the fear of being judged for the things I spend my money on, while others may presume, as this article from Elle suggests, that speaking openly about your wages will make you come across as either braggy because you earn a lot, or a whiney because you earn very little. Or maybe you'd feel a tad guilty if you discovered you earned more than your peers, or that you would be labelled a rabble-rouser if you ever brought it up in the office.
Read more: How to figure out if you’re being underpaid
"Never let a man know you have a nickel more than he does," is an adage you probably agree with, however, according to research conducted by the professors at Cornell University and Tel Aviv University, when it comes to being overt about salaries in the workplace transparency enhances performance.
The study asked 280 Israeli undergraduate students to play three rounds of a computer matching game at a base salary. Half of the participants were told they would receive a bonus salary if they achieve a high performance and were informed about their peers' bonus pay, while the other half were only let in on their individual bonuses and were also discouraged from discussing pay.
The results revealed two things: pay transparency makes employees work harder, and pay secrecy leads to a decline in performance.
And in a bid to discover whether openly sharing pay information really does improve performance, another assistant professor of economics at Middlebury College undertook an experiment – its results validating the above point.
However, Tanvi Malik, co-founder of FabAlley, told Grazia that comparison is unhealthy. "I do believe that one's motivation to do better should stem from one's individual performance. For me, comparing performances and in turn your compensation with your peers is unhealthy. We should focus on doing better compared to our own previous performance," she said.
This Reddit user sums it up well, looking at it from two perspectives:
It Is Rude To Ask
You don't know how much your co-workers are making. As a result, you don't know how much you should be making. You are at a significant disadvantage when negotiating wages with your manager as he/she is privy to this knowledge.
Thanks to the workers not knowing what average wages are, they can negotiate lower wages. This is great for them.
It Is Not Rude To Ask
You now know what everyone else is making. You know which company pays the best. You can negotiate wages similar to that of your peers.
You have lost nothing. Someone else knows how much you make and might judge you. Hardly a big deal.
Worker loyalty is reduced. Workers can jump ship between companies that are paying the highest. The workers can negotiate better wages. This is bad for the company so it makes wage discussion feel taboo.
However, the crucial point to bear in mind is that pay transparency is not simply limited to an understanding on individual performance. If discouraged, it can reinforce discriminatory practices in the workplace.
This recent W24 article discusses the worryingly high levels of inequality of salaries between men and women, and between whites and people of colour in South Africa. When concealing salaries in the office, we're essentially allowing for unsavoury employment practices such as race and gender discrimination to flourish. In an op-ed for IOL, media veteran Ryland Fisher also draws importance to the concerning inequality pay gap in the country.
Interestingly, Glassdoor's Global Salary Transparency Survey suggests that majority of employees (70%) across seven countries are in favour of pay transparency in the workplace.
Considering this, ask yourself that if you knew a company was harbouring a practice of favouritism and paying its employees unfairly, would you be in support of it?
In a Fin24 article, Pieter Human, director of the labour advisory service Labourwise says that from a legal perspective, nothing prevents a South African company from revealing salary information to all employees, although he adds that true salary transparency can only work in companies where the wage and skill gaps are relatively small.
If you'd rather be willing to discuss your sex life than your salary – as the video below mentions – you're only taking power away from the employee and giving it to the company.
Bear in mind how you approach the issue, though. Remember that comparison isn’t inherently bad unless it ends up breeding bitterness and jealousy that can really just be detrimental to the morale of the workplace.
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