Why Is It Inappropriate to Discuss Salary With Coworkers? (Explained)

I’m sure you’ve noticed that discussing salaries and pay is taboo in the workplace, and something most people are uncomfortable with.

But, why is it inappropriate to discuss salary with coworkers?

Well, this is a complicated and sensitive topic.

There are certainly some pros to discussing how much you’re being paid with your coworkers.

But there are some cons, too.

Here is a look at the pros and cons of discussing salaries in the workplace from both the side of employers and employees.

Why Is It Inappropriate to Discuss Salary With Coworkers?

There are a few reasons why discussing salaries with coworkers is considered taboo.

The main reasons are:

It Can Create an Uncomfortable Work Environment

People are rarely paid exactly the same salary. This means that someone will likely be paid more than someone else doing the same job.

This can lead to resentment and jealousy, which can damage morale and make people feel like they’re not valued by their employer.

It can also lead to a feeling of competition rather than collaboration among coworkers.

It Can Put Employers in A Difficult Position

If employees find out that someone is being paid more than them for doing the same job, they may feel undervalued and ask for a raise.

This can be costly for employers and may create tension between employees.

Almost everyone feels that they deserve to be paid as much, if not more than others doing the same role.

Even if that other person has more experience, it’s normal to have an inflated sense of worth for ourselves.

Related Is it illegal to discuss salaries with your coworkers? (No!)

It Can Lead to Discrimination

If an employer knows that two employees are being paid different salaries, they may be more likely to treat them differently.

For example, they may give one employee more assignments or opportunities because they’re being paid more.

You may even start looking for reasons why someone else is being paid more/less than you.

Such as that person’s background, ethnicity, gender, etc.

This can create a feeling of unfairness and has even led to legal action in some cases I’ve seen over the years.

Pros and Cons of Discussing Your Salary With Your Coworkers

Now that we’ve looked at some of the reasons why discussing salaries is taboo, let’s look at the main pros and cons from both the perspective of employers and employees.

As an Employer:

Pro: You Can Get A Better Idea Of What Your Employees Value

If you ask your employees about their salary expectations, you can get a better idea of what they value in their work.

This can help you determine whether or not they’re a good fit for your company and if they’re likely to stay with your company long-term.

Con: You May inadvertently Create a Hostile Work Environment

If you ask your employees about their salary expectations, you may inadvertently create a hostile work environment.

This is because, as we discussed earlier, people are often paid different salaries for doing the same job.

Asking your employees about their salary expectations can lead to resentment and jealousy, which can damage morale and make people feel like they’re not valued by their employer.

It can also lead to a feeling of competition rather than collaboration among coworkers.

As an Employee:

Pro: You Can Get A Better Idea Of Your Coworkers’ Value

If you ask your coworkers about how much they’re paid, you can get a better idea of how they’re valued by the company.

This can help you determine how much your company is paying for similar roles, and it might make perfect sense in comparison to your wage.

Con: You May Inadvertently Create A Hostile Work Environment

If you ask your coworkers about their salary and it’s very different from yours or others, you may inadvertently create a hostile work environment.

This is because, as we discussed earlier, people are often paid different salaries for doing the same job.

There are a number of reasons for this, and some of those reasons will just not feel – or may not be – fair.

It’s not easy for some employers to balance deciding how much to pay staff members and keep everyone happy.

In fact, I think most employers will tell you it’s an almost impossible and thankless task!

Why Employers Don’t Want You Discussing Your Salary

Employers would rather staff not talk about how much they are paid as it can cause a number of difficult situations.

From jealousy and resentment to complaining and even going on strike, employees that find out they’re not paid as much as their coworkers are rarely going to be happy.

Not discussing salary has long been the norm within a workplace, but it’s certainly something that’s been changing in recent years.

There is more transparency now than ever, and it really feels like more workers than ever are willing to discuss salaries and fight for what they think they’re worth.

Who to Respond When a Coworker Asks What You’re Paid

When a coworker asks you how much you’re paid, there are a few different ways you can respond.

The most common response is to simply tell them that it’s inappropriate to ask and that you don’t feel comfortable discussing your salary with them.

They might not appreciate you being secretive, but they should be aware that most people don’t like discussing pay.

The second option is, to be honest, and tell them how much you’re paid.

This could lead to some awkwardness if they’re paid significantly less or more than you, so you may want to avoid this option unless you’re comfortable with both possible outcomes.

Related content:
Tips for dealing with pushy coworkers!
Tips for dealing with nosy coworkers!
11 Signs a coworker feels threatened by you!

Why You Might Not Be Paid More Than Someone Doing the Same Job

There are a number of reasons why you might not be paid more than someone doing the same job as you.

The most common reason is that they have more experience than you or they’ve been with the company longer.

Another possibility is that they’re simply better at their job than you are.

And, of course, there’s always the possibility that your employer is simply trying to save money and was able to secure you at a lower rate.

While it can be frustrating to know you’re not being paid as much as someone else, it’s important to remember that there are a number of factors that can affect someone’s salary.

If you’re ever curious about why you’re not being paid more, the best thing to do is to ask your employer directly.

They might not give you a straight answer, but at least you’ll know you tried!


Image credits – Photo by TienDat Nguyen on Unsplash

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