Income as a Taboo Subject

Why are our Incomes such a Taboo Subject?

"You wouldn't agree to sell your house or car without knowing what it's actually worth, so why accept a new or existing salary without knowing how much your time is worth?" In this post, Jon argues that we should be talking about our salary with our colleagues and peers. Here's why...

If you’d have asked me three years ago what my salary was, I would have scoffed judgmentally then muttered something about how impolite and improper such a question was. I would’ve then probably cut you out of my life because I have an unwavering aversion to impolite and improper people.

But if you asked me today? I would simply tell you what my salary is.

Why the change?

I used to think talking about my salary would come across as brash, arrogant or boastful in some way. That people would think less of me for it. I worried that some would think I was paid less than they expected and lower their opinion accordingly, or that others would think I was overpaid and resent me for it.

Income as a Taboo Subject
Despite how I may have packaged it to myself, the reality was that I was being selfish by not talking about it. I was protecting myself from unlikely embarrassment and in the process, withholding information that could have benefitted my friends and colleagues.

People don’t use this information to judge others, they use it to evaluate their own position. If they know how much others are paid, they can more accurately value themselves and therefore make better educated decisions about their own career.

If we don’t know how much others are paid, we are unable to answer the following questions:

  • Am I being paid fairly compared to others in the same role?
  • Does the company reward loyalty?
  • Is the company pay scale consistent?
  • How well does this industry pay long term?
  • How well do other industries pay?

Knowledge is Power

Knowing the answers to all these questions enables us to decide what we do next, whether that’s asking for a raise from our current employers, seeking a new position elsewhere, or even changing career completely. You wouldn’t agree to sell your house or car without knowing what it’s actually worth, so why accept a new or existing salary without knowing how much your time is worth?

By refusing to talk about this, we’re handing all of the power over to our employers and prospective employers. We give them free reign to dictate to us what we’re worth, and it benefits them to value us as little as we are willing to accept.

Since my mind was changed on this matter by my wise and beautiful fiancée (she’s Australian and couldn’t fathom why us Brits are so prudish over such a dumb thing), I have converted many friends and colleagues to this way of thinking and in doing so, have had many interesting conversations. I have learned a lot about how varied and inconsistent salaries are, not only in the industry as a whole, but even within individual companies.

It will vary from company to company but here are just a small number of the things I’ve seen:

  • External hires are offered much higher salaries than internal employees who earned promotions to the same role
  • Varying percentage pay-rises with zero justification or reasoning offered
  • Promotions, with some including pay-rises, some not
  • Struggling employees paid £10k+ more than the colleague that helps them every day

When employees don’t talk about salary, employers get away with all of these things without having to explain or justify their decisions. But if we all talk about it and share this information with each other, the companies are forced to treat everyone fairly or risk losing their talented staff.

Not all Advice is Good Advice

One piece of advice I’ve heard time and time again over the years is to seek an offer from elsewhere with the intention of forcing your employers to sort themselves out and offer you a fair package. I think this is absolutely nuts advice. If you feel you have to take such drastic steps in order to get paid what you deserve, why would you want to work for that company at all?

Instead of allowing yourself to be drawn into game-playing and reverse psychology, turn the tables on the companies that take us for granted, and help others to take back control of their fate too. Talk about your salary.

It’s not impolite or improper, it’s just sensible.

Jonathan McGreevy

Jonathan McGreevy

Jon is a regular blog contributor who contracts for SoftwareTester.Careers. He has led the test strategy on projects ranging from small apps to company-defining flagship solutions.

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