Is it smart to share your salary? Why different generations disagree

Is it smart to share your salary? Why different generations disagree
Sharing salary information with coworkers can be liberating. wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
Sharing salary information with coworkers can be liberating. wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

The taboo against talking money in social settings might be growing outdated — fast. In fact, young professionals are more than happy to swap salary stories with colleagues, friends, family and even coworkers, according to a new phone survey of 1,001 adults by Bankrate’s the Cashlorette.

Among survey respondents aged 18 to 36, about 63% said they share how much they make with family, 48% tell a friend and 30% will talk about their salary with a colleague. That’s a huge difference compared to the 8% of baby boomers who said they felt comfortable sharing pay numbers with colleagues.

Across all generations surveyed, 51% said they shared salary information with family members, 36% with friends and 20% with coworkers.

The idea for the survey came from a conversation blogger Sarah Berger, aka the Cashlorette, had with her parents. “They were shocked when I told them I told my friends how much money I made because it’s traditionally been taboo to talk about money,” Berger said in a phone interview.

In the past, people have been afraid to come across as rude: “In the old days ... no one shared salary because in a traditional sense, talking about money smacked of impropriety,” Marc Cenedella, CEO & founder of career site the Ladders, said in an email interview.

But — given the culture of transparency that feels natural to many young workers — the pressure for secrecy is falling away. That’s a good thing, Berger said. “Being more transparent with your salary allows you to determine if you are being fairly compensated — or if it’s time to get a raise.”

Of course, it’s still wise to be cautious with your information, Berger warned. “Before you share, have a good idea on what kind of relationship you have with the person,” she said. “Not every scenario works, especially if you are dealing with a competitive friend or coworker. If you think salary sharing could damage your relationship or if you think that person could tell others what you make, rethink sharing.”

How salary disclosures could squash pay inequalities

When it comes time to negotiate your earnings, knowledge is power. Doing pay research ahead of time gives you an idea of what salary number is realistic, and what raise figure to have ready in before you enter the room.

Of course, exact job titles and experience levels will vary, but comparing notes may bring pay unfair pay gaps to the surface. Large income discrepancies in the U.S. remain for LGBTQ individuals, people of color and women.

“Discussing salary in the workplace when you think you might be underpaid can help you see if you are being compensated differently than your male colleagues,” Berger said, of female workers.

Employees at Google recently found a way to unveil gender income differences by self-reporting their salaries on a spreadsheet, as the New York Times reported. Based on data provided by 1,194 Googlers (approximately 2% of its workforce), it turns out that women were paid up to 6% or $11,000 less in certain job levels, compared to men.

While having salary data can be helpful during negotiations, knowing how to leverage that information to your advantage is just as key. Instead of insisting on being paid a certain amount, focus on why you deserve a raise. Share goals and ask for feedback from your manager, discuss accomplishments at work that added value, and explain what else you plan to do in the future.

Finally, a word of warning: Calling out exactly how much specific employees make during talks can backfire, as Monster has reported. Keep data close to the vest — especially if it was shared in confidence — and use it as more of a broad metric rather than an instrument to push your manager to giving you exactly as much as your coworkers.

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