Do’s & Don’ts Of Talking Salary With Co-Workers

By Diane Domeyer, Executive Director, The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals with a variety of firms.

Even though many of us are too polite to admit it, everyone is curious when it comes to money. We’d all love to know how much our colleagues are making, which then allows us to see how our own income stacks up. In the past, talking salary was considered taboo and bad for workplace morale, but new research from The Creative Group suggests that this sentiment is changing.

In an era of equal pay for equal work, companies and professionals are becoming more open about sharing compensation information. Seventy-seven percent of the creative execs we surveyed said their company offers some level of wage transparency, with 34 percent reporting full transparency. What’s more, 70 percent of respondents said they’d reveal their own income if a coworker asked.

Open salary policies may help promote an atmosphere of trust, yet money is still a sensitive and personal subject to many. Before you start revealing your personal pay details or asking others about theirs, here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

DO proceed with caution. Think about why you want to share the information or repercussions of sharing if you are asked. While a higher percentage of companies have open pay policies, many organizations and individuals still view compensation as personal and confidential. Ask yourself why you’d like to know how much someone else makes. A valid reason would be if you are hoping to negotiate a raise or suspect you’re being underpaid. A not-so-good reason would be to spread gossip or feel superior to a colleague.

DON’T forget to do your research. Learn what your company’s policy is around pay transparency before asking any colleagues about their salary. If you’re unsure how your organization treats this topic or feel uncomfortable asking co-workers, you can always to talk to industry peers outside your organization or consult resources with market information, like The Creative Group Salary Guide, which lists compensation ranges for 90 creative and marketing job titles. Use our Salary Calculator to customize the information for your city.

 DO be discreet. Just because someone tells you their salary, it doesn’t mean they want the information to become public knowledge. What’s more, if you’d prefer that a friend or colleague keep your finances confidential, be sure to state that expectation upfront.

 DON’T feel obliged to tell. Even if a coworker has shared their salary with you, you don’t have to do the same. If you’d rather keep your details private, be honest about that up front. You can always speak in terms of ranges, approximations or relative amounts rather than giving the exact figure. Likewise, when discussing salary during an interview, you’re not required to reveal your current pay rate if a hiring manager asks. Rather, focus on desired compensation based on market research.

 DO consider the bigger picture. A number doesn’t tell the full story. If someone with the same or similar job title makes more than you, maybe it’s because they brought a much-needed skill to the company, have more experience or were more persistent than you when negotiating their starting salary. Get more info before making allegations of pay inequity.

DON’T be pushy. Even though you may be comfortable sharing your salary details, not everyone feels the same. If someone demurs or declines to respond, drop the issue. Many people may not be as open about their compensation history, and you don’t want to come across as insensitive. Find another way to learn what you should be earning, like an online salary resource.
Used in the right way, salary transparency can be an effective approach for ensuring fair pay practices. Though some workers — perhaps even you — may hesitate to divulge their income, many creative employers find that creating an atmosphere of openness and trust boosts morale, productivity, recruitment and retention.