Pay transparency: should I tell my coworkers how much I make?

Oct 7, 2021
min read

“I’ll tell you if you tell me but you first.”

“Okay but you can’t tell anyone else because I know I make more.”

“I don’t really want to talk about it.”

It can be awkward. It can be surprising. But most of all, it can be uncomfortable because honestly, it just feels wrong.


Often, we’re caught in these awkward situations where we teeter on the topic of salary but there’s heavy hesitation around whether or not to actually talk about how much we get paid or our total compensation package if stock options or different levels of benefits packages are involved.

How do my coworkers feel about it?

When I first joined Humi, I did a lot of research on Glassdoor, Payscale, and LinkedIn to try and get a sense of how much Humi is paying their employees and how much the vacant position was worth at other companies. Turns out, the range was massive. There were some trends that seemed apparent across similar industries while others wildly varied. I talked to folks in my network and a few close friends who I also worked with but never openly, especially with coworkers on the same level of seniority as me. I felt uncomfortable and thought it would make things awkward but now that I’ve left my previous position and have more open conversations with the same coworkers, I’ve learned a lot about pay discrepancy. That got me thinking about how many people are actually comfortable talking about salaries so I asked my fellow Humigos in an anonymous poll. 

Apprehensive about being treated differently

Not surprisingly, the majority of Humigos only talked about salaries with coworkers they feel they’re close with. I was also lucky enough to have some respondents message me with some more context.

“Hey Evelyn, regarding your poll I feel like there’s not an option that fits me, haha. I’m leaning towards ‘No, never!’ But that isn’t how I really feel. I actually would love to share with everyone who asks me, because there’s a lot of benefits from making that information known to everyone, but I’m always worried about how others would respond or treat me differently if they found out I was sharing my salary.”

This is a completely valid fear – I’ve definitely felt this way before and when I’m able to break down that barrier with other coworkers and friends, I’ve learned that they share the same fears too. Sometimes, it’s not about the uncertainty of how much we’re making compared to others but rather, how that will impact the way we’re treated afterwards. 


There’s a difference between early career and now

Another Humigo shared that as they climbed up the ranks, the number of people they talked to within the same company about salary decreased substantially. In fact, rather than looking within the company to see if they were getting paid appropriately or where they were on the pay scale, they turned to external sources and heavily relied on research based on salaries in-market.

“I used to care a lot about how much others at my company were being paid when I was in an individual contributor role. But now, much less caring within the company and more so making sure I'm at the right spot compared to the market.”

The value of transparency

I also learned that many people really value transparency because it can create that sense of accomplishment when you do reach a new level – be it by getting promoted or a jump in your pay because of your hard work and impact on the company.

“I'm a large advocate of pay transparency, especially across the organization. It helps normalize compensation across comparable roles, and is another way to encourage accountability and meritocracy.”

It’s on the employer to make pay transparency happen

And finally, I had a few Humigos reach out and share their thoughts on onus when it comes to creating a space that empowers people to share about their compensation. 

“I would like the topic of pay to be far more transparent though, which in my mind falls on the employer to ensure pay is fair in the first place. I always say if I ever start my own company I will make salaries visible to all employees.”

My takeaways? Information is key. Talking about salaries can be tough but it shouldn’t have to be. Transparency can be created by talking to others in your company or if employers make their pay scales public knowledge. 

So should you tell your coworkers how much you make? 

It depends on your comfort level with your coworkers and your company culture. If you’re up for it, have a conversation with your manager or HR lead about pay transparency to get an understanding of where your company stands on making this information more accessible. 

Here’s how to start the pay transparency conversation

Assess your coworker’s comfort level

Let’s call it as it is – this is a really scary conversation to have, especially if you don’t know where your coworker stands on the topic. Start by sussing out their comfort levels. If you can tell that they’re highly uncomfortable, abort mission. Never push your coworkers or peers to the point where they feel pressured to share. They may end up resenting you which can cause a lot more harm than good in your working relationship. 


Check yourself: what are YOUR intentions?

Do you just want to know where you stand in the company? Every role is different and each person brings a unique skill set and background to the table. Are you trying to figure out what the pay scale is and how much salary growth you have? Do you want more information simply for the fact that salary negotiations are coming up and you need to know how much wiggle room you have? 

Be honest with yourself. If you find out your coworker is making more than you, would you be upset and become destructive? On the other hand, if you find out you’re making more than your coworker, would you feel the need to justify it or would you feel really bad about it? Decide for yourself if ignorance is bliss here.

Plan two paths: one for if things go well and another for if things go way off base

If things go well, amazing! Think about how you can use this information to your benefit such as negotiating a higher salary. It’s also nice to take a look and compare with the market to see where your company ranks in terms of paying their employees. It’s a good indicator of how your company values its employees.

If things go off the deep end,  yikes. Take some time to plan out what this could look like. For example, some companies choose to keep their pay bands confidential so they can have negotiations directly with just you and better understand what your needs are rather than the status quo. Too much information isn’t always the best. 

On the other hand, your coworker and you might get into some tense situations. I’ll give you an example: I’ve had a very awkward pay conversation where a coworker was told by their boss that everyone was being paid around the same amount. A group of us started sharing how much we made and it varied a lot. My coworker was actually getting paid much less than the rest of us. With that, I saw my coworker’s motivation take a nose dive because they felt like they weren’t valued at the same level and they just weren’t performing well in their role anymore. There was a lot of conversation around value at the company versus value as a person and eventually, my coworker decided it was best for them to leave and it ended up working out for the best.


Don’t forget to evaluate your total compensation package

While salaries are essential and likely to carry the heaviest weight when signing a new contract, keep in mind that it’s one part of your total compensation package. There are many other perks and benefits that your company can offer. For some companies, they can go above and beyond and have really neat benefits like access to health, legal, and financial providers.

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