Talking about money is generally considered tacky and/or downright offensive, more so at the workplace. However, show me an Indian workplace where salaries have not been discussed and I shall show you a unicorn riding a tricycle.
Personal space, either the giving or claiming of which, has never been the strong point of the Indian acquaintance, friend, co-worker, neighbourhood jogger, train companion. Well the last one can be given a pass for obvious reasons. For people who have not lived in or visited Mumbai, you may search for ‘Virar Local’ online and prepare to be amazed.
But is there ever a good reason to bring up your salary with coworkers, other than to create an instant awkward vibe? Apparently so. Studies from across the world have shown that millennial employees consider discussing salaries amongst themselves as a sign of transparency, which helps them to be happier employees, as they know where they stand and more importantly, what they need to do to progress.
Why salaries were a secret until now…
Most companies follow a vow of secrecy, or the less dramatic way of saying it, a policy of non-disclosure. This makes perfect logical sense. If I am an employer and I hire a top performer, whom I will obviously pay a higher remuneration, the last thing I would want is for them to discuss the ins and outs of their ‘CTC’ with their supposedly ‘less gifted’ counterparts.
If we were to be honest however, it only takes the office Christmas party or a company offsite, when things get ‘honest’ among colleagues, for the nitty-gritties of your lives to be bared, including the number of zeroes in your paycheck. Also, technically an employer’s policy cannot legally prevent you from exercising your freedom of speech. So there’s that.
Secrecy can also foster mistrust and undue anxiety among team-members, who may feel they are not getting their due. Resentment may build among colleagues who feel unfair treatment meted out to them, which will affect productivity in the long-run.
So, if you think your boss wants to remain hushed about your pay, tben there is a good chance you are getting paid higher. And your colleagues know it too.
Making your pay public could also backfire
On the flipside, being too ‘open’ can lead to a serious case of TMI (too much information, for people over 35). Some employers make all employee pay public information, so that there is no room for Karan Johar’s favourite word ‘conjecture’. This can work for both boss and subordinate.
Basing salary structure on a market model that is accessible to all ensures that you maintain objective fairness. If your employees feel they are being paid fairly, they will stick with you, trust you more and work better in the long run. Active interviewing is not exactly an enjoyable endeavour, and human beings are creatures of habit, do not let the millennials fool you. Everyone, including the maverick star performers, ultimately craves stability.
Again, this may backfire as not all employees would want to be open books. Inequities in salary are not exactly the best subjects for water cooler (or in today’s age, vending machine) conversations in the office pantry.
In other words, people are people and one does not know what might ‘trigger’ them. So employers may not necessarily be in the wrong to maintain discretion about pay.
We need to have a talk….but when?
There are definitely positives to being open about all professional aspects of your life, including your paycheck.
But, as with all things, you have to pick your lane. Trusted co-workers could be the best sounding boards, instead of the new joinee who may not have your best interests, and confidence, at heart. People on the way out also make for good sources of information and advice, as they are aware of the market figured, as against their counter-offer.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that pay should be discussed at work with a measured discretion. It helps to know where you stand prevents employers from taking undue advantage.
In most cases, if you feel you are being underpaid, you probably are. Talking about is not tacky, it’s transparent, and it can only help your career.
Mayur Mulki is Editorial Head at Qrius He writes about business, history, culture and the arts.
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