Bessie is a freelance writer and has 10 years of HR experience. She is currently a Regional HR Business Partner with a US MNC. 

Many of you were informed during your 1st day orientation with Human Resource that discussing salary is a taboo under the company policy and should be avoided at all cost. Nonetheless, many employees continue to discuss salary openly during and after working hours. Whilst you may be curious to what others are getting, would it be even wise to discuss salary with your colleagues?

Over lunch time, you learn that your colleague doing the same job as you is getting $500 more than you every month. You concluded right away that the company has an unfair pay scheme and contemplate resigning from the job. Feeling enraged, you shared this information and your salary details with other colleagues. As an employee, you believe that you are not obliged to treat salary information as confidential because the company told you to do so.

Take a step back and reflect on these three points: “how would you feel personally when you know what others are earning?”; “how would people react to you when they know what you are earning?”; “how do you determine the information that you are hearing is accurate?”


Different Generations                                                         

In an organization, we have different generations at work and they hold different perspectives about discussing salaries. Employees from generation X and Y tend to have no qualms about sharing their salaries openly; while baby boomers believe strongly that salaries information should be kept strictly confidential.

Don’t feel obliged to share your salary if you belong to a certain generation. Do remember that this is your personal information and you have no obligation to let others know.

Read also: How Companies Determine Salary for New Employees

Check the Accuracy of Information

Saving Face (面子)

If you choose to engage in such discussion on salary, how do you determine that your colleague is telling the truth? In the Asian context, the concept of “saving face” is still very inherent in our culture. Employees who take the initiative and are very open to share information may be the ones who need to feel good about themselves at the expenses of others. I had a past experience whereby an employee told another that he was getting $10/hour when the normal rate for others was only about $8/hour. The word got around quickly and a few co-workers stormed into the HR department to demand an understanding for such unfair pay scheme. It turned out that the employee who was boasting about his high pay was getting only $6.50/ hour due to his tardiness and poor performance.

Years of Experience

In addition, we have to consider employees with relevant experience in other companies. In many occasions, employees complain that a new hire is getting a higher salary than them, without knowing that the new hire has far many years of relevant experience in previous companies.

It is normal for everyone to make assumption but do you think it is worth allowing such unverified information to affect your feelings?

Read also: How to Handle Salary Questions During Your Interview

Knowing Your Colleague’s Salary Can Incite Negative Feelings

Salary can affect one’s job satisfaction and performance at work. You feel good when you are earning much more than your co-workers. However, upon learning that someone else is getting a higher salary than you, you may tend to feel dissatisfied.  If you dwell too much into that information that you are hearing, you may develop into other harmful feelings such as jealousy towards your colleagues or resentment towards your manager. Once that happens, your work performance and satisfaction can be negatively affected. These negative feelings can even spill into your personal life.

If you opt to participate in such salary discussion; you allow such “culture” to be further established within the organization. Subsequently, others will also know about your salary and may develop negative feeling towards you.

What Motivates You?

Marslow’s Need Hierarchy

Besides salary, there are many other motivational factors at work.  There have been many motivation theories to understand how employees are motivated. One of them is the Maslow’s need-hierarchy theory (Maslow, 1943). According to Maslow, employees have five levels of needs: physiological, safety, social, ego, and self- actualizing. He believes that the lower levels needs had to be satisfied before the next higher level need would motivate employees.  The lower needs include basic issues of survival such as salary and job security.

Once these basic needs are met, the employee will to be accepted socially in the company. After that, employees would seek recognition; progression and achievement The main concept of this theory is that employees’ needs are constantly changing and transforming. Salary can never remain as a carrot and stick approach to retain and motivate employees.

Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory

In Herzberg’s two- factor theory (Herzberg, 1968), motivation is categorized into two factors: Hygiene and motivational factors.  Hygiene factors include salary; job security etc while motivator factors include recognition; job satisfactions etc.

A simple illustration: In a company whereby there is high hygiene and low motivation factors; employees will regard their jobs as a paycheck with low motivation. On the other hand, a company with low hygiene and high motivation are jobs which are challenging but low salary. The ideal situation is to have both high hygiene and high motivation factors.

Personally, I do agree that salary is one of fundamental motivators but it is not the only one. If you happen to know what your colleagues are getting, you should never allow that to be the key factor to leave your job.  You should think of other factors that motivate you at work.

After reading this article, do you really think it is wise to discuss salary with your colleagues? Will you be more motivated after knowing what others are making? Does it bring you any benefits revealing your salary to others?

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