Dear Evil HR Lady,

Why do companies “request” that you not discuss your salary with your co-workers?



Dear Talkative,

Two reasons: 1. People are largely immature whiners. 2. Everyone else makes more money than you do.

Let’s deal with the points in order. Truly, I have found that people like to whine, whine, whine about their salaries. Sometimes their whines are legitimate, but often time they are already overpaid or brought their own misery upon themselves.

I’ve been fortunate (or unfortunate) to have access to not only my salary and the salaries of my co-workers, but my boss’s salary, her boss’s salary and so on and so forth all the way to the CEO. This is great because I’m nosy. This is bad because there is nothing I can do about it. The first rule of having knowledge like mine is you keep your mouth shut.

Why do you want to know how much money everyone else makes? It’s probably not truly academic. You want to know so that when you find out that the guy who comes in late every morning and pushes all difficult projects onto you and then proclaims his greatness at every opportunity makes more money than you, you can go to your boss and whine. “He makes more money than meeeeeee!!!!!!”

Then, when your boss does nothing, you come whine to HR. “My boss won’t give me a raise and I deserve it!” Quite frankly, I’m trying to figure out how to get my boss to pay me more money and don’t have time to deal with your little problem.

I’ve found that most managers try to pay fairly. Employees sometimes have a difficult time seeing this, as they don’t truly understand what their co-workers do. Your “slacker” co-worker who comes in late every morning may have negotiated this schedule when he was hired. He may work 3 hours at home every night. Or perhaps he has some specialized skill that is in high demand. Or, perhaps he just interviews really well and is an excellent brown-noser.

Point 2: Everybody makes more money than you do. Let’s face it, it’s true. So why do you want to know that? Keep yourself happy and pretend that you make the most money of anyone in the office. (Of course that will keep you awake nights as you ponder how the CEO can afford yet another Gulfstream 5 when you can barely afford your Honda Civic.)

If you really think you are underpaid, go interview for a few jobs. You’ll find out rapidly if your current salary is good or bad. (If no one wants to hire you, your current salary is good. If everyone wants to hire you for more money than you make now, your current salary is bad.)


Evil HR Lady

p.s. I need a raise.

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10 thoughts on “Money, Money, Money

  1. Evil HR Lady, your essays are extremely clever and entertaining. The one about Pluto being “fired” belongs in a national magazine. I wish you would apply for a job replacing our local newspaper columnists.

  2. On the flip side, there are a lot of managers who do give raises to favorites, or to those who make a good *pretense* of work, rather than to the genuinely productive and deserving.

    In any case, the whole reason employees have a federally protected legal right to discuss wages is precisely so that they can pinpoint disparities and unfairness. Sure, some of it’s jealousy that that a co-worker (however deserving or not) makes more. But a lot of is rightly placed anger that people who do less or worse work get paid more, that higher-ups make *too much* more than they should, given their performance.

  3. Ibn Tumart,

    You make some good points. There are absolutely problems within companies and employee knowledge is a good check on that.

    I would actually be in favor of full wage disclosure within a company. It would cause excessive whining at first, but would also keep things honest.

    Thanks for your input!

  4. Full wage disclosurer would indeed be a radical move replete with whining, but I think you’re right: it would keep things honest.

    And thank you—I used to work in HR and Payroll departments before law school, so this blog’s topics are particularly fun for me to read (and comment on!).

  5. Ibn Tumart

    I’m definitely a radical when it comes to wage disclosure. I can’t seem to find anybody that agrees with me, although I swear I read about a company that did just that.

    And if you have HR and Payroll experience, you can truly feel my pain.

  6. I’ll feel it even more keenly in the next week or so—I’m taking on temp Payroll/HR positions while waiting for legal contract work to materialize.

  7. Sadly, my only story right now are elusive staffing representatives: I keep getting job possibilities, but when I try to follow up, I get consigned to voice mail… grr.

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