Money Talks: Should We Really Be Openly Discussing Our Salaries?

Money Talks: Should We Really Be Openly Discussing Our Salaries?

From real life to the internet, how open should we be?

The topic of salaries has always been skirted around and approached with such hesitation. I’ve noticed friends switching to their kid-friendly, business voices while bringing it up even if we were just goofing off prior. And if conversations steer towards that direction, I’ve braced myself to expect awkward silences or debates on rates, negotiations and whatnot. 

The sentiment that it should be talked about openly has been rising. Discussing salaries with your co-workers and peers paves the way for better pay transparency. It allows workers to have a proper gauge for their compensation. The New York Times reported that open sharing of one’s salary increases productivity in the workplace and is seen as a major step in undoing workplace discrimination based on gender. Additional information on salaries empowers employees to ask for more suitable rates.

Openly discussing salaries is not an entirely black and white issue. While there are pros that will be felt in the long run, its cons should be considered, too. There might be possible factors overlooked when we bring it up out of the blue. For those wondering what side of the fence we should be on about this, I turned to a financial advisor to get a clearer picture.

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Julianne Benitez

Licensed Financial Advisor and Unit Manager, EYJ Insurance Agency
Member, Million Dollar Round Table

Money Talks: Should We Really Be Openly Discussing Our Salaries?

Wonder: What do you think of employees and peers discussing their salaries with one another?

Julianne: Discussion of salaries involves a lot of different factors… But being in the financial industry, I've come to realize that some people may be privy to giving away confidential information for several reasons. Some may be making a lot, but have a ton of responsibilities on their shoulders like debt, responsibilities in the family and other expenses and liabilities. 

Salary is a sensitive topic for some because it opens up comparison and questioning of worthiness. While I'm not totally for it, I'm not against it either. If it's intended to see how the industry's rate is going compared to how much you're making, I'm completely fine with it. It can be a good exploratory research kind of thing, but it has to be done objectively and within context. 

W: Did the pandemic change the way we should approach and view this topic?

J: Part of my job is to really look into the finances of our clients, identify how we can cover their bases but, at the same time, work towards their big-ticket number. During the pandemic, a lot of clients have really expressed their worry because they're experiencing salary cuts, benefit cuts or even being retrenched. The pandemic opened up avenues for discussion. It made people more open to talking to me because they're openly seeking advice on how to maximize the income they currently have while, at the same time, identifying other potential sources of income to make up for the cuts they got.

W: Have you ever experienced having to discuss or initiate a discussion about your salary with your co-workers or peers? 

J: Fresh out of college, I went straight to the life insurance industry. Having no experience with the corporate world, I thought it was always normal to be discussing salaries until it became a topic amongst my friends over dinner one time. I, personally, do not live off salaries; I work on commission from my personal and team's sales. Safe to say, my income is as volatile as the stock market.

But being in this business and, with all the other success stories that people must be hearing about the life insurance industry, some might just see and focus on the good months. They see the travels, the incentives, the recognitionbut these are highlight reels of the career. The behind-the-scenes comprise day-in, day-out budgeting, hours on spreadsheets and the countless rejections we get left and right. I tried talking to friends about this, but I got mocked. Teased, even… It was discouraging, to be honest. But it also allowed me to realize that this sort of discussion should not be held with just anyone. The intention of the discussion must be clear. It should not be used to discriminate or ostracize any of the people involved.

W: Any tips for members of the labor force in addressing the topic in discussions?

J: I said it a while ago, talking about salary is a very sensitive topic. Use it objectively to gauge your current compensation. But please do not use it to shame or discredit those who are making more or less than you. You should have trust in the people with who you will engage in such discussions with. At the end of the day, we're all working towards our big-ticket number. Let's use these discussions to work our way towards it. You'll have your goal salary one day, but first we all have to start with day one. 

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Context and intent does and always will matter in discussing salaries, whether you think it should be talked about like the weather or not. And while we’re working towards an ideal world where everyone would be openly discussing it, there will always be people who don’t share the same sentiment. Respect that there will be those who might want to steer clear from the topic entirely.

A lot of good outcomes from discussing salaries. It helped us expose and work in eliminating the gender pay gap and, in different countries, even racial pay gaps. Normalizing the discussion and making it the norm on a company level is one more step towards better equality in the workplace.

Art Matthew Ian Fetalver

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