Talking salary with coworkers can be about as awkward as watching Sex and the City with your parents when you’re 15. Maybe not awkward in the same way, but the two instances have similar levels of uncomfortableness.
But the first instance is definitely something you should do, no matter how awkward or taboo it might be. Though talking salary with your coworkers is often described as a huge “no no,” it can be useful in a few key situations.
For example, if you talk salary with your coworkers and find that someone who’s doing a job similar to yours with similar qualifications makes more money, then you can chat with your boss about a raise and feel totally justified in doing so.
Though it might peeve your boss that it happened, talking to your coworkers about salary is totally legal, so you cannot be fired or punished for doing so.
According to a great video by truTV, the right to share your salary is protected by the National Labor Relations Act. Adam of truTV said that employers actually benefit from their employees keeping salaries a secret because it “tilts pay negotiations in their favor.”
The video said the concept is called information asymmetry. Employees are often too afraid to ask what other people make, so they’re forced to stick with whatever pay they were first agreed upon with their employer. Employees assume that their employer is giving them all the information and is being totally fair when offering them a salary.
The video shows a sad segment where the employer says, “I can only offer you $100 a day,” to a future male employee. The future employee responds, “I guess that’s what everyone here makes.” But Adam of truTV points out that this information asymmetry combined with prospective employees’ unwillingness to do some salary digging combine to perpetuate low pay and gender pay gaps.
In the next scene, the employer talks to an African American woman. Adam of truTV says that African American women only make 64 cents to every dollar that men make. So, the employer offers her $64 a day, and—because of America’s taboo when it comes to talking money and the assumption that employers won’t take advantage of us—she also assumes that that’s what everyone at the company makes.
The takeaway here is that you should talk salary with your coworkers, especially if you think either you or the entire office are being underpaid. But you should also do your research before you talk salary with a new employer.
If you’re asking the going rate, and if you need to eat (everyone does!) then you should not feel ashamed about asking for money for the good work that you do. Check out the video below for more information. Hopefully your boss doesn’t pull out a Nerf gun when you make pay information more symmetrical in your office.