3 good reasons to discuss compensation with colleagues

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This is your ticket to a fairer and just workplace.


key point

  • Your right to discuss compensation with colleagues is protected by the National Labour Relations Act 1935.
  • Discussing salaries can help close the gender pay gap that still causes women, especially women of color, to earn less than their male colleagues.
  • Pay transparency can lead to better coworker relationships and higher job satisfaction.

There is usually an employer-enforced silent code on wages. If they don’t ban it outright, companies may block compensation discussions among employees because they say it creates discomfort or resentment in the workforce. The benefits to employers of having these rules is that they can save money by taking some employees out of the same job as others and pay less, and they can save themselves headaches by keeping employees in the dark about pay inequality . Regardless of your employer’s views, your right to share wage information may be protected by the National Labor Relations Act. The laws are broad and designed to cover as many employees as possible; you can check with the National Industrial Relations Board that your company’s type and budget are in compliance with the law.

The NLRA was passed in 1935 to protect workers’ full freedom of association. This means that employees have the right to seek better working conditions and to engage in collective bargaining without fear of retaliation from their employers. With that in mind, here are three ways to discuss salary with colleagues to make your work life better.

1. It could make wages fairer

When it comes to your compensation, if you’re a woman, chances are you’re already at a disadvantage. The gender pay gap has gradually narrowed since 1960, when women earned an average of $0.60 compared with $1 for men. As of 2020, the average figure for all women is $0.83. We still have a lot of work to do to completely close this gap, and you can help the process by discussing salaries with colleagues. If you’re a woman, and you find that some of your male colleagues earn more than you (with similar experience and qualifications), it might be worth digging in further, and possibly sitting down with your manager. Pay inequality is even more pronounced for women of color; according to the Labor Department, black women make up just 64 percent of white men’s wages and Hispanic women 57 percent. If you learn of significant gender or racial inequality in the workplace, this may be a red flag worth discussing with an employment attorney.

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Even if the pay gap in your workplace has nothing to do with gender or race, standardization is for the benefit of all employees. After all, if you know it’s a matter of course that a colleague who has more experience and training makes more money than you, that will give you some direction to work towards as you progress in your career.

2. It improves coworker relationships

While it may sound counterintuitive, discussing salary with colleagues can improve your working relationship. It takes a lot of trust to discuss money and compensation with work-related people. After all, some people are reluctant to even discuss salary with their friends and family. But if you have wage transparency, you can also build a workplace where colleagues support each other, encourage skills development, and work together for the common good: fairer wages for all.

3. Can increase job satisfaction

Don’t go into too much detail, but if your employer takes a random approach to wages, rather than a standardized and transparent one, it may indicate a random approach to other aspects of the business. This is not a sign of success. Additionally, when employees feel they are being paid fairly, they are happier, more productive, and have the courage and ability to take on more challenges and negotiate higher pay as they progress through their careers.

With these reasons, you may feel more confident to start a salary discussion with some trusted colleagues. It’s important to note that while your employer cannot legally prohibit you from doing so, they can say that you are not allowed to discuss salary during company hours that you should be working, and some nondisclosure agreements may prohibit discussing salary with people outside the company. So keep these points in mind as you work toward a happier, fairer workplace—not to mention putting more money in your savings account to meet your financial goals.

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