Why Coworkers Don’t Talk About Their Salaries (and Why We Should)

if financial success and work is a game,

The gender wage gap is a thing. Bitches Get Riches illustrated this best when they said “This is not open to discussion” and made every word a separate link to census data and economics journals. Anyway, know it’s true, even in my past workplaces. I’m now paid $2 more per hour than my previous (female) assistant manager. Guess what: I’m not the assistant manager. Obviously, something’s going a little fucky here. That’s why I’m trying to do something about it.

Paraphrasing from a now buried tweet I once saw, “Men shouldn’t consider themselves allies unless they disclose their salary to female coworkers. This is the only way we can achieve wage equality.” I agree, and I’ve been extremely open to anyone who’s asked. I also kinda think everyone should disclose their salary to one another, for a couple of reasons. First though, let’s weigh the cons.

The main problem I hear is it might put a target on your back. Sometimes, people will think it’s unfair you’re getting paid more than them. (Spoiler alert: Sometimes, they’re right.) I’ve had coworkers go out of their way to try and sink me, but the end result of this was I actually got much better at my job. With management seeing me go above and beyond in my work, the naysayers have mostly slinked away. Besides, any misguided attempts at revenge would be a race to the bottom. Being a good dude and trying to boost them up instead is a race to the top. With this mindset, that target no longer seems so bad. It just seems like part of the game. Let’s come back to this in a second.

The other obvious problem is this results in coworkers making a snap judgment about workplace hierarchy. I don’t really think I “outrank” anyone, by the way. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all the same cubicle. We’ve already established wages aren’t objectively fair (and most of them are far too low across the board anyway), so let people think what they want, but try to boost them up too. This is actually one of the best things you can do to increase your own salary. If I’m a manager with three employees, and they’re paid $30/$30/$23, when Employee #3 asks for a raise, giving them $27 is almost a “Why the fuck not?” Here’s the sweet part: If you’ve got a great connection with your coworkers, and you’ve all been open about your salaries, Employee #3 can knowledgeably ask for more! This even makes your boss look good. Managing a team of highly paid professionals looks great on paper. Managing an unmotivated clusterfuck of minimum wage underlings? Not so hot.

Your workplace is just a game, and everyone’s in it to win. Done right, there are no losers. Your “boss” is a coworker. That’s it. They want success too. Stop comparing the extra money and focus on yourself. “How can make $3 more per hour,” not “Debbie’s a bitch for being richer.” Besides, if you’re here, you’re on your way to wealth already, partly because you’re smart enough to talk about money openly. If financial success and work is a game, you should know the rules and how other people are playing itBurying your head in the sand helps no one. Bringing down your workplace helps no one. You know what does help? Community over competition. It’s not even a competition! Go to work, boost up your team, and be open about how much you make. Any temporary feelings of inadequacy might suck now – “Ben makes HOW much?!?” – but knowledge is always good. After all, if someone is doing the same job as you, but makes $40,000 more per year, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Wouldn’t you want to look into that opportunity too? Just resist the urge to bring them down. Race to the top, y’all. Let’s all get rich together, and embrace the workplace. If you’re still working, you might as well love it.

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Are You Worth Your Wage?

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Okay, don’t close this window yet. There’s a point to all of this. I know many people have adversarial relationships with their employers, but this will help shed some light on how they see you as an employee, which will ultimately make your working relationship better. This will most likely lead to raises, promotions, happy working conditions, and more control over how you work. Worst-case scenario: You lose three minutes, and decide you deserve a better job. That’s valuable to know too.

First off, most employees have no idea how much they actually cost their employer. In this fantastic article about salary negotiation, Patrick McKenzie writes, “[G]et into the habit of seeing employees like employers see them: in terms of fully-loaded costs.  To hire someone you need to pay for their salary, true, but you also have taxes, a benefits package, employer contributions to retirement, healthcare, that free soda your HR department loves mentioning in the job ads, and what have you.” Depending on a variety of factors, for many jobs, “a reasonable guesstimate is between 150% and 200% of their salary.” You cost more than what you see on your paycheck. When I say it like that, it seems obvious, but it’s a significant jump. Your $20/hour is more like $30/hour. This is just a quick aside, but keep it in mind if you didn’t know this already. Let’s get to the meat of this article.

Let’s say you have a below-average job. It’s not too stressful, and you spend one of your eight hours a day just Facebook-ing. Regardless of how you spend your time, every three minutes, someone from accounting walks by your desk, taps you on the shoulder, and hands you $1. “Thank you,” you say in this absurdist scenario. “See you in three minutes. I’m gonna watch a cat video now.” Here’s the thing: From an employer’s point of view, this is exactly what’s happening. If you make $20/hour, by the numbers, this isn’t an absurdist scenario at all. It’s just math! Now, I get that you can’t be directly productive every minute you’re at your workplace, but I started asking myself, “Am I worth what I’m being paid? Even at my (now-)$16/hour job, am I actually making my employer $1 every 3m45s? Not only that, but am I making them profit that will also cover the cost of keeping the lights on and the store open? Is it notably better than the 7% they’d be earning in an index fund instead?”

When you think about it that way, simply employing you is a goddamn risk. If the position is a mutually beneficial fit though, you’ll be earning them boatloads of money using a passionately developed set of skills, and they’ll be paying you well to develop those skills until you’re making boatloads of money too! Remember how we talked about going “above and beyond in work and business”? I’ve been using real-time pay calculators as a motivational tool at my day job. When I see it tick up $10 and I know I’ve actually done nothing, I don’t particularly feel good about myself. It’s a gentle nudge towards productivity, and I’m thankful for that. I always strive to do more now, and I’m certain it shows.

This is even more insane with my wedding photography. To a client who’s paying me ~$400/hour to shoot, I’m getting paid $1 every nine seconds. Am I creating art worth $1 every nine seconds? I damn well better be to charge my rate. Knowing this helps me kick ass at my job!

Think about how you make money for your company. Would you hire you, or are you being a leech? Would you be more productive doing something better? Are you worth $X every X minutes? If you’re not, it may be time to find a better fit.

As both an employee and an employer, I’ve seen it from both sides. Are you worth your wage?