Who Benefits From Keeping Salaries Secret?

Human resources consultant Michael Carroll, who is the author of two books about surviving in the modern workplace, "Awake at Work" and "The Mindful Leader," said employers should be open about how they determine pay but cautioned that sharing salaries at work can have negative repercussions. Many of the things that really distinguish excellent performance are not easily quantified, he says, and people tend not to take into account other perks like benefits and bonuses when they're comparing salaries.

"I have almost invariably seen that when people talk about their salaries in business settings, it almost invariably creates problems and misperceptions and antagonism," he said.

There were some unexpected repercussions a few months ago, for instance, when the boss at a small company in Madison, Wis., decided to put all her employees' salaries on display.

An Overpaid Worker

The young staffers at Penelope Trunk's The Brazen Careerist, a Web service that advises companies how to recruit and retain younger workers, say they have none of the older generation's hang-ups about revealing what they're paid.

"Don't come to work for us if you don't want everyone to know what you're making," said the company's youngest employee, Dan Healy.

Earlier this year, Trunk called everyone into a conference room where she jotted down all of their names and salaries on a board.

But, for all eight employees to see, it turned out there was a discrepancy.

"A lot of people brought up that one person was overpaid and everyone kind of agreed on it," Brazen Careerist co-founder Ryan Healy said.

Soon afterward, Trunk lowered that employee's yearly salary from $120,000 to $85,000.

"Everybody makes mistakes with how much they pay people," Trunk said. "But if everyone keeps it a secret, you can't really see where the mistakes are and no one has to fix them."

Too Much Information

Trunk says it's true that, in essence, she used peer pressure to convince the employee to go along with the pay cut.

"But that's really what all of corporate America is," she said. "It's all about the market telling them where they deserve to be and them being slapped in the face a lot. ... That's how life is."

The employee in question, who has since been laid off, declined to comment.

Opponents say making salaries transparent is a recipe for mayhem in the office. But financial expert Orman disagrees.

"Don't you think you should know what it's really worth at the place that you're working, what other people are getting paid for the job that they're doing, so that when you go in to talk to your boss, you have true material to say, 'I deserve more money'?"

In a tell-all world where talking about salaries could be the last taboo, you might want to ask yourself a question.

Are you curious enough about a colleague's salary to gladly share your own?

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