Asking For a Friend: Should You Ask Your Co-Workers How Much They Earn?


When it comes to taboo topics, asking people about their salary is up there, especially because doing so could even cost you your job. Yep, while pay secrecy clauses are illegal in the US and UK, they’re allowed here in Aus. In other words, Australian employers can put into your contract that you’re banned from talking about what you earn — and that you’ll be punished if you do.

That said, some employers are actually sharing this info themselves, with Deloitte publishing the salaries of its graduates through to its principals last week, and before that, KMPG also sharing its employee pay levels, in a move to close the gender gap and help attract staff.

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If your company hasn’t shared its general salaries, though, should you be asking your colleagues for theirs? In a nutshell, yes… and no. Before you do so, though, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Keep in Mind It Could Be Demoralising

Even when organisations are transparent about pay, there is often a salary range for roles, rather than a set figure, says Sally McKibbin, Career Coach at job listing site Indeed.

“There’s a chance there may be discrepancies between what you and your colleague are earning at the same level,” she says. “So speaking to your colleagues about your salary may feel demoralising if you’re paid at the lower end of the pay scale, when they’re paid at the higher end.”

Though the pay discrepancy may feel unfair, it’s important to keep in mind that a person’s salary often doesn’t give you the full picture.

Know That Salaries Might Not Give You the Full Picture

Also important to keep in mind is that it’s rare to have two colleagues identical backgrounds. As such, it would be unlikely to have two employees with identical salaries.

“Where you and your colleagues sit on a pay scale can depend on educational achievements, years of experience, outputs, or extracurricular work projects,” says McKibbin.

She also points out that a salary doesn’t always reflect a full employment package either. Your colleague may have negotiated other workplace benefits that you’re unaware of, such as maternity leave benefits, additional leave or sick days, or extra flexibility.

“Also, keep in mind that people may feel the need to inflate what they’re earning if you’ve asked and they feel uncomfortable telling you,” McKibbin says.

Always Respect Your Colleagues’ Privacy

Yes, you can try asking your colleagues for their salaries, but if they don’t want to share them with you, that’s fine — and it’s a decision you should respect.

“Some people may have contractual obligations to not disclose their salary, or they may simply feel uncomfortable doing so,” says McKibbin. “It’s important to respect your colleague’s privacy in this situation. Remember, they don’t owe an explanation for why they won’t share their salary with you.”

Do Your Own Salary Research

Finally, if your organisation isn’t transparent about pay scales and your colleagues aren’t willing to share that info either, do your own salary research.

“Researching salary averages and ranges across your industry allows you to understand your worth in the job market,” says McKibbin. “You can research salary data on the internet, check job postings that list salaries, speak with your colleagues if they are comfortable sharing this information, or ask people in your industry outside your organisation.”

Bottom line: Whether it’s internal information or external, knowing salary data can better allow you to have meaningful and productive conversations with your manager about a pay rise.

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