6 Ways to Talk About Your Salary When Your Company Doesn’t Have an Open-Pay Policy

It’s becoming more common to discuss pay in the workplace. This guide explores how to broach the topic of salary without aggravating your employer or co-workers

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coworkers talking about salary at office

Talking about salary can be more than a little uncomfortable ⁠— at many businesses, employees keep their salaries a secret from their co-workers, and some employees may even avoid asking for an increase from their superiors. It’s an awkward topic that’s of great concern to most workers, which is why some small and large businesses are adopting open-pay policies.

An open-pay policy indicates that a business shares all of its employees’ salaries with the rest of the team and sometimes with the public. The goal is to increase trust, retention, and productivity, all while dismantling hiring biases.

These policies are gaining popularity because many studies have showcased the positive results of making salary information available. For example, research from Cornell University and Tel Aviv University revealed that pay secrecy adversely affected productivity, and similar results from an Amazon Mechanical Turk study showed that performance increased with pay transparency.

But research is mixed on the topic, especially for low-income workers who believe they’re being paid unfairly, and there’s plenty of criticism that an open-pay policy can cause dissatisfaction.

Perhaps there’s a happy medium between pay secrecy and pay transparency. It may be possible to create an environment where employees are aware of earning possibilities available to top performers and feel comfortable asking for a raise when they can prove they provide value.

But even if you work at a company where the topic of pay is still a taboo, there are some ways to talk about your salary without aggravating your employer or co-workers.

1. Know your company’s culture (and your rights)

Despite the growing trend of open-pay policies, some company cultures can make it difficult to discuss pay. Some contracts may even have language that restricts employees from discussing pay, as more than 23% of private sector workers reported in 2010.

But these documents are in conflict with the law. The National Labor Relations Act protects covered workers from employee retaliation for pay discussions. Ten states have gone even further with pay secrecy laws, which restrict employers from requiring any signed documents that indicate pay should not be discussed.

Still, before you ask everyone at the lunch table what they’re earning, you may want to consult either your company’s handbook or human resources department about the best way to open up a dialogue regarding the issue that stays in line with your company’s culture.

2. Ask about earning potential

Even if you don’t feel comfortable asking your co-workers directly what they’re paid, you can ask your boss about the top earning potential for workers in your position. Show interest in improving your performance to get the best salary by asking for feedback on what top performers are doing well and areas you could improve in.

3. Consider talking to mentors outside your company

It’s also a good idea to talk to someone outside of your organization, either in a similar position or in a higher-level position within your career trajectory, to find out how much they earn and where they started from. This can give you an idea of what you could be earning elsewhere and whether it’s time to ask for a raise.

4. Look at data for your industry and area

Do some research on how your salary stacks up against the median or average pay for workers with your position title in your location. Just know that salaries for the same position title can vary widely and remember to take into account any benefits and bonuses you receive. If your salary is below average, that doesn’t mean you should run to your manager and demand a raise. But if you’re earning at the low end of the range, it might be worth an open discussion.

5. Be straightforward and seek information

Once you have an idea of what someone in your position could be earning, present the information to your boss. If bringing up money right away seems off-limits, start by asking about career growth potential. What opportunities does your company offer for advancement?

Next, ask if advancing in your position will correlate to higher pay. You can mention that you have a mentor who is earning more than you and that it inspires you to improve your performance.

6. Demonstrate your value

After you get some information from your employer about how to improve your performance, start keeping track of any measurable changes in your work that will prove your value to the company. Draw up a report with some visual representations of numerical evidence that shows you’re performing better at your job.

You can also include ways that you plan to add even more value to the company as time goes on. If you can demonstrate that you’re capable of doing the same work as someone above you, you may even be able to ask for a new title in addition to a raise.

Once you understand your industry and your level experience as it relates to compensation, you’ll be armed with information you can use to open up an honest dialogue. Know what you’re worth to your company and be earnest and confident — without being demanding — when approaching your boss.

Your financial health is important, and you should be rewarded for your hard work. Don’t let the taboo topic of pay get in the way of building your career.

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