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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

Episode 122: Space — the final business frontier

Jul 16, 2019

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Anxiety Index®

Younger workers more likely to talk pay with colleagues

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 4, 2019
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A group of business people having a meeting in an office
Grady Reese/Getty Images

In our eighth Marketplace-Edison Research poll we asked workers about broaching the taboo subject of salaries with their coworkers. Only about a quarter of respondents said they had. The practice was more common among workers under 35, about 30% of whom said they had discussed their pay at work compared to 20% of workers older than 35. Women also slightly edged out men in their willingness to divulge pay 26% to 23%.

Stephen Redding, 23, has run into opposition when he’s tried to get details about how much some of his engineering colleagues make on the offshore oil rigs where he works. “I never went up and like premeditated asked,” he said. “It was kind of frowned upon.”

He’s happy to volunteer his own earnings among close colleagues and finds the information helpful rather than hurtful.”My logic is if somebody’s making more and they’re the same age and the same position I want to know why they’re making more because they might have some other experience that got them to that position and I could use it to advance my career.”

Writer and illustrator Susie Cagle has been radically open about her pay. A few years ago she published a newsletter detailing every dollar of freelance income she took in for a year, totaling about $39,000.

“It got an interesting response,” she said. “Just, ‘Oh my god you actually put all that information out there.’”

Since then, she said the conversation around pay has really started to pick up, with Twitter hashtags like #talkpay encouraging people to post their numbers on social media or in public Google docs.

Increasingly, pay transparency is seen as key to achieving equity for women and racial and ethnic groups who still make less than their male and white counterparts.

“Absent information about where you stand you don’t really have good grounds on which to make a case that you are being underpaid or in some cases discriminated against,” said Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, an economist at UCLA who has studied pay transparency. He found knowing what your colleagues make can also spur greater productivity by tapping into workers’ competitive instincts.

But that can also create conflict said Karen Dillon, author of the “Harvard Business Review Guide to Office Politics.”

“It can create rivalries where there were none, it can create resentments where there were none,” she said. “I think it’s a very tricky thing to navigate.”

With more workers opening up about their pay, she said, it’s important employers have fair and clearly outlined criteria for pay grades and advancement before employees take their frustrations to backroom discussions.

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