Pay Transparency: Why Is Talking About Your Salary So Taboo?

Last updated by Rosie Harlow

If there’s a world where taboos abound, it’s the world of work. Avoiding opening up, avoiding emotions, avoiding closeness, avoiding anything personal, but above all, the opaque mystery of salaries! The ban is there, never stated, never established, but its scent floats around the subject of salaries. But why is talking about your salary so taboo?

Pay Transparency: Why Is Talking About Your Salary So Taboo?

Salary amount: A deadly silence

The question’s simple: should you tell your colleagues how much you earn? And if the question arises, it’s because talking about your salary is taboo. But why?

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But firstly, what is pay transparency?

In practice, pay transparency means making the pay scale available to all employees. This pay scale must enable each employee to situate themselves and to know the salary they can expect to obtain after X years of seniority.


Why is pay a taboo subject?

Have you ever asked someone about their salary? Frankly, it’s like those questions we used to ask ourselves as a teenager during Truth or Dare. If you dare to do it, it’s probably with your closest colleagues, and even then, one-on-one, whispering and adding lots of precautions (“if you don’t want to say it, it’s okay”, “I know it’s an indiscreet question but...”, “I’ll tell you mine in return”). In short, talking about money is complicated and not necessarily just at work.

The taboo of money can extend to family and friends. But in fact, who is it taboo for? If I replay the film, I’m one of those who dare to admit my salary, quietly, without pressure. It’s normal, I don’t have a very high salary and that’s where we touch the interesting point 🤨. In the US in particular, earning good money is frowned upon. From a historical point of view, religion encourages the belief that money is a source of sin. The Church, which by the way had no shortage of it, spoke of money as an element that perverts the soul 👿. Nowadays, earning a lot of money inevitably leads to suspicion, or at least to something that isn’t deserved (inheritance, ploy, dishonesty, etc.).

If the question of pay is embarrassing, it’s because it inevitably implies the question of the standard of living, the value of a person, and perhaps even their morals. That is why I have no problem revealing my salary. It’s not high, so this amount seems to be the guarantee of my integrity, my good morals, and above all, it doesn’t make anyone envious 😛! Nevertheless, for some people, the taboo of a small salary exists because it reflects a feeling of shame and the impression of not being able to contribute enough to your family life and society, and generates disabling financial stress, particularly at work.

🫰 This time it’s right: Should I change career paths?

Pay transparency against fantasies and injustice?

If our friends who earn a good living don’t reveal the exact amount of their salary, it would be to avoid envy, jealousy and above all trials of meritocracy. Why not, but at work, the problem’s different. The taboo is slowly coming down. Indeed, a survey by Talent.com, dating back to November 2021, reveals some interesting figures.

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47% of people would be willing to talk about their pay with their colleagues

77% consider that pay transparency is a good thing. Especially considering that 78% of employees don’t know their manager’s salary, 50% don’t know their colleagues’ salary and 51% would like to know this.

Is disclosing your salary a good idea?

You’re free to disclose or hide your salary to anyone who asks, if you want to. In fact, the question is not so much at the individual level, but rather at the company level, with both advantages and disadvantages. On the downside, if the rationale for pay is imprecise and not clear at all times, revealing everyone’s salaries will cause tension due to a sense of injustice. There could also be stigmatization, alienation, discomfort, a feeling of failure and resentment that would upset the balance of a team or an entire company.

However, there is also a feeling of injustice without this pay transparency, particularly because of rumors, which can generate a feeling of unease at work. If knowing how much your colleagues are paid can generate resentment, not knowing can fuel assumptions that are sometimes more troublesome than the reality, and which therefore fuel resentment just as much. So, even if it means getting hurt, is it better to know the salary of others or not?

Tell me how much you earn and I’ll know what I’m worth

Do I want to know how much my manager and colleagues earn? Yes. But the real question is why do I want to know? Out of curiosity? Not quite. To compare myself? Of course. To compare myself for fun or to estimate the value of my work and my value on the labor market? To know what I’m worth and what I could get. Because in our society, our value is also determined by what we earn.

Sometimes the answer is as simple as that, knowing what other people’s salaries are also helps you to know the value of yourself and your work. If I take the figures from the Talent survey, they actually describe employees’ expectations in terms of pay transparency:

  • 48% want to make their company’s pay scales available internally.
  • 41% want to make pay scales public.
  • 18% want internal access to the detailed salaries of each employee in the company.

Talking about how much you earn

In the end, what’s important isn’t so much knowing whether each person in the company deserves their salary, but knowing what our place is in this company, where we stand in relation to our position, whether our salary corresponds to the work we do and, above all, whether we’re being discriminated against or not.

Transparency for justice

"Women earn on average 28.5% less than men. In the private sector, they earn on average 16.8% less than a full-time equivalent. In addition, the pay gap between women and men – for equivalent jobs and equal skills – is still 9%." This is according to a 2022 bill, which aims to end the gender pay gap for equal work. While gender discrimination exists, it’s not the only kind. Discrimination linked to your origins, religion, age, state of health, etc. Pay transparency could therefore help to erase these inequalities.

It should also be noted that salary corresponds to work done and not to the value of a person, except that we often forget this, especially if we’re a woman. When it comes to asking for a raise or a change in position, we’re therefore more hesitant and feel less legitimate, for fear that our request will confirm a gap in talent, skills, or intelligence. And hello impostor syndrome!

Finally, removing the money taboo, at work and in other spheres of our lives, should make us question what’s important to us: what are our values? Rather than maintaining a secret, conflicting, or hypocritical relationship with money, freeing ourselves from this taboo would allow us to calm relationships and gain confidence.

Because we all need help and advice

The question of salary, the desire to know how much our boss or colleagues are paid raises many issues: the value of our work, the need for recognition, to compare ourselves and to situate ourselves in the company, the impostor symptom, etc. It’s therefore a difficult subject to tackle because it can easily reactivate old wounds in everyone. Fear of what you’re missing, a delicate relationship with money? Don’t wait to make an appointment with one of our psychologists to take stock of the situation.

🤗 Understanding yourself, accepting yourself, being happy... It’s here and now!

#BornToBeMe

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Article presented by Rosie Harlow

Writing has always been a form of therapy for me. For as long as I can remember, I have always used paper as a punching bag. Get to know me, I am Rosie Harlow.

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