Talking About What You Make With Those You Work With

Mike: So this Jill Abramson news has got me thinking about where I’ve worked previously and how much I knew about what my colleagues made. I often knew! But that’s probably rare.

Ester: In my first job at a talent agency, HR told us very sternly not to discuss compensation or bonuses with other employees.

Mike: What was your reaction to that?

Ester: It felt draconian and maybe illegal? Like, are you allowed to tell your employees what they’re not allowed to talk about? But they also made me quit PT grad school, so. Kids: Don’t Work in Entertainment!

Mike: Yes, it’s illegal.

Meaghan: No job has ever told me that explicitly, though it’s funny how people still don’t do it!

Ester: Mike, how did you know what your colleagues made? Were you guessing?

Mike: Nope. I asked. Or rather, the conversation came up organically. I think though, it was mostly that we were not making a lot and wanted to compare—entry-level journalism jobs and such. Like when you’re making less than $30K you don’t care if anyone knows.

Meaghan: Ha yeah. It gets awkward when you make more than your colleagues.

Ester: Right. Before we started at our web editing job, I asked for more money than what I was offered, because that’s what you do, and the managing editors said, “Sorry, it’s policy. We’re going to pay everyone exactly the same.” Which is fascinating, though I have no idea if it was true.

Mike: Right, you and I worked together … seven years ago? And we both made just under $30K at the time.

Ester: Wow, was it that long ago? I guess. Yes. I figured maybe they just told the girls that and went ahead and paid the guys more.

Meaghan: It’s funny around pay my capitalist brain and my JUSTICE brain really collide.

Ester: Say more about that!

Meaghan: Like, paying everyone the same seems…fair? I want to say it’s “good” but also I’m like, there is no way that everyone was “worth” (oof) the same amount or brought the same value to the company. It seems like a silly way to run a business! How do you motivate people to do better?

Mike: I get that. Or how do you “poach talent”?

Ester: Right. And it became ridiculous very quickly. Mike, as you can imagine, showed up before everyone else and left after everyone else and remembered (and celebrated) everyone’s birthdays. Whereas some people watched movies on their computers all day.

Meaghan: Right, and if I were him, I would get resentful really fast!

Ester: He channeled his resentment into buying nicer and nicer snacks for the office.

Mike: God, I loved everyone. But yeah, the pay sucked. I certainly applied to other jobs.

Ester: Pay has sucked in most places I’ve worked. All? Perhaps all.

Mike: It’s the industry and it depends. Like Meaghan and I both worked at big name tech companies and I felt like I was getting paid a normal amount of money to work and live in New York finally.

Ester: Like, in Manhattan even, by yourself!

Mike: Enough to have the privilege of living without roommates, yes, hah.

Meaghan: Yeah as did I, in the end. And I told everyone newer than me in the company how much I made!

Ester: #transparency

Mike: I did too.

Ester: I have one friend who’s in a UNION.

Meaghan: Ha okay not everyone. But I would be like, Hey I just got a $10k raise, so hopefully you will too soon? And if not, consider that. I want to be in a union!

Mike: I went out to happy hour and one night we all just told each other.

Ester: The union seems kind of amazing! There are all these rules about mandatory raises and bonuses.

Meaghan: It’s always at happy hour, ha. Is there a blogging union?

Mike: We should start a blogging union.

Ester: Actually she works at a magazine! It’s an old-school lefty publication so even though they’re writers they’re unionized

Meaghan: I mean, if anyone is going to…That’s awesome.

Mike: Okay, so Meaghan how did this come up at happy hour?

Meaghan: Oh man I don’t remember! Probably we were talking about end of year evaluations and retelling everything that was said in our “one-on-ones” and then someone was like, “But I got a raise so that’s good!” and then someone is like, “Me too!” And everyone is being abstract. And gets quiet. And someone will be like, “Yeah I got a $10,000 raise.” “Me too!” “Yeah I make 70 now.” “Oh, I make 55. WTF.”

Mike: Yeah, I guess for me it was also getting together after work and complaining. That’s how it came up. Someone is denied a raise, and it comes up.

Meaghan: Oooh. I have never asked for a raise. Or more money! Shit. Actually I did for the first time on a freelance piece like a month ago and it was painful and fruitless, but I think it was a good step for me.

Ester: Wow! Someone once told me, after I had Lara, to think of her when asking for more money.

Mike: That’s smart. Makes sense!

Ester: Supposedly it helps women to picture the money going toward someone other than themselves.

Meaghan: Yeah. Now, looking back, I think of the men who came after me and probably make more.

Ester: I often ask for more because as my brother Adam put it, “You never know what someone is willing to give you unless you ask.” And most of the time I have gotten it, too. It never ceases to surprise me.

Mike: I didn’t get the raise I asked for at my last job, and when I told them I was leaving, my boss was suddenly like, “Wait, how much do you want for us to keep you?”

Meaghan: I just think of the men demanding more money and it makes me want to steal it back from them. Like, when I made $75,000/year that was a LOT OF MONEY to me, and it still is, and I felt well-compensated for my experience, but I can only imagine the person hired after me asked for and made six figures, you know?

Ha, wow what did you say?

Mike: I said, “I’m not going to even throw out a number because I’ve already made my decision to leave.”

Ester: Mike was like, “F you, F-balls! I’m going to go get paid for being MICHAEL DANG.”

Meaghan: Ha, yeah when it gets to that point you kind of get soured on them.

Ester: Someone in the comments said it’s not wise to accept job #1’s counter-offer anyway. Have you guys heard that?

Meaghan: Like oh you will only give me a raise under duress, how appreciative

I haven’t! I think it makes as much sense as any business advice… which is that it’s impossible to generalize. But i can see that I guess?

Mike: I would only accept a counter-offer if I liked a company and had a good relationship with my boss and was only leaving because I needed to earn more.

Meaghan: That’s true, yes. If you are tempted to leave for other reasons, money probably wouldn’t change the situation, though at least you’d have more money!

Mike: But in this case, you usually have a boss who advocates for you. Like, you put in your notice, and your boss wants to keep you so she takes it to the Top Brass and gets you more money.

Ester: I had a lovely boss at the job I left to go work at the start-up with Mike. She was very sad when I told her and offered to help me get anything I required to stay. It was sweet and great, and I really wanted to make her happy.

Meaghan: Yeah. Or maybe you’re feeling unappreciated, and money makes you feel appreciated? Heh.

Mike: Hah, money does help! Kudos only goes so far.

Meaghan: Leaving a job ahh, so many feelings.

Ester: SO MANY. By the way MoC, I’ve never made $75,000. I’m kind of in awe of you.

Meaghan: It was nice while it lasted. I subscribed to the Steven Alan newsletter. Ha!

Ester: Where does dishonesty enter into this?

Meaghan: Ooh what do you mean?

Ester: Well, for example, how can you be sure your employers are telling you the truth when they say “We’re paying everyone equally” or that your coworkers are telling the truth when they tell you what they make? Maybe it’s like online dating where men say they’re taller and women say they’re thinner?

Mike: Hmm. I hadn’t considered that.

Meaghan: I just got so enraged imagining your employer lied to you about paying everyone equally. They should know that you could talk?

Mike: Though I’ve only had these conversations with people at work whom I respect and trust and am friends with.

Ester: Right, that’s true. The atmosphere at Office #1, the talent agency where we were explicitly told not to discuss compensation, was one of fear and general distrust. I think it kind of poisoned me, or at least made me paranoid for a long time that I was naive if I didn’t assume I was being cheated somehow.

I guess I’d rather be thought cynical than naive?

Meaghan: On the other hand I think it’s important to remember, when thinking about this stuff, that people aren’t doing you a favor by giving you a job, you can’t assume people are “looking out for you”, and that you have to be your own advocate. Yeah same!

Mike: Yes. You definitely have to advocate for yourself.

Meaghan: Even though I am cynical talking about it, when I’m in a job it’s much harder to not be like, overtaken with gratitude that I even have a job and so on. REMEMBER THIS IS CAPITALISM. Mike Dang is extracting value from me.

Mike: Hah, yes, I am. From you and your unborn child. Can’t wait for our baby correspondent to join the team.



13 Comments / Post A Comment

OllyOlly (#669)

One time I freaked out when I saw a coworker’s paycheck and it was higher than mine, (we were hired the exact same time, I was told there was a strict no negotiation policy, we had the exact same job, ect.) Then I realized that I just pay more taxes because I live in DC and he lived in VA, whoops.

eatmoredumplings (#3,808)

@OllyOlly Ha! Yes, this has happened to me too – last year my coworkers and I were shocked to realize that one of them “makes” 1/8 more than me per paycheck even though we get the same hourly wage (it’s legally set for our pay grade, so I am confident about that). But that coworker lives in a state with no income tax and owns a house, and both of those probably make a difference.

Hoooboy, okay, so once upon a time, when I worked at a particular laboratory, there was a fairly new hire. When they hired him, it was with the expectation that he would start in department A, but then also take on responsibilities in department B. When I was hired, it was much of the same deal, but then I went on to learn departments C, D, and E as well. And for every new thing I learned, I got paid more.

New Hire Guy, deciding that the work in department B was kinda “icky”, refused to learn it, which meant that I was stuck in Department B, along with my other work in all the other departments, and I was earning overtime, which at our company was a nono. So I mentioned to him (since he was grousing about how little he made), that if you take on more responsibilities, you make more. New Hire Guy went to our boss, and asked for a pay raise to start learning department B. Not hey, will I get more money if I take on a new task, but hey, I need more money to do the job that I was hired for and now refuse to do.

It did not fly. He was disgruntled with me, and it was awkward and awful and he accused me of trying to sabotage him. He was not the most professional dude to begin with, and he was fairly unbearable after that. He also once came up to me (a few months after that debacle) when I was working in department C, and told me he had thought about taking my job, but then he decided it would be too much work. Really, dude?

Chel (#2,960)

About two months ago my co-worker left for a higher paying job. Our company is small and there isn’t a lot of room for advancement unless someone moves on or retires. I asked him how much he was hired at when he started (as my replacement when I was promoted five years ago) and how much he was making when he left. He also told me how much he was offered at the new job. I found out that he was hired at a higher rate than I was getting after my promotion.

For several years I was very unhappy here partly because I never saw myself in a for-profit business environment but also because I felt like I was selling out for a very small amount of money and didn’t have a lot of options because, recession. Turns out I had a boss who didn’t advocate for me at all with the keepers of the money and who actively discouraged me from advocating for myself because he made himself out to be some sort of gatekeeper. Boss also left about a month ago for other reasons.

I thought about leaving too and instead went to the CEO and asked for a $15K raise. He asked me to back up my numbers with salary comparison reports and a copy of my job duties and gave me the full amount.

A new boss and more money make a big difference in my overall satisfaction. If I hadn’t know how much my former coworker was making I still would have asked for a raise but I had been thinking around $3-$5K.

sayevet (#6,237)

My parents always said that you should never talk about money, politics or religion. I grew up thinking that those were sensitive topics that should be avoided, but learned from experience that some people just don’t react well to any topic. A former co-worker of mine wasn’t given a bonus and was told that no one got bonuses that year. After we both accepted positions at different companies, it came up again and I admitted that I did receive a bonus that year. She still got upset, mostly at the former employer, but I was the one who had to deal with that attitude for the rest of the evening. I learned that I shouldn’t discuss dollar figures with her because of that reaction. I have a co-worker who gets equally upset when I talk about recycling or rosemary-infused honey. To each their own, I guess. Don’t talk about everything with everybody!

@deathcabforcutes ooh, yeah, sucks you had to deal with your friend’s feelings. This obviously means you should keep shady dealings secret, so you don’t have to hear about it. WUT.

RachelW (#2,605)

I am a public defender and, where I live, that makes me a state employee. Because of transparency laws, anyone can look up my salary on the internet, and I can look up all of my coworkers’ (and of course I have). There is a system that determines your salary based on a combination of factors, including years of experience and the results of regular anonymous, mandatory peer evaluations. The system is the same for public defenders and state’s attorneys. The difference between the lowest and the highest salary is reasonable (a matter of 50k). In 3 years my salary has gone up 15k, which is an increase you can feel, but it isn’t dramatic. I love this system. Although I wouldn’t mind if we all made more money, I don’t ever feel unfairly compensated.

tl;dr Being a state employee is great because everything is out in the open in a system that is evenly applied (at least in theory).

Beans (#1,111)

A coworker of mine once lent me one of his flash drives and it happened to contain his last 12 pay stubs. It took SO MUCH restraint not to look at them. (I didn’t but I wanted to very badly.)

Myrax (#6,662)

I finally discussed salary with one of my colleagues- she brought it up while we were drinking and whining about work. It turns out another colleague told her that it was extremely hard to get a raise at our office, and she used all of her negotiating skills to get a 3% raise when she was promoted. Meanwhile, my salary has gone up 50% since I started, and I haven’t asked for or negotiated a single raise.

I think the difference is that almost everyone in the office, including all of the upper management, are women. My supervisor and director seem to be especially vindictive towards people who negotiate raises, because then they have to prove their worth every second. I accepted a promotion and huge increase in responsibility without a raise, and two months later my supervisor seemed happy to reward me with a substantial pay increase. It makes me wonder if the advice to always negotiate is based on the assumption that the person granting raises is a man…

readyornot (#816)

Every with my title in my first job out of college was paid the same thing – it was actually determined by government grade. After three years, I took a significant pay cut for a job I thought led to more career fulfillment, but that salary ended up not being livable. A coworker successfully lobbied for higher pay. And then I moved abroad anyway, with different pay and different cost of living.

Now I’m a grad student, all equal hourly rates, but I find my husband’s firm compensation really fascinating. A lot of firms follow lockstep salaries, modeled after one particular firm, by years of experience post-law school graduation. Some even give out the same amount as a year-end bonus. But his actually gives a range of bonuses based on your billable hours and whether you went to trial. I don’t think they talk about it amongst each other, but there are few enough associates in each year that you can usually identify who were the max and min bonuses. Crazy!

annev17 (#4,822)

It actually is illegal (under the National Labor Relations Act) in the U.S. to tell your employees not to discuss their salaries amongst eachother. I believe you can prohibit them from doing so at work (when they’re supposed to be working), but not in general.

annev17 (#4,822)

I’m the youngest on my team and my older coworkers have almost all told me what they make and what they made at my age – I guess they’re looking out for me. Sometimes they’re appalled that I don’t get the same benefits that they used to get but our industry (finance) is not in the same shape today as when they started out in the 80’s and 90’s. Personally I think I’m paid well and have great benefits – this is a subject that comes up with friends a lot and I’m definitely happy to get what I get.

Bananasandwich (#2,301)

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

During after work drinks, my coworker and I shared how much we made, and it did not go over well. I was a recent hire and made about $10,000 more than her. She told some of our coworkers who went on to make snarky comments in the office about who works harder than whom and deserves more pay. I thought it was childish and if she felt that she deserved a higher wage, then she should ask for it.

Despite this bad experience, I went to a party with some of my coworkers recently and we talked openly about how much we make. We’ve talked about weather we should consider joining a union, if only to help guarantee annual increases and fair pay.

Transparency in this case is empowering us, instead of turning workers against one another.

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