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Opinion|Why should you be aware of how much your coworkers are paid?

How much do you make? Don't say anything out loud. But make a mental note of a number. Now, how much do you believe the person in the seat next to you is paid? Again, don't respond aloud. How much more do you think a person in the office or desk next to you is paid at work? Do you have any idea? Should you be aware?

It's a little awkward for me to even ask you those questions. However, admit it: you're curious. Most of us are apprehensive about disclosing our salaries. We are not supposed to tell our neighbours, nor are we supposed to tell our coworkers. The assumed reason is that if everyone knew how much everyone was paid, all hell would break loose. There would be disagreements, fights, and possibly a few people quitting. But what if secrecy is the source of all this conflict? What would happen if we removed the veil of secrecy? What if openness increased a company's sense of fairness and collaboration? What would happen if we were paid in full?

Pay disclosure, or openly able to share salaries across a company, turns out to be a good workplace both for employees and the organisation. When people have no idea of how their pay compares to that of their peers, they are more likely to feel undervalued and possibly discriminated against. Do you want to work somewhere that accepts the notion that you are undervalued or discriminated against? But keeping salaries hidden accomplishes exactly that, and it's a practice as old as it is popular, even though the law exists to protect an employee's opportunity to address their pay in South Africa.

But why would a business want to discourage salary negotiations? Why do some people agree with it while others oppose it? Pay secrecy turns out to be a great way to save money, in addition to the previously stated reasons.

Keeping salaries hidden, as economists call it, causes "information asymmetry." In a negotiation, one party has significantly more information than the other. And an employer can use that confidentially to save a lot of money in hiring, promotion, or annual raise discussion and debate. Consider how much better you could negotiate a raise if you knew what everyone's salary was.

I understand that telling people how much you make can be awkward, but isn't it better than constantly wondering if you're being discriminated against, or if your wife, daughter, or sister is being paid unfairly? Pay transparency ensures transparency, which is the best way to ensure fairness.

Now, pay transparency takes a lot of forms. It's not one size fits all. Some post their salaries for all to see. Some only keep it inside the company. Some post the formula for calculating pay, and others post the pay levels and affix everybody to that level. 

So you don't have to make signs for all of your employees to wear around the office. And you don't have to be the only one wearing a sign that you made at home. But we can all take greater steps towards pay transparency. For those of you that have the authority to move forward towards transparency: it's time to move forward. And for those of you that don't have that authority: it's time to stand up for your right to.

So, how much would you make? So how does that contrast with the people with whom you work? You should be aware. And they should as well.


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