‘Never tell anyone how much you make’

Another of my father’s favorite admonitions was that I should never tell anyone what my income was.   If I did, some people would envy me because of how much I made, and others would look down on me because of how little I made.

This is one of the few instances in which I think my father was wrong.  You can’t stand up for your interests if you don’t know where you stand in regard to others.

stock-vector-vector-employee-or-boss-presenting-a-paycheck-illustration-5251492I broke that rule when I joined the Newspaper Guild, the labor union representing reporters on the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle.  I agreed with the Guild that there was no way to determine whether we were being paid fairly until and unless we knew what each of us were paid.

I was surprised to learn that my salary was on the upper end of the scale.  I was paid more than a number of reporters that I thought were better than I was.

The probable reason was that, when I applied for the job, I was undecided whether I really wanted to leave my old job, and so, almost unconsciously, negotiated a high starting salary.   Pay raises were usually a percentage of base pay, so my higher starting salary meant my income was higher than it otherwise would have been for the whole 24 years I worked for the D&C.

I didn’t think I was overpaid; I thought they were underpaid.  But it was interesting as an example of how random a pay system can be even when, like ours, it is supposedly based on merit.

A labor reporter named Steven Pearlstein wrote a good article on this topic for the Washington Post.  He pointed out that many companies discourage or even forbid employees to discuss their pay among each other.  At the same time corporations conduct wage surveys and share wage information so as to avoid getting into a bidding war for good employees.

Knowledge is power, whether for the employer or the employee.  I think it makes sense for employees to share information readily with each other, not so readily with future employers.

My idea of a just society is one in which every person could post his or her annual income, and the sources of it, on a bulletin board, and nobody would have any reason to feel embarrassed at what was revealed.

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One Response to “‘Never tell anyone how much you make’”

  1. thetinfoilhatsociety Says:

    I wasn’t actually aware that it isn’t legal for a company to make you sign a non-disclosure agreement. I have been forced to sign more than one over the years. It was one of the reasons working in public safety was appealing — the salaries were posted in public. Of course, that’s changing now too, with the tax supported agencies and jobs becoming less and less open and accountable to the taxpayers.


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