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I face a quite uncomfortable situation in my company. Several weeks ago, I was tasked to work with a new coworker. She has been in the same company for a longer time than I, but was assigned to another service, and thus I only met her recently.

During lunches, and breaks, she started talking seamlessly about our different salaries (me and some other coworkers). She, and some others talked quite a lot about it since then, in a way that I feel a bit uneasy with. Indeed, they are quite often ranting about it. Even though it sounds like jokes at first, it isn't.

As of now, I didn't give up and tried to avoid the subject every time. Mostly because I don't want to hear more often bad puns like "Eyh you earn more, you'll pay the bill at the restaurant huh ?". Saying this once a week would be acceptable. The same "joke" three times a lunch sounds like they do not tell it as a joke, and would really want me to do it.

That's really unpleasant, hearing people complaining like that during each break. And I'm sure that giving up and telling them right out of the bat my own salary wouldn't make it easier. I often read that salary is quite a taboo... at first it was not for me, but since some of my coworkers are almost verbally-violent when talking about it, I definitely don't want to talk about this with them.

So, should I avoid the subject and how could I do that ? Or should I give up, tell them in order to make them rant less ? Even though I doubt it would change anything : should I earn less than them they would probably harass me with statements like "Oooooh you should really asks for more", should I earn more... well it could bring jealousy in already unpleasant talks.

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    On the rare occasions when I've been asked about my salary, I always just smile and say that I won't talk about it because if I do, then one of us will be mad afterwards. – James May 23 '17 at 11:32
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    "What do you mean by salary? Do you mean you get paid for this?" ;-) – Captain Emacs May 23 '17 at 12:05
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    None of your business...ought to be enough – Rui F Ribeiro May 23 '17 at 13:18
  • I don't necessarily agree but Adam has some thoughts on the subject: youtube.com/watch?v=7xH7eGFuSYI – Ronnie W May 23 '17 at 14:10
  • Talking about salaries is also a good way to know if you need to move on. Had a job where I found out I was being paid exactly the same as the new guys, except I had more than 2 years experience on them. Same day I went to a recruiter. – Snowlockk May 23 '17 at 14:51
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From my own experience, most people I know never disclose their salary because it can create some awkward situations. Why are you earning more? Should I use you as the benchmark when we demand a raise later? What have you done to deserve more that I haven't? One of my co-workers once let slip his salary and it caused an uproar among those slightly above us in the corporate ladder, as it turned out my co-worker (and by implication, I too) was being paid more. Though they should have known this could happen, management was not happy.

It might depend on the country, but any courteous co-worker should simply stop asking when you state 'I don't talk salaries'. Here in the UK, many treat it as a personal subject that only HR and their manager should know. If they persist during lunch breaks, they don't seem like a nice crowd to hang out with. Leave them to their moaning. If they are harassing you during work times, have a word with your manager.

The fact that your colleagues are talking like this suggests they are simply unpleasant people, or there is an underlying concern that some of them are underpaid. In either case, it sounds like their problem and should not be making you feel bad for whatever your salary is. Simply ask them to stop asking you and if they continue, you might be best finding somewhere else to sit at lunch.

  • Not everyone in the UK feels that way. In fact, in some workplaces, salary info is fairly common knowledge. It's once you get into specialist roles, careers not jobs, that you find people keeping shtum. Personally, I let people know what I earn. Colleagues have used it as leverage before, others have taken it as a goal for later points in their career. Also, here is a great video about why it can be good. – JohnHC May 23 '17 at 14:21
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    Hiding salaries from coworkers helps the company, not the employees. If people are outraged at what others make that's the problem of management not setting expectations properly at best and pay discrimination at worst. – Chris May 23 '17 at 17:22
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    Not everyone who does a job is worth the same salary. Experience, expertise, capability, and simple hard work can make one person worth more than another. Thinking everyone is worth the same is folly. This is the main reason why salary discussion at least in the professional world is not a smart idea. – Mister Positive May 23 '17 at 18:04
  • Don't forget that being good at negotiating salary can also make one person earn more. It isn't necessarily all about how good they are at doing their job. – Alex Wally Aug 15 at 6:08
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There are 3 options:

  1. Tell them to either get over it or do something about it. What's stopping them from asking for more money?
  2. Stop talking to them outside of working together. They seem petty. If this is questioned, explain why.
  3. Point out that if they put as much effort into their job as they do in harrassing you, they might be on a higher salary.

Do not do #3

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That person is seeking either information for gossip, or to soothe her own ego to make sure you (the newbie) aren't making what she's making. So just to get her to shut up, have a little fun. Give her some extremely low number, or some extremely high number. As long as you don't divulge your actual salary, watching whatever happens might be quite fun. See, neither of you is obligated to tell your own true salary - she could be throwing a number your way just to get a rise out of you! People do that!

Or tell her that you get paid with bags of chocolate, or peanuts, or potato chips, or something grossly silly. You can even change the story each time if you like. Make it enjoyable for yourself. She may get tired of your wild story and drop the subject.

Lastly, there's always the direct refusal approach, as others have mentioned. Not as much fun, but it's effective too.

  • I like the idea of answering by humor too. To tell the truth, I just never found a good retort at the good time. Will try the bags of chocolate thing, sounds like fun but not aggressive. – Kaël May 23 '17 at 18:43
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This conversation simply has no where to go that ends well for you or them.

I would suggest telling your co-worker that you simply will not discuss this topic. If they will not leave the topic alone, tell them they will leave you no choice but to report the behavior to their Manager.

This is a topic that can and usually will burn you and the co-worker from multiple perspectives. DO NOT DISCUSS SALARY with co-workers.....EVER. This topic falls into one of three cautionary topics between friends or co-workers

( Money, politics, and religion )

UPDATE: Take a look at this excellent article for multiple reasons that you should not share salary information. Dangers of sharing salary info

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    Telling people you're going to report them to their manager is not going to win you any friends. In addition, in many jurisdictions, the company cannot legally stop employees from discussing their salaries. (Which doesn't make it a good idea, mind you.) – jpatokal May 23 '17 at 12:56
  • @jpatokal Without actually exposing or discussing salary information what do you propose the OP do that actually will make a difference at this point? – Mister Positive May 23 '17 at 12:58
  • Politely decline. "I don't discuss salaries." "C'mon, how much do you make?" "Not enough.". They'll get the hint eventually, and any threats are unnecessary and unproductive. – jpatokal May 23 '17 at 13:00
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    I disagree with the notion of "never discuss your salary with coworkers". I read somewhere that this is basically what management/board of directors wants; if the employees never discuss what they're getting paid, then no one will ever really ask for more. Not exactly an applicable thing in this situation, but I think the blanket statement of "never tell ever" doesn't fit here. – Kaizerwolf May 23 '17 at 13:02
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    And in my experience, I've never worked in an environment where that kind of thing is banned. It almost seems silly to ban it. While I agree that salary discussions can leave a bad taste in the mouths of some people, it's not an inherently bad thing to talk about. – Kaizerwolf May 23 '17 at 13:05

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