Q: I recently received a raise, which I was very excited about! But my boss said something that made me pause. She asked that I not mention my new salary to others. I know there are new laws that prevent companies from prohibiting salary discussions, but I’m more concerned about what this request means—am I receiving more money than my peers? Or less? And should a potential discrepancy worry me?
A: Your boss could be telling you not to talk about your money for one of two reasons. If you received a large raise and you were excited about it, she might be trying to communicate that your colleagues did not receive a comparable raise and that talking about it might cause conflict. Alternatively, if you got a small raise that you weren’t very excited about, she might be telling you the exact opposite—that your colleagues received a higher bump in salary than you—though this would typically be something she would want to minimize, so it’s likely you’re in the former situation. As you mentioned, there are new Massachusetts state laws that allow employees to discuss salary without repercussion from the company, but that doesn’t mean you have to have these conversations.
Are you a worrier? A potential discrepancy might worry you if you’re on the low end of the raise spectrum. If you’re on the high end because you’re a high performer, the challenge you potentially face is someone asking you what you’re making. Do you want to enter into that conversation? Talking about pay to ensure equal pay is a valid method. How this is done takes finesse. People who complain publicly about their pay and think they should make as much or more than their peers perhaps aren’t contributing as much as their colleagues—and they may not see it. They may be difficult to work with, not recognize errors in their work, or not take feedback well. There is a whole host of reasons why people in similar jobs at similar levels don’t make the same amount of money. By engaging in this conversation, you may get mired in those discussions with that person—and they’re more likely to resent you as well as the organization. If you’re a high performer and want to make sure that you’re being paid well, do your research on Glassdoor. If you do decide to talk to colleagues, be prepared for a conversation about differentiating contributions because you can’t have it both ways. You can’t thank your boss for treating you better than others and then not be prepared to uphold the reasons why.
It’s widely believed that people in the same roles automatically make the same amount, and there are a number of reasons why that likely isn’t the case. There are frequently differences based on performance, tenure, or evaluations and feedback. If one employee asks for a raise—and clearly lays out compelling reasons why she should receive that raise—it doesn’t mean everyone on her team will also get it. If you take the initiative and show your value, you get the raise. Alternatively, some organizations might suffer from salary compression, which occurs when someone new comes in at a higher salary because they have more experience or because the organization needed to raise the compensation package to recruit the individual. Whatever the specific situation may be, it’s very common for colleagues to be making different amounts or receiving different level raises.
Since there are now explicit laws around salary discussions in the workplace, your manager probably walked a fine line when she asked you not to mention your raise. There are ways to communicate the message without being explicit and getting uncomfortably close to legal issues: “Maria, I’m really pleased with the contributions you’ve made here in the last year, and I consider you first up for the next promotion” or “Louisa, I consider you the most capable to deliver on our goals in the coming year.” A more subtle approach would be the wiser tactic here.
Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to speak with your colleagues about salary and yearly raises. You open yourself up to a range of emotions and responses, from shame and guilt to anger and resentment, whether you make more, less, or the same as someone. If you learn that you make less and it’s not clear why, it’s worth exploring with your manager so you can make a plan to address critical areas of development that will lead to a raise. And if you do make more, there’s no need to feel any guilt or concern about it.