Ask Me How Much Money I Make: Pay Gets More Transparent

By Kelsey Gee Features Dow Jones Newswires

Managing a generation of young people inclined to share relationship statuses and meal photos on social media requires employers to adjust the way they approach compensation, experts say.

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"Pay and promotions are not secretive topics anymore," says Mary Ann Sardone, who consults with large employers on compensation issues and leads the workforce-rewards practice at benefits consultant Mercer, a unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos.

"Companies are spending more time ensuring their pay decisions are fair, and highlighting career paths under the assumption that the information is going to be widely shared," she says.

Roughly a third of U.S. workers ages 18 to 36 say they feel comfortable discussing pay with their co-workers, more than any other age group and about four times the rate among baby boomers, ages 53 to 71, according to a survey of 1,000 employees conducted by personal finance firm Bankrate Inc.'s TheCashlorette.com. Nearly half of the millennials surveyed say they talk about compensation with their friends, compared with 36% of Americans overall.

When Cameron Feenstra received a job offer this summer from Prattle Analytics, a St. Louis-based research firm, the first thing the 22-year-old did was call his sister. Although he was willing to take a below-market salary for the chance to work at a fast-growing startup, Mr. Feenstra wanted to ensure that his offer of $42,000 was a fair annual salary for his role as a junior quantitative analyst.

After talking about salaries with friends and family, and consulting anonymous career and salary-sharing websites such as Glassdoor, Mr. Feenstra decided to negotiate for more money, even though it was his first real job in the field.

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"People who don't ask around never learn how to negotiate, because they don't know where everyone else is" in terms of salary as a reference point, Mr. Feenstra says. He got a pay bump to $45,000 before accepting the offer.

The attitude shift has put greater pressure on employers to explain why some workers are paid more than others and to formalize compensation and promotion practices, says Kristina Launey, a partner at law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP, which specializes in labor and employment issues.

A rash of new city and state ordinances in Philadelphia, New York City and Massachusetts bar hiring managers from asking job candidates about their salary history, pressuring companies to be more transparent about what they are willing to pay for many roles.

Bill MacMillan, Prattle co-founder and chief technology officer, says he is accustomed to requests like Mr. Feenstra's. But keeping the 19-person startup on good financial footing while offering competitive-enough salaries to retain talented workers is a delicate balance, he adds.

"I have great people, so I would love to pay them lots and lots of money, " says Mr. MacMillan. Instead, he says, the firm explains to job seekers that while their salary may start at a below-market level, their performance and pay will typically be reviewed at least twice a year -- at which point he and other managers can be "aggressive" with raises for top performers.

Since Mr. Feenstra began working at Prattle, he has discussed his pay with several of his colleagues. The chats have given him an idea of what to expect when discussing future raises, such as when his boss reviews his performance later this year.

Write to Kelsey Gee at kelsey.gee@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 25, 2017 07:14 ET (11:14 GMT)