Recently a close friend of mine was telling me about her pathological liar of a boss. I’ve been hearing about this evil supervisor over the last year or so, noting a palpable switch from the endearing way my friend used to talk about him. My friend, let’s call her Jill, actually sought out this job with this boss a few years ago.
So what changed?
Jill found out The Boss’ salary, that’s what.
Suddenly a job that Jill loved, is eminently qualified to do, and at which she excels became tainted. The working relationship in their intimate workplace has been spiraling downward ever since. Formerly upbeat work anecdotes in our conversations turned instead into an accounting of the lies The Boss tells. Jill’s purposeful spark was gone and left in its path was resentment.
This is what happens when people don’t keep salary information to themselves and yet some just aren’t on board with that concept. My aforementioned conversation with Jill was over dinner in a restaurant and it escalated into a bit of an argument when I made that assertion.
“I completely disagree,” Jill said, attempting to list the lies again.
However, I wasn’t arguing with her assessment of The Boss. My friend is a good person and should be paid more for what she does; she was fortunate to be in a financial position where she could resign. But that wasn’t my point. She had heard the salary information from a third party, the same loose-lipped individual who, incidentally, shared that the person replacing Jill in the position would be paid a higher salary than Jill was making. Again, infuriating.
But this is why it is a known and understood rule among almost everyone I know that coworkers should not discuss salaries. Even in a random sampling of my Facebook friends, it was unanimous that salary sharing was a disaster in the making. There wasn’t a single call for transparency in this area.
So often we hear that money is one of the top causes of marital problems, but what about how discussions on financial matters affect the other relationships in our lives? This wasn’t a disagreement that tore apart my friendship with Jill, but it was unpleasant nonetheless.
The worst argument I have ever had in my life was with a (now former) friend over a salary matter. Let’s call him Jack. We worked at the same company and I excitedly – and in retrospect, wrongly – shared with him that I had asked for a raise and gotten it. He asked how much. I said I wasn’t comfortable revealing that. He demanded to know. I refused. He was adamant that he had never heard of keeping salaries secret among coworkers; I argued that I knew no other way. This became heated and emotional and in a moment I’m not proud of, I screamed the number at him.
Well, suffice to say it was more than he was making, which in all my life I couldn’t have imagined. I’m not exactly a master negotiator, but apparently I was better at it than Jack, especially since he had skills pertinent to this job that blew mine away.
Big fat life lesson: There is, in most cases, nothing to be gained from coworkers sharing their salary information. It’s simple, really. Keep it zipped.
If you’re vying for a new job, this is an excellent reminder that the first negotiation will set an important tone should you get hired. It also serves as a reality check that plenty of us do now or have in the past worked for people who lie or do other infuriating things. Only we can decide if that’s something we can live with, need to deal with or can simply walk away. Sometimes, though, what we don’t know really won’t hurt us.
Maybe I’m wrong. Jack and Jill certainly think so.
But then again, as the story goes, didn’t they go tumbling down a hill?