The Rules About Salaries
Remember the three editors who were about to have their first review? They made a pact to go to lunch to make sure they got the same salary increases.
In my experience, the idea that you donÃ¢â¬â¢t talk about your salary is a foreign concept to well over 50% of people who are in their first business job. In a context in which most employees I trained didnÃ¢â¬â¢t go to business school, this number makes total sense. There is no reason they might have picked up this information.
In most companies, itÃ¢â¬â¢s a serious offense for an employee to reveal his or her salary or compensation details. IÃ¢â¬â¢ve seen it lead to written reprimand and probation. Every employee handbook that IÃ¢â¬â¢ve read states the companyÃ¢â¬â¢s right to terminate an employeeÃ¢â¬â¢s job for such an action.
Most new employees immediately can see why such a policy is in the companyÃ¢â¬â¢s interest, but often they donÃ¢â¬â¢t see why the policy works to protect them. So whenever I share a company handbook, I tell The Brother Story and the Facts about Grandma.
The Brother Story
When I was nineteen and still in college, my much older, married brother sat me down to teach me of the world. He asked about my future and my goals as if I were in an interview. Then he invited me to ask him questionsÃ¢â¬âany questionsÃ¢â¬âI asked many. What struck and scandalized me at the time was that he answered every question, no matter how personal, except oneÃ¢â¬âHow much money do you make a year?
I thought he had his priorities screwed up for sure, telling me personal things, but keeping things of money secret. I told him as much. He said, Ã¢â¬ÅNever tell how much you make. People only need so much money to live, and the rest is gravy. If you knew my salary, it would change things.Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅNo it wouldnÃ¢â¬â¢t. YouÃ¢â¬â¢d still be my come-here-grasshopper-learn-from-the-master, older brother.Ã¢â¬Â At the time I was too inexperienced and idealistic to understand what he was saying.
ThatÃ¢â¬â¢s why, when I relate The Brother Story, I always follow it with The Facts about Grandma. I figure if I needed something more concrete, other people might need it too.
The Facts about Grandma
Ã¢â¬ÅNow, listen to these facts about my sonÃ¢â¬â¢s grandma,Ã¢â¬Â IÃ¢â¬â¢ll say, Ã¢â¬Åand decide whether my brother was right.Ã¢â¬Â
- My sonÃ¢â¬â¢s Grandma retired.
- She used to manage a real estate office in downtown Chicago
- Her yearly bonus was US$20,000.
- When she retired, her boss gave her an extra US$30,000 bonus, a sterling silver champagne stand, and a magnum of MoÃÂ«t et Chandon.
- The bonus was 20% of her yearly salary.
Do you see how Grandma changed in five sentences? SheÃ¢â¬â¢ll never be the same Grandma she was before I revealed the information in the last three sentences. The changes in who Grandma seemed to be are proof of the rule.
When people know how much money you make it changes how they see you.
I donÃ¢â¬â¢t even tell Grandma how much I make.
–Me “Liz” Strauss
Check out the Work with Liz!! page in the sidebar.
Business Rule 10: Is Their Urgency Real?
Business Rule 9: What’s the Value of Money?
Business Rule 8: What Are Your Square Periods?
Jesse Petersen says
Excellent points about the dangers of such revelations. The furthest we go is to say whether or not we’re happy with our increases. None of us on the same level know how we stack up against each other, and since our expectations vary, simply stating our happiness does not get us in trouble.
It would lead to a lot of issues for us to discuss salary here, as it did for my wife at her last job. Being a retail store, she even had to cash employee checks on payday. How disheartening to cash paychecks bigger than yours when someone is below you!
My wife and I have commented on this trend quite often in the last two years. It seems that people in today’s culture have no regard for personal information, as one of the first questions I’m asked by my friends is “how much do you make now?” My parents never ask such questions, leading me to think that it is a generational slip.
ME Strauss says
It sounds like you have a fine handle on how people view thing involving money. The problem is once revealed, you can never take that information back. Like the Internet, no eraser works. It becomes part of what defines you. Who wants a number determined by so many unrelated variables to decide how others value us?
Disheartening is the word — yes! Insensitive on the part of folks who didn’t at least explain to a person who is involved with that information why salary discrepancies occur and what that person can hope for or work toward.
Hopefully, now you have a story to tell the folks who ask what you earn. 🙂
Jesse Petersen says
I like to say, “More than last year.” 🙂 Not too much as to change one’s opinion, not too little as to be rude.
Great coaching, Liz. I’m reading the other posts in this series now.
ME Strauss says
That’s a great answer. Points out that the question is a little intrusive without saying so. 🙂
Susan Cartier Liebel says
I have an interesting story, sort of on topic, sort of off…when I was about twelve my mother went to work. She was in sales and just excelled to the top of her game. Actually, top of everyone’s game as she was ranked #1 in the world for her company for several years. I never knew what that meant except we’d accompany her on conventions to exotic locations. One day she sat me down on the front porch and said, “I’m making money now.. a lot of money… and I realize I could give you many things. (And she was really fretting as she told me this because she was a depression era baby.) But I’m afraid if I give you these things and give your brothers these things you will lose your values.” So, she didn’t. We earned everything. First car, paid our insurances, etc. Except she did pay for my undergraduate degree after I borrowed the maximum I could borrow. (Which I wanted to do, by the way, because, after all it was my education not theirs.) And I paid for my law school.
Years later I recalled the conversation and I asked her, “How much were you earning?” (She earned during the late seventies seventies.) Well, adjusted for todays dollars, her best couple of years were roughly $750,000 per.
Yes, I viewed her differently but to this day appreciated her wisdom to encourage my natural desire to earn for myself and pay for myself. With that comes self-esteem and self-sufficiency. So, I think it is better not to know.
ME Strauss says
Thanks for sharing that story. It’s inspiring as well as educational. It’s also a blog post. You should post it at your blog. It’s a tribute to your mother’s wisdom, courage, and her belief in herself and her values.
What a substantial, loving gift — she gave a foundation on which to build character. Wow!
I’m sorry. Nothing changed for me about grandma. All I got was the she was highly valued. What did I miss?
Your mom was wise, Susan. I have sort of the opposite story. My parents never shared how much my father was making. We lived quite well–we had a summer home and a couple of boats. It wasn’t until I had kids of my own and complained about money one day, that my parents shared my father’s salary. They raised five kids on what would be the equivalent of 50 grand today. My mom could squeeze a dollar out of a penny and never used credit cards. I found myself with a new respect for my parents and how well they handled their money.
ME Strauss says
Great on you for not holding preconceived notions!
For the three who I told the story to and most since, they started out thinking that grandma was a little, old lady who had an office job. As each fact was added their perception of who she was changed — she became more powerful, someone who ran a company and not an “office manager” as they thought.”
That’s how grandma changed for them.
Carma Dutra says
The amount of money earned by someone is very personal unless you are a huge movie star, then the whole world knows how much you have and that perception is not always favorable.
Money is a tool and it is more important how you use it than what you use it on. Susan you were so fortunate to have such a wise mother.
ME Strauss says
Yeah, money is something that is relative. How much would we actually need if we were homeless and had to start over? After that the rest is icing on the cake.
It’s like how many subscribers I have on blog . . . if read my blog and you don’t know you make your opinion from what you find here. But when you find out ideas can change for better or worse.
Paying too much attention to quantity in any form overlooks the corresponding form of quality. 🙂