From the Comms Cupboard

Should we talk about salary in the workplace?

Should we talk about salary in the workplace?
Should we talk openly about our salary to help transparency in the workplace, or would we be opening a can of worms? John and Shaun discuss the pros and cons.

It gets complicated when you think about income disparity, knowing your worth, and salary banding. It's even harder if you don't know what down-balling means, if it means anything at all!

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Episode transcript

Shaun: It's been a while, hasn't it? So we're on the second season of From the Comms Cupboard and I have an idea.

John: Ping! 💡

Shaun: Oh, that was my idea. Usually the ping comes before the idea. That one came after. So my idea is that, you know, because, well we've been isolated in this cupboard for months at a time and wouldn't it be lovely to go out to have a coffee, sit in a coffee shop and people-watch and talk about stuff? So with that in mind, I think ... let's have a background.

John: Hear the hustle bustle ☕️

Shaun: Coffee machines, a little bit of music in the background. I quite like that.

John: Feels like we're back in the real world.

Shaun: If we want to be back in the real world.

John: That's very true.

Shaun: Let's talk about a real-world issue.

John: OK.

Shaun: Well, let's talk about salary. Not how much we're paid.

John: Not enough then, I would imagine.

Shaun: Exactly how much we're paid, and definitely not enough, but whether we should be talking about it in the first place, and I mean among ourselves. What do you think?

John: It's a really interesting one, isn't it, because if we really want things to be fair for everyone and really to feel valued, we need to know how much people get paid, don't we? We need to know what your skills are worth or what our skills are worth.

Shaun: But then who is it that needs to know that? Is it ourselves? Is it the boss who makes the decision on how much we're paid? Or is it actually, y'know, the designer who sits next to me? Do they need to know how much I'm paid?

John: Well, it's interesting, isn't it, because your skills and their skills are not that comparable. They need to know what a designer of their skill level and experience gets paid. And you need to know what a communicator of your skill level experience gets paid. I think what we want to get away from is companies down-balling us as a profession.

Shaun: Down-balling. I haven't heard that expression.

John: Maybe I just made that one up. Could possibly be! But I think what I'm trying to get to is I think people think communications is quite a lowly paid job, and it shouldn't because there is a huge amount of experience and skill needed for it. By people understanding what they're worth, they can push for that.

Shaun: It's that old discussion again about undervaluing people's roles. But should we be talking about salary among ourselves anyway? Is it a good thing to be sharing what we take home in the office? I'm not so sure.

John: No, I'm not so sure in the office. I think it's quite a tough one. I would imagine ... Say there's five of you who are seriously, you know, have similar experience and they're doing the same job, and then you find out someone else is paid £10,000 more than you. It's not really gonna help that person, is it? It's probably quite difficult for them to change that. But I think as a community, I think it's useful for people to know what they should be paid and that when they go into an interview, it says: Oh, this job pay is somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000. They need to know what they should be getting.

Shaun: Yeah, because that's a little bit loose, isn't it – "between 20,000 and 50,000". So can I share this with you? I read this in Forbes: "My humble suggestion is that companies should disclose all salaries, benefits, options, stock grants, vacation days and all other remuneration. It would shed direct light on what is really happening in the marketplace. Instead of thinking that there's a gender, race, religious and age disparity, we would know for certain one way or the other." So there's an argument for having this sort of communist approach to sharing our salary because then it holds the company to account. Because the secrecy of us not talking about our salary plays into the hands of the employer, doesn't it?

John: Absolutely. I think that whole diversity piece as well, women historically have been paid less than men, and it makes it very easy for companies to do that when they don't know what other people in that company are being paid. It really helps to remove those barriers to knowing your worth, and asking for it as well, and being confident to ask for it. I think one of the really interesting things you see in this industry is when things are advertised and they say they want someone with 10 years' experience, and they want them to have a degree; they want them to have XYZ to do this job, and then they want to offer them a really low salary. You get to that salary bit and you're like, really? They want to pay someone as experienced as me that?!

Shaun: Do you mean they're offering them a low salary?

John: Yeah. Going back to my low-balling ... they're low-balling those people ...

Shaun: Down-balling. I like the down-balling better.

John: Let's stick to down-balling. By doing that, they're really undermining the skills needed for that job. They're asking for huge amounts of experience and skills, but they're not willing to pay for it. So if we all know what we should be being paid, it's gonna help an employer know what to pitch a job at.

Shaun: Are we talking about banding? So you know those companies that have banding such as civil service or health – NHS – they have bands, so you know that for this job ... that there's a set amount from here to here, and we know that someone else in my position will be also in that band. Are bands good or are there downsides to bands as well?

John: I think there's pros and cons. This idea that you know you're within a band, but somebody could be ... a band might be £20,000 difference.

Shaun: Are they really? I didn't know that.

John: So if somebody's worked for a company for a long time, they may be paid right at the top of that and might not have more skills or experience than the person coming in – significantly less. So I think banding works to an extent, but I think they have to be quite small bands.

Shaun: Do you mean incrementally small in between? So say your band is perhaps from this point – 3,000 – on.

John: Yeah, I think you should be able to go in and out, climb up those bands as you gain experience.

Shaun: That's the hard bit: negotiating yourself out of a band. Or even if there isn't a banding system, people struggle with that, negotiating the salary, particularly in this country I think. We find it so hard to talk about money. But our employers know that and they play on it, don't they?

John: Absolutely. How often have you been offered a job and they offer you a lot less than you were expecting. And then it's a big battle to get it up.

Shaun: And then comes back to your thing about knowing your value, and you think: I'm sure I'm more valuable than what they just offered.

John: Yeah, it doesn't make you feel good, does it? It doesn't make you feel like you want to join them either. So being upfront feels like ... being upfront about what you're willing to pay for skills is really important. Also, being able as a company for someone to come back and say it's just not enough to make someone apply for this job. It kind of gives that nice openness. If people know when they apply for something, how much it will be paid, whether it's worth your time, because you can look at that salary and say, actually, I'm worth more than that.

Shaun: Here's the ideal scenario: Pay people fairly in the first place.

John: Yes! That's a good scenario!


Photo by 青 晨 on Unsplash

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