Should you talk about your salary at work?

Should you talk about your salary at work?

Published on 27th September, 2019 at 03:40 pm

Think back to your first job – you were probably overworked and underpaid. Plenty accept it as a normal part of professional growth. But after this period, things get more unclear: how much should you earn? When and how should you ask for an increase? If these are such pressing concerns, why is talking about money at work so unheard of?

Tough talk

According to the School of Economic & Business Sciences at Wits University, unfair practices flourish in the workplace when salaries are kept secret. Talking alone won’t solve financial stress, but transparency can go a long way in effecting positive change. Knowing how salaries are structured and allocated can help address inequality in the workplace. It can also give you a clearer picture of the requirements for increasing your salary. It could also give you insight into whether you should look into alternative sources of income, such as a side hustle. Transparency around salaries also guides companies to be transparent with employees about their increase, bonus and promotion processes, too.

Am I allowed to talk about my salary at work?

Your employer cannot stop you from discussing your salary or the terms and conditions of your employment with a colleague. Janie Slabber, an attorney and specialist in labour relations from Slabber Attorneys, says it’s common practice for employers to contractually prohibit employees from disclosing salary information. “Some even venture as far as ‘criminalising’ such disclosure by imposing disciplinary action,” she explains. “However, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act holds differently. It provides that ‘every employee has the right to discuss his or her conditions of employment with his or her fellow employees, his or her employer or any other person.’”

Slabber adds that any disciplinary action taken against an employee for exercising their rights could be regarded as substantively unfair and lead to an adverse finding against the employer. Take heed, though: while you can’t be stopped from disclosing your salary to others, you aren’t allowed to disclose a colleague’s salary.

Any conversation about money should be done with sensitivity and the right intention. Consider the impact on relationships and trust in your workplace. Take a mature approach when evaluating the kinds of conversations that will or won’t be beneficial (not just to you, but to those you work with).

How to talk about money at work

1. Have the right intentions

Why do you want to talk about your salary? If it is to boast, think again. If it is to understand whether you are being paid fairly compared to your peers, this is a better reason.

2. Bite the bullet

Give your boss the benefit of the doubt. Start by having an open conversation with them, saying you’re not sure about how salaries are structured in the business, and that you’d like to understand if you’re earning fairly. Give your boss the chance to be transparent with you rather than assuming they wouldn’t be if asked. It’s respectful and shows that you’re well-intentioned. If you don’t hear what you want to hear, that can also be positive – perhaps it’s time to look for opportunities elsewhere.

3. Consider your timing

Avoid throwing around figures after a few drinks at the office party. Talking about salaries should remain professional, purposeful and helpful – not a matter of gossip.

4. Understand the full picture

You may have a colleague in a similar position to you, but perhaps they have more experience or have been at the company longer. There are many different things that can contribute to someone’s salary. Don’t jump to the conclusion that you are earning more or less without fully understanding what may impact someone’s take-home figure. In the same way, remember that someone’s package encompasses more than their pay: leave dates, working hours and other benefits are factored in too.

Not happy with what you hear?

Assuming you’ve been given the information you need, research market-related salaries. Here’s a brief guide (2018) to how salaries in different industries are growing. Your company may also have a policy document around how it assigns increases, bonuses and promotions that you can request from HR, including salary brackets per promotion level.

Ask for a raise

If your concerns prove to be warranted, approach your employer. Prepare your findings so that you can make a fact-based case. Calmly ask for the salary you believe you should be paid, explaining your reasons to justify this. Don’t become aggressive or accusatory; listen and take notes to the response you receive.

Feel genuinely discriminated against?

“Minimum wage standards are set for various industries,” says Slabber. “If you’re earning below R205 433.30 per year and feel that your employer is not meeting these standards, you have a number of options.”

  • Where the minimum wage is regulated by the Sectoral Determination, employees may approach the Department of Labour;
  • Where minimum wage is regulated by a Bargaining Council Main Agreement, employees may approach the relevant Bargaining council, who will follow the same process as the Department of Labour;
  • Where the minimum wage is regulated by the National Minimum Wage Act 9 of 2018, employees may approach the Commission of Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA);
  • If you earn above the R205 433.30 threshold, an employee would need to approach their employer about their remuneration.

If you’re a Reality Core, Reality Plus or Reality Health member, you can earn points when you use this nifty savings calculator.

Want to learn more?

We send out regular emails packed with useful advice, ideas and tips on everything from saving and investing to budgeting and tax. If you're a Sanlam Reality member and not receiving these emails, update your contact details now.

Update Now