Should You Keep Your Salary a Secret?

Should You Keep Your Salary a Secret?

By Caroline M.L. Potter, Yahoo! HotJobs

You share a lot with your coworkers over time. Projects. Lunches. Office space. Cocktails. Family photos. Birthday cake. But, even after many years of working together, should you share the details of your salary and compensation package?

No, says compensation expert Dick Dauphinais of Strategic Compensation Partners. "We all know employees talk, and things can never remain totally confidential," he says. "But an outright exchange of salary details probably isn't the best idea."

Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe

When companies have different employees on the same job and one of them is paid differently, many unfairness issues surface. "It can happen in any 'open shop' that differentiates pay for any reason [such as seniority or performance]," says Dauphinais. You could run the risk of alienating valued colleagues if they learn you earn more for what they perceive to be the same job.

Having more than 30 years of human resources experience, Dauphinais instead urges organizations to focus on structure. "I am a big fan of sharing the compensation 'structure' and all the components that dictate how employees progress through that structure with staff members," he says.

Democracy Doesn't Always Work at Work

There are organizations that openly share compensation information around the office. However, warns Dauphinais, "Unless all similar jobs pay the same rate, I would advise that open salary concepts don't work well."

The confidential nature of your salary, in fact, can be a greater benefit to you. "It creates an opportunity for a manager to have a confidential discussion with employees as to why they are being paid what they are -- and how they can work toward making more money," he says. "Each employee can then move forward with confidence that they have 'bonded' with their supervisor on their individual issues -- good and bad -- without involving others in the process."

Don't Let Undercompensation Undermine You

If you learn that someone who holds a similar position earns a bigger paycheck, don't panic. First, do some due diligence to determine if you are being underpaid in general. Use the Salary Wizard, and also reach out to your out-of-office network to find out how people at other companies are being compensated.

Next, says Dauphinais, "I would go to my boss and ask the reasons why." Open a rational dialogue to understand what skills or experience you'll need to improve your performance -- and earn more recognition and financial rewards.