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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 15, 2010

Fear, guilt discourage workers from discussing salaries


By Anita Bruzzese

The workplace has been turned upside-down in the past year because of the recession, and it appears it has even changed our attitudes regarding an often taboo subject: talking about our salaries.

Whether to reveal to others what we make has prompted more than a few debates, and a new survey reveals that Americans are becoming even more guarded about sharing the details of their compensation. According to a www.Glassdoor.com survey, 17 percent of respondents say they are not comfortable talking about what they earn, up from 11 percent in 2008.

Why are workers talking less about their pay?

"There's a lot of fear and insecurity out there," says Rusty Rueff, a Glassdoor workplace expert. "People don't want the boss or human resources to think they're not grateful to have a job if they question their salary.

"I think there is some survivor guilt as well. People just don't want to talk about it if things are going well for them."

Veronica Schaefer, a 26-year-old finance employee in New York, says she believes salaries should be openly discussed. She says she is surprised that more people are keeping mum about their earnings, and says she and her co-workers are talking about money more than ever before.

"My colleagues and I have been talking about how we're doing the work of two or three people, and not getting paid for it," she says. "I think a lot of people are being taken advantage of in this economy, and companies know employees are willing to suck it up and take what they can get. That's why I think we should reveal what we make that way you know if you're getting paid what you're worth."

One of the concerns facing employers these days, however, is what will happen once the economy improves and workers decide to emerge from their cocoons. Already operating with only key players, these companies could be facing some real threats to their ability to compete if workers discontented with their workload and their salaries decide to leave.

Rueff says that companies who have cut staffs and then reduced salaries for existing workers now consider this the "new normal" for conducting business. Employees, on the other hand, expect to see not only more people hired to help them as business picks up, but also expect to get pay raises.

"We're living in a time of very mismatched expectations," between companies and workers, he says.