One of the most classic human resources conundrums is how to handle employees discussing their wages. It can cause issues and frustration, which makes many people leaders want to prevent it from occurring. You shouldn’t forbid it (and, per the National Labor Relations Act, you can’t legally forbid pay discussion at all).
Workers are actually more likely to talk about their pay if it’s suggested they shouldn’t – it sounds like secrets are being kept from them. So what should you do?
Wait… why would you want to prevent wage discussion in the first place?
The only reason a leader might be worried about employee pay discussion is if they’re paying them unevenly/unfairly, which is not okay under any circumstances. At that point, it’s a good thing if folks figure out their pay is unfair, because they can come forward and try to fight and rectify it.
So, our first and most important tip is to pay your workers fairly, especially between men and women. That’s common sense, though, and you probably entered this article expecting to hear it. However, we know that occasionally wage discussion creates a misunderstanding wherein someone feels like they’re being treated unfairly when they actually aren’t.
Perhaps, between two employees who hold the same position, one’s been with the company for one year and is making $60k, while another employee has been with the company for three years after coming in with more experience and is making $65k. It’s a natural evolution of salary, but on the surface, it seems like one is making more for doing the same work.
You can hope that such misunderstandings will be brought to a manager or HR so they can be quickly explained, but most interactions like that won’t rise to the surface, and will simmer among a few employees and hurt engagement and culture. So, if you do have a sort of pay equation that factors in past experience and tenure, make it public to your team.
Making your wage scale public doesn’t mean sending out a pay table to everyone via email or centering a meeting around it; it’d be off topic and raise some eyebrows about why you’re making a big deal of it. Instead, we suggest you kill two birds with one stone and include a pay table on your job listings and/or recruitment page.
That way, incoming candidates can get a transparent look at what positional wage could be and how experience and tenure affects it. This also demonstrates company honesty, as opposed to many job listings nowadays that don’t even touch upon salary.
Now, you can casually mention to your team that you’ve added a pay table on the recruitment side of things – any folks who were suspicious of their pay can take a look, and those who weren’t interested will continue to, well, not be interested.
While employees’ discussion of wages is a common issue, it’s really not a complicated issue. Pay everyone fairly, and provide a resource that informs everyone of how company salaries work. Then let them chat!