Employees Hesitant to Discuss Salaries with Boss, HR

By Stephen Miller Feb 9, 2010

As companies curtailed pay and bonuses during the recession and sluggish recovery, many employees felt left in the dark about what constitutes fair pay in today’s market. But even as employees and job seekers struggle to evaluate their current worth, they’ve become increasingly uncomfortable about discussing their compensation—especially with their boss or HR, according to a recent survey. In fact, 17 percent say they are not comfortable discussing their current compensation with anyone.

The survey of 1,356 employed U.S. adults was fielded from Dec. 15-17, 2009, on behalf of Glassdoor.com, an online career and workplace community where visitors share opinions about company work environments.

Among those employees who are comfortable discussing their salary information, details and gripes are more often shared with family and friends than those who can actually provide clarity or make a difference in their pay check: a supervisor or HR professional. Only 25 percent of these employees are comfortable discussing their salary with their boss. And they are nearly twice as likely to discuss their compensation with their best friend (33 percent) than an HR representative (18 percent).

'Companies should be more open about compensation
to bridge gaps in expectations and reach a common


“People have this underlying fear that talking about their salary or negotiating compensation with their boss or HR will make them look like they are ungrateful, especially in an economy where just having a steady paycheck is important,” says Rusty Rueff, a Glassdoor.com board member who led global HR departments at PepsiCo and Electronic Arts. “We’re living in a different era, and companies and employees should be more open about compensation to bridge gaps in expectations and reach a common understanding of the ‘new normal’ in today’s economy. Salary levels will take time to recover to pre-recession rates, but the more open we are to discussing what we are worth, the better we can prepare for the short and long terms.”

Those employees who are comfortable sharing compensation details discuss them with:

Spouse/significant other


Best friend




Financial adviser


HR representative


Other employees at their level


Other employees at a higher level


Casual acquaintance outside work


Other employees at a lower level


Other employees who report to me directly


Source: Glassdoor.com

Age and Gender Are Factors

Not surprisingly, employees in the social media-savvy generation (18-34 years old) who are comfortable sharing information are more open to discussing compensation socially and professionally than workers aged 55 and older. For example, young workers 18-34 are twice as likely to be comfortable sharing salary details with their best friend (42 percent) than with an HR representative (20 percent), while less than one-third (31 percent) are comfortable discussing pay with their boss.

On the other hand, older workers are less likely to discuss pay inside and outside of work. Of those 55 and older, one in four are comfortable sharing details with their best friend (25 percent) and boss (24 percent), while only 14 percent are comfortable discussing compensation details with HR.

Younger men 18-34 exhibit the greatest comfort sharing pay details with casual acquaintances (11 percent) compared to just 2 percent of women aged 18-34 and 2 percent of men 55 and older.

Marital Status, Region and Income

Some additional variations by income level, location and marital status are highlighted below. Of those comfortable sharing salary details with others:

Twice as many single/never married employees (49 percent) share compensation details with their best friend than married employees (23 percent).

Among U.S. regions, employees in the West are twice as likely to share salary information with employees at the same level (22 percent) than those in the South (10 percent). By comparison, 13 percent of those in the Northeast and 16 percent of those in the Midwest are comfortable sharing pay details with peers at work.

The less employees make, the less likely they are to discuss their pay: nearly one-third (31 percent) of those making $35,000 to $49,900 say they are not comfortable discussing their salary with anyone vs. 10 percent of those making $50,000 to $74,900 and 8 percent of those making $75,000 or more.

Share Your Comp Strategy

Discussing compensation strategy with employees aids their development and builds trust, says Rebecca J. Elkins, SPHR, of Elkins Consulting LLC.

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Stephen Milleris an online editor/manager for SHRM.​


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