Why are the British reluctant to discuss salaries? Why are the British reluctant to discuss salaries?

Why are the British reluctant to discuss salaries?
30 Jun 2016

In Britain, avoiding awkward conversations seems to be ingrained into our DNA as our polite nature takes over and we do not want to be left, or indeed leave someone else, in a compromising position.

However, a reluctance to bring up potentially awkward conversations in work, such as how much we are paid, can have a negative effect on our working culture. A survey of 329 workers has found that 107 respondents admitted they feel uncomfortable broaching wage issues with their employers.

Unfortunately, this common feeling appears to be having a detrimental impact on employees’ attitude to working. The survey found that 35% of those admitting they felt uncomfortable with this conversation also reported feeling undervalued in their current role. On top of this, 30% said they felt they were underpaid, and 26% were unsatisfied with their job.

Employees more likely to discuss pay with peers

Another major cause for concern was that 35% of participants admitted to feeling more comfortable disclosing and discussing their wage with colleagues than addressing the issue with management. This approach could lead to all kinds of problems such as discord amongst staff as those who are paid less in a similar role could end up feeling undervalued, which can lead to an increase in staff turnover.

How can this be combatted?

Regulating discussion about pay can sometimes be unlawful and in any event, will, in most cases be impractical. Instead, management teams need to look at how they handle pay discussions and consider whether there are enough opportunities given to employees to speak out about issues they have with their pay. By making the time for employees to discuss their salaries and benefits, employers will demonstrate their willingness to discuss the topic, removing the need for staff to confide in their peers on the matter.

Employers should also keep abreast with average salaries for all positions in a company, not just those that the company specialises in. For instance, a construction company may feel confident that they are paying their bricklayers well, but what about the IT managers or accountants who also work for the firm?

These crucial roles are often overlooked if management and HR are not entirely familiar with the role and its responsibilities. And, of course, what about payroll? If you are a function within an organisation as opposed to working for a payroll provider/outsourcer then is your role fully understood and does the remuneration match the market or peers in the company?

Gender gap still a big issue

As well as highlighting a lack of willingness to discuss salaries with management, the survey also revealed that women are less likely to address wage issues than men. It found that 74% of women admitted an unwillingness to raise the subject, compared to 51% of men. This resonates with recent discussion surrounding the gender pay gap, which has dominated the media and government debate for the past year.

A solution to reduce the inequality of pay between men and women was brought into law in February 2016. The Equality Act (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2016 require businesses with 250 employees or more to provide regular gender reports from October 2016, with the first report being due by no later than 30 April 2018.

Companies will then be ranked in a league table. Those not doing enough to tackle inequalities or those who have tried to bypass the legislation through other means, such as setting similar basic pay levels but awarding different bonus payments, will be named and shamed.

The UK government expects these requirements will force employers to take action on reducing the gender pay gap, which currently stands at 20%. However, critics have pointed out that these reports may not show the full picture due to discrepancies in the workplace, such as high levels of female parttime workers or an imbalance in the gender of the workforce due to the sector.

What can be done?

Salary negotiations are never going to be an easy topic to bring up, however, steps can be taken by the management team to reduce the discomfort felt by the majority of employees. One of the ways employers can empower their workforce and reduce staff turnover is by holding regular reviews were staff have a chance to discuss career progression and managers can determine the worth of an employee without having to ask. When asked how frequently they have the opportunity to discuss progression, 17% of survey respondents said ‘never’.

Another way of making it easier to discuss pay is by conducting anonymous staff surveys so the entire team has a chance to air issues on salary and job satisfaction, as well as share their general thoughts on the workplace and the management team. Results will highlight where improvements need to be made without staff feeling under pressure in a oneto- one setting.

Encouraging employees to share their opinions on the workplace in general and using their ideas to improve working culture and processes will make employees feel valued and that they can make a difference. Plus they might have insight from their experience into areas that managers have not thought of before, therefore, improving the business as a whole. This collaborative approach to management is becoming increasingly popular and is helping employees feel more valued, able to speak to their manager and feel involved in the company’s success.

By Nathan Coombes, senior associate solicitor, Lupton Fawcett

In Britain, avoiding awkward conversations seems to be ingrained into our DNA as our polite nature takes over and we do not want to be left, or indeed leave someone else, in a compromising position.

However, a reluctance to bring up potentially awkward conversations in work, such as how much we are paid, can have a negative effect on our working culture. A survey of 329 workers has found that 107 respondents admitted they feel uncomfortable broaching wage issues with their employers.

Unfortunately, this common feeling appears to be having a detrimental impact on employees’ attitude to working. The survey found that 35% of those admitting they felt uncomfortable with this conversation also reported feeling undervalued in their current role. On top of this, 30% said they felt they were underpaid, and 26% were unsatisfied with their job.

Employees more likely to discuss pay with peers

Another major cause for concern was that 35% of participants admitted to feeling more comfortable disclosing and discussing their wage with colleagues than addressing the issue with management. This approach could lead to all kinds of problems such as discord amongst staff as those who are paid less in a similar role could end up feeling undervalued, which can lead to an increase in staff turnover.

How can this be combatted?

Regulating discussion about pay can sometimes be unlawful and in any event, will, in most cases be impractical. Instead, management teams need to look at how they handle pay discussions and consider whether there are enough opportunities given to employees to speak out about issues they have with their pay. By making the time for employees to discuss their salaries and benefits, employers will demonstrate their willingness to discuss the topic, removing the need for staff to confide in their peers on the matter.

Employers should also keep abreast with average salaries for all positions in a company, not just those that the company specialises in. For instance, a construction company may feel confident that they are paying their bricklayers well, but what about the IT managers or accountants who also work for the firm?

These crucial roles are often overlooked if management and HR are not entirely familiar with the role and its responsibilities. And, of course, what about payroll? If you are a function within an organisation as opposed to working for a payroll provider/outsourcer then is your role fully understood and does the remuneration match the market or peers in the company?

Gender gap still a big issue

As well as highlighting a lack of willingness to discuss salaries with management, the survey also revealed that women are less likely to address wage issues than men. It found that 74% of women admitted an unwillingness to raise the subject, compared to 51% of men. This resonates with recent discussion surrounding the gender pay gap, which has dominated the media and government debate for the past year.

A solution to reduce the inequality of pay between men and women was brought into law in February 2016. The Equality Act (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2016 require businesses with 250 employees or more to provide regular gender reports from October 2016, with the first report being due by no later than 30 April 2018.

Companies will then be ranked in a league table. Those not doing enough to tackle inequalities or those who have tried to bypass the legislation through other means, such as setting similar basic pay levels but awarding different bonus payments, will be named and shamed.

The UK government expects these requirements will force employers to take action on reducing the gender pay gap, which currently stands at 20%. However, critics have pointed out that these reports may not show the full picture due to discrepancies in the workplace, such as high levels of female parttime workers or an imbalance in the gender of the workforce due to the sector.

What can be done?

Salary negotiations are never going to be an easy topic to bring up, however, steps can be taken by the management team to reduce the discomfort felt by the majority of employees. One of the ways employers can empower their workforce and reduce staff turnover is by holding regular reviews were staff have a chance to discuss career progression and managers can determine the worth of an employee without having to ask. When asked how frequently they have the opportunity to discuss progression, 17% of survey respondents said ‘never’.

Another way of making it easier to discuss pay is by conducting anonymous staff surveys so the entire team has a chance to air issues on salary and job satisfaction, as well as share their general thoughts on the workplace and the management team. Results will highlight where improvements need to be made without staff feeling under pressure in a oneto- one setting.

Encouraging employees to share their opinions on the workplace in general and using their ideas to improve working culture and processes will make employees feel valued and that they can make a difference. Plus they might have insight from their experience into areas that managers have not thought of before, therefore, improving the business as a whole. This collaborative approach to management is becoming increasingly popular and is helping employees feel more valued, able to speak to their manager and feel involved in the company’s success.

By Nathan Coombes, senior associate solicitor, Lupton Fawcett