Don't talk about salaries! But why?

The longer we work in the same place, the better we get to know our colleagues. Their favourite food, the team they support, how many kids they have, whether they are married or divorced - all things we definitely know about the person on the next desk over. But there is one thing that, most of the time, we don't know: how much they earn. And that's a good thing! Why? We'll tell you…

"I don't care who knows what I earn," some may say. But others - and they are in the majority - are more likely to say: "I would rather keep my salary to myself." And with good reason, as in many company wage differences can be pronounced. The hotly debated gender wage gap - that is, the disparity in pay between men and women - is just one reason behind this. When it comes to salary, the ball is in your court: if you want to get paid more, then you have to ask for it and employ all of your negotiation skills.

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So what's wrong with discussing my salary with my colleagues?


  • In the end, everybody loses. If we earn less than our colleagues who have a comparable role and the same professional experience, then the best you will get is compassion - at worst, ridicule. If you earn significantly more, you should not be surprised to find that your colleagues aren't impressed and will make their resentment clear. In either case, your salary is guaranteed to be the subject of office gossip.
  • If an employee feels unfairly treated due to being paid less, then this will inevitably affect both their motivation levels and their work. The result? A bad atmosphere in the office. 

  • While there is no law preventing us from discussing our salaries, many employers in Germany are still against it as an unwritten rule. People don't take too kindly to "gossips", who will likely have to answer for their actions at their next salary negotiation meeting! 

The matter, then, seems to be pretty cut and dry: when it comes to our pay, we should keep our lips sealed. And this does not only apply to salary discussions with colleagues - large wage discrepancies can also wreak social havoc within a circle of friends.

Are there arguments in favour of being open about your salary? Of course!


  • Open salaries ensure transparency. The starting point for salary negotiations is considerably better when we know exactly how much our colleagues pocket at the end of the month. It is also easier to make a realistic assessment of our salary expectations during a job interview. 
  • Open salaries make it easy to identify significant salary differences, which also makes pay discrepancies between men and women a public matter.
  • There are employers who say that open salaries would encourage competition among colleagues, although this may depend on the corporate culture. Several studies, however, dispute this claim. 

Is it normal for colleagues to talk about their salaries in other countries?

In fact, it is quite a German thing to keep your salary a secret. In the USA it is totally different, in keeping with the saying "from rags to riches". If you've got it, flaunt it! Money is also a topic of conversation in China. In Norway, there is a public platform on which anyone can see tax information and, therefore, the salary of anyone else. Here, it's a matter of not considering yourself better than your neighbour. Rather than discussing your salary, it can be useful to share your resolutions for 2018 with your colleagues instead. Sharing makes it easier to keep them! Also worth sharing with colleagues: Our office life hacks