Recently, I was watching an episode of ‘Paul Murray Live’ on Sky News. The programme is on at 9.00pm weekdays and is an hour of current topic discussions with a panel format. The host, as the name suggests, is Paul Murray from Sydney, who made his name as a radio journalist with 2UE. My ears pricked recently when the panel started talking about salaries and whether it was acceptable to discuss remuneration at work.

Now, I manage a business with a large focus on recruitment. We discuss remuneration on a daily basis; with candidates, clients and internally. We are regularly requested by clients to benchmark their remuneration arrangements against market and provide counsel to a wide range of customers across a diverse market on the topic. However, I have one golden rule internally on salary; you never, ever discuss your own remuneration with anybody other than your manager.

I believe that there are only a few topics in this day and age that are taboo and should never be asked. “Who did you vote for?” probably tops the list. Politics is taboo on so many levels and people do take offence when they feel as though they need to justify their political beliefs. Questions around religion and age are probably just behind this and can cause great offence. I have seen questions of age be offensive both when people believe the person is older or younger so it is best just to avoid them. Finally, there is the old chestnut for married couples “how many partners were you with before me?” You are never going to like the answer so avoid the question.

So this takes me back to the question about how much you earn. I have personally seen this question cause massive issues in the workplace as jealousy sets in and bullying takes over. I remember when my old business was listed on the ASX and the top five executives (I was a long way from being one of those) had their packages listed in the annual report. My boss at the time, who is still the hardest worker I have had the pleasure of working with, had to go through the discomfort of the entire office looking at her thinking “I cannot believe she earns so much.” I remember my own discomfort when my own salary was made public in a similar manner three years later.

There is also the risk of hubris taking hold of an individual leading to them inflating their remuneration. Some time ago, we terminated the employment of a lady who we felt just wasn’t right for Optimum at that time. It happens and it is never nice. Her boss, out of the goodness of his heart, arranged a farewell lunch for her and this is where the trouble started. She made a decision to embellish her remuneration by $50,000 and tell some people who may not have had our best interests at heart. Within three hours, we had a massive incident with about five staff lined up at my door demanding to know why she was paid so much in comparison to their packages. I could not believe how angry and passionate they were – mob rule had taken over from common sense.

There are a great deal of factors that go into deciding on remuneration levels for any employee and sometimes these are well beneath the surface. Behaviour always counts and should always be a factor. I believe that loyalty also deserves reward – this may not be a favourite with scholars on the topic but I feel it works for me. There are also many employees who perform a great deal of tasks which may not be instantly recognisable such as mentoring new staff, travelling, working odd hours for projects etc. That deserves recognition as well. Then there is the time when you attract somebody to establish a new division and you need to guarantee a package to attract them from their current employment. Sometimes these arrangements are purely between employee and employer and should not be open for transparent discussion by the team.

So, if I cold implore anything of you, it would be to never discuss your remuneration with anybody else other than your managers at work. It rarely leads to any positive result. It opens up the possibility for manipulation and deceit and it can be costly for the culture of the team. Some things should remain taboo!

Brad McMahon – Managing Director

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