Millennials Are Breaking the One Big Salary Taboo -- and It's Changing How Companies Operate
The talkative youngsters of the office are using their voices to make the workplace more equal.
According to a survey conducted by The Cashlorette, a personal finance site run by Bankrate, people 18 to 36 years old are far more comfortable discussing their salaries with co-workers, friends and family than workers in older generations.
This preference for pay transparency has resulted in a number of companies amending their policies to encourage people to speak up when they think something is amiss in how they or others get paid.
The Cashlorette's survey found 30 percent of millennials feel comfortable discussing pay with their co-workers; meanwhile, just 8 percent of those aged 53 to 71 felt the same. Millennials also discussed pay more with their family and friends.
"Pay and promotions are not secretive topics anymore," Mary Ann Sardone, a consultant who deals with compensation issues at large employers, told The Wall Street Journal.
Unlike baby boomers who could generally afford to pay for college by working part-time jobs, many millennials are saddled with thousands, if not tens of thousands, in college loan debt. Roughly 70 percent of the 2014 graduating class left college with debt, one report showed, and the rates are growing.
The prevailing attitude among the age group seems to be less that pay should be competitive and more that it should be collaborative -- people are often in the same boat, and feel compelled to help one another out.
"I share my salary with friends who I know make a similar salary, mostly to discuss how they make a budget work with this particular income," Meredith Hirt, a 26 year old working in marketing, told The Cashlorette.
Employers have taken notice. As workforces have started to skew younger, a growing number of companies are deciding to make their pay transparent to all employees.
At SumAll, a marketing and analytics company, CEO Dane Atkinson decided after founding the company in 2012 that payroll information ought to be freely available. Employees can consult an internal Google Doc that lists everyone else's salary.
Atkinson has said the move levels the playing field in two ways: First, it helps people understand how their role fits into the company's priorities. Second, it lets people who think they're paid unfairly voice a concern that could result in a raise.
"It's kind of crazy that in America, which is founded on this capitalistic vision of meritocracy, that we've obfuscated one of the core components of it," Atkinson told Business Insider in May.
At the social media company Buffer, transparency is taken to an even greater extreme. Employee salaries are treated like those of public officials: Anyone in the world can look them up. The database also includes the formula Buffer uses to calculate people's pay, which incorporates factors like role, experience, loyalty to the company and stock options.
On a legal level, too, pay transparency is gaining ground. New York and Massachusetts have new state laws that bar employers from asking job candidates about their salary history. Philadelphia and New Orleans have enacted similar laws on a city level. Legal experts say the laws will go a long way toward forcing companies to be forthright with what they can pay people, instead of basing a figure on someone's past income.
Along with casual dining and napkins, the salary discussion taboo could soon become the latest thing millennials have killed.