Why it's so hard to talk about salary – and how to do it anyways

Salary is a concrete and measurable expression of what others think you are worth. That's why it can be difficult to share your salary with others.

Salary is one of the most sensitive issues in the workplace.

That's why you're not alone if you don't know what your colleagues earn. According to a population survey of 1,138 employees, 53% talk to their colleagues about pay, while 46% say they do not share their salary with others at work.

The trend is particularly evident among the older generations. 43% of those aged over 50 talk about pay with their colleagues, compared with 65% of those aged 18-34.

There can be many reasons why you don't want to share your salary with colleagues. Unfortunately, some employers try to create a culture of intransparency when it comes to pay and, in the worst cases, try to add illegal confidentiality clauses to the employment contract.

For most, however, intransparency about salary has to do with the fact that it can feel uncomfortable to talk about because it is a concrete measure of how valued one's labour is.

Salary is an expression of rank

In the population survey, 22% say it is inappropriate to talk about pay at their workplace.

It may be that we in Denmark are used to flat hierarchies, where we are all equal in principle. But the pay gap reveals a hierarchy where some are at the top and others at the bottom.

If you earn less than your colleagues, it can feel embarrassing to talk about pay because you fear it's proof that your labour is worth less. In this way, pay is not just about purchasing power, but also very much about symbolism and status.

But it can also feel uncomfortable to talk about pay if you're at the top of the pay hierarchy and fear your colleagues' reaction.
Because the law of Jante still prevails in Denmark, Danes can be very hard on those who stick out. So you might be afraid that your colleagues will start whispering in the corners about why your salary is higher and whether you deserve it at all.

Still, it's worth overcoming the discomfort of talking about pay. Because pay transparency has a wide range of benefits for the individual, the employee group and the employers themselves.

Salary transparency benefits everyone

Every year IDA collects data for the salary statistics and every year we come to the same conclusion: There is an unexplained difference between men's and women's salaries.

Pay transparency is the best way to fight discrimination and ensure that everyone gets a fair compensation for their work, but it can also be a way for you to raise salary levels collectively. If salary levels are kept in the dark, you have only a vague idea of how you are paid compared to other workplaces.

Make a detailed calculation of your salary

With the IDA salary calculator, you can calculate in detail what other people with the same profile as you are getting paid, based on the latest figures. You can take into account seniority, job type and industry, among other factors. You'll be in a stronger position at the next salary negotiation.

Log in and calculate your salary now

Last but not least, pay transparency benefits the company because it makes it easier to explain to each employee why he or she cannot get a high pay rise, for example. Often the company is constrained by some financial framework or pay system, and explaining these clearly can ease the frustration of not getting the pay rise you had hoped for.

How to start the conversation

You're probably not the only person in your workplace who wants pay transparency. So asking your closest colleagues if they'd be interested in sharing your pay won't do you any harm.

Just make sure you emphasise that it can benefit all of you in the salary negotiations, and that it's not about some people getting punched because they got more, but that you can all benefit from it before the next pay negotiation. If you want more resources on how to get started sharing pay information, you can find them here.