Should You Ask Your Co-Workers How Much Money They Make? Experts Weigh In On This Tricky Topic

Ad failed to load

For the third year in a row, Bustle's Upstart Awards are honoring young women who are doing incredible things in the realms of business, STEM, fashion and beauty, the arts, philanthropy, and beyond. Want to be an Upstarts honoree one day? Read on for career tips, insights, and inspiration to help get you there.

For most people, talking about money ranks somewhere between "doing your taxes" and "getting an emergency root canal" in terms of enjoyable activities. Negotiating your salary or asking for a raise isn't just about numbers on a page — they are issues that raise real existential questions about how much your time is worth, how you choose to allocate your resources, and whether or not you can afford that margarita machine.

In order to determine whether you're being fairly compensated for your work, it can be useful to have some context about how much other people in similar positions are being paid. But this raises one of the most difficult questions of all — should you actually ask your co-workers how much they're making?

Ad failed to load

Although culturally it's considered taboo to talk about our salaries, talking about your pay is actually a right protected under the law. In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act made it illegal for employers to discourage their workers from openly discussing their salaries, because legislators recognized that a lack of information gave employers an unfair advantage in setting and negotiating salaries.

Some experts argue that discussing pay is too risky, though, and can lead to tension in the workplace. Moritz Kothe, CEO of kununu, an employment review platform, tells Bustle he considers the conversation a "no win" situation. "Should you ask someone what they make, you'll either find out they make more and you'll be unhappy, or they'll find out you make more and they'll be unhappy," he says.

"In most cases salary transparency acts as a motivator and benefits the employee over the company."
Ad failed to load

But as uncomfortable as it may be, is this tension necessarily a bad thing? After all, if someone is upset about not being paid the same as someone doing similar work, the problem isn't that they're upset, it might be that they're being unfairly compensated in the first place. White women generally make 20 percent less than men in similar positions, and the gap is even larger for black women and Hispanic women, who make only 65 and 59 cents on the dollar to white men, respectively. Openly discussing salaries allows workers to hold employers accountable for possible wage discrimination.

In addition, some experts reject the concept that salary transparency leads to tension. "Sure, some employees may become jealous or actually demotivated if they learn a colleague is making more money than they are," says Nicole Wood, co-founder and CEO of the career coaching company Ama la Vida. "But in most cases salary transparency acts as a motivator and benefits the employee over the company."

So broadly, it seems knowing how much your co-worker makes is useful information. But before you stomp over to your colleague's desk and demand to see their last pay stub, remember that people's pay is still a sensitive topic that should be broached delicately. Here are some things to keep in mind when asking your co-worker how much they make.

Ad failed to load
Freddy Castro/Unsplash

Before you ask your co-worker how much they make, evaluate your relationship with them and consider whether or not the conversation would help you or hurt you.

Ad failed to load

"Complete trust is absolutely crucial," Laura MacLeod, career expert and founder of From The Inside Out Project, tells Bustle. "Discussions about money can be interpreted as greedy, materialistic, inappropriately competitive and not fully invested — meaning you're there for the money and not because you believe in the company, mission, or project. You're not a team player. If any of this gets around the office and back to your boss, it will be very detrimental and you'll never get the salary you feel you deserve."

In other words, you're better off talking to a co-worker with whom you're friendly rather than the office gossip.

Ad failed to load

Given that pay is such a sensitive topic, it's important to approach the conversation delicately.

"When addressing a co-worker, it’s best to tread carefully and ease into the discussion. Share with them your goals and your desire to further your salary and the let the conversation flow," says Brad Stultz, human resources director of

"You might even share that it's uncomfortable," MacLeod adds. She suggests you say something along the lines of: "I've got a question for you. Feels a little odd to ask, but we've known each other for a while and I respect you and your work. I've been kind of unhappy with my salary — feel it's not what the industry norm is. Wondering if you are making the same and what you think about it."

Ad failed to load

Whether you choose to discuss salaries with your co-workers or not, you should be talking to your employer as well. Lauren Nutt Bello, partner and managing director at Ready Set Rocket, a digital marketing and advertising agency, is more skeptical about asking your colleagues how much they make, and advocates opening a dialogue with your employer instead. "If the employer is responsible and fair about compensation decisions, that is a matter that should be handled between the employee and their boss," she says. "It should be an open dialogue where clear goals are aligned on and understood, expectations are clearly set, and there is no ambiguity around how and why compensation growth can be achieved."

Ad failed to load

While these are broad guidelines, and everyone's situation is unique, asking your colleagues how much they make, if approached correctly, can be a valuable practice.

"Asking colleagues how much money they make can put you in a position of power when entering salary negotiations with your employer," says Wood. "You are not only arguing your worth in terms of your contributions, but you also have direct compensation benchmarks which are valuable in any negotiation."

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

These Are The Beauty Products That Came Out In May That You DEFINITELY Need On Your Radar

For beauty lovers, months aren't just months: They're 28 to 31 day periods, wherein any and all product and brand launches can happen — and when they do, it feels like your birthday, no matter what time of the year you were actually born. The May 201…
By Amanda Richards

Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In June To Help Get Your Summer Started

Summer is right around the corner, and so is another batch of streaming options to get excited about. On Wednesday, everything leaving and coming to Netflix in June 2018 was announced by the streaming platform. And don't worry, there's something for …
By Jamie Primeau

The 5 Rom-Coms You Need To Read This Summer, According To Someone Who Writes Them

'Tis the season for rom-coms. The weather is warm, the sun is shining, and everyone is rocking the flirtiest items in their wardrobe. I don't know about you, but summer always takes me back to my teenage years — and that automatically makes me want t…
By Cristina Arreola

11 Tiny Sunglasses That Will Make You Look Even Cooler Than Kylie Jenner

You know what they say — the tinier the sunglasses, the more stylish the outfit. OK, that's not really a saying, but it seems to be the case these days. Basically every celebrity, model, and It person has been spotted sporting tiny sunglasses as part…
By Sara Tan

9 Ways This Royal Wedding Was Way More Modern Than Past Ones

The newly named Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, made history with their storybook courtship and wedding. What's more, there are myriad ways the royal wedding 2018 was more modern than previous royal weddings. From deciding…
By Brandi Neal

10 Little-Known British Traditions Meghan Markle Will Learn When She Marries Prince Harry

As an American woman dating a Brit, I am no stranger to the mishaps that can result from the cultural differences between the U.S. and England. And while I'm sure Meghan Markle has a slew of royal traditions to learn, titles to remember, and fancy ha…
By Kristin Magaldi

I've Paid $18,000 To A $24,000 Student Loan, & I Still Owe $24,000

It all became real the summer before my senior year of college. It was 2010, and my home phone still had a cord, which I wrapped around my fingers as I waited not-so-patiently for the apathetic representative on the other end to tell me the bad news …
By Kaitlyn Cawley

12 Personality Quizzes That Will Help You Determine Your Exact Strengths

Learning more about yourself can be tough. It's so easy to observe others to learn what makes them tick, what areas they really excel in, and the things they could be better at. Doing that to yourself, however, is a whole different story. That's exac…
By Jessica Booth

5 Brand New Short Story Collections You Can Finish In One Sitting This Weekend

Since 2013, May has been known by book-lovers by another name: Short Story Month. If you're ready to kick off this year's celebration the right way, make sure to pick up a short story collection to read over the weekend. Modern life moves more than …
By Sadie Trombetta

I Got Styled By 'Queer Eye's Tan France & Realized I Still Have A Lot Of Fashion "Rules" To Unlearn

When I walked into a New York City Express store on May 2 to get styled by Queer Eye's Tan France, I was ready for anything. And I mean truly anything. I am such a massive fan of the show and Tan that if he had instructed me to wrap myself in tin foi…
By Olivia Muenter

It Isn’t Bad To Have A “Princess Fantasy” — Mine Made Me The Woman I Am Today

What do you want to be when you grow up? If you were anything like me as a kid, at some point, the answer to that question was "a princess." Thanks to good old-fashioned gender stereotypes, most little girls born in the '90s (and even now) grew up in…
By Nicole Pomarico

Here’s How To Get A FREE 30-Minute Facial At Sephora That Sucks Your Pores Clean

Sephora has long been a mecca for both serious and amateur beauty lovers alike, where they not only have makeup artists that help answer questions about products, but free samples to let you play with new collections. But now they have upped the ante…
By Marlen Komar

Kris Jenner Is FINALLY Launching A Makeup Line With Kylie

Maybe you don't have a favorite sister of the Kar-Jenner clan, and that's perfectly fine. The one thing you can't deny, though, is that when it comes power, no one in that family has more than the world famous momager. Now, Kris Jenner x Kylie Cosmet…
By Shea Simmons

This Kendall Jenner “Diva” Moment Is Really Being Taken Out Of Context

The fashion always takes center stage at the Met Gala, but there's usually a little drama, too. And this time, a member of the Kardashian-Jenner family is involved. People are buzzing about how Kendall Jenner shoved someone at the Met Gala, but after…
By Nicole Pomarico

Feel Like You've Seen Everything On Netflix? Add These Movies To Your Watch List

The weekend may feel too far away, but if you're lacking formal plans, a Netflix marathon session is always a good idea. If you're an avid viewer, however, you probably feel like you've seen everything the streaming platform has to offer already. In …
By Ashley Rey

Hillary Clinton Says She's Ready To Fight Like A Republican — EXCLUSIVE

Hillary Clinton Is Not Going Away Quietly. Can Hillary Clinton Please Go Quietly Into The Night? Unlike Losers Before Her, Clinton Is Not Going Gently Into the Night. These headlines, which appeared in various news outlets over the course of the last…
By Catherine Thompson and Jenny Hollander

Here's The Very Best Time To Book Your Summer Vacation If You're Trying To Save Money

Summer is a great time to travel, for obvious reasons. The weather is better. Many offices are more lax about time off. If you have kids, they’re out of school. But there’s one very important element that makes summer not a great time to travel: Cost…
By Emma McGowan