Talking About What You Make With Those You Work With

Mike: So this Jill Abramson news has got me thinking about where I’ve worked previously and how much I knew about what my colleagues made. I often knew! But that’s probably rare.

Ester: In my first job at a talent agency, HR told us very sternly not to discuss compensation or bonuses with other employees.

Mike: What was your reaction to that?

Ester: It felt draconian and maybe illegal? Like, are you allowed to tell your employees what they’re not allowed to talk about? But they also made me quit PT grad school, so. Kids: Don’t Work in Entertainment!

Mike: Yes, it’s illegal.

Meaghan: No job has ever told me that explicitly, though it’s funny how people still don’t do it!

Ester: Mike, how did you know what your colleagues made? Were you guessing?

Mike: Nope. I asked. Or rather, the conversation came up organically. I think though, it was mostly that we were not making a lot and wanted to compare—entry-level journalism jobs and such. Like when you’re making less than $30K you don’t care if anyone knows.

Meaghan: Ha yeah. It gets awkward when you make more than your colleagues.

Ester: Right. Before we started at our web editing job, I asked for more money than what I was offered, because that’s what you do, and the managing editors said, “Sorry, it’s policy. We’re going to pay everyone exactly the same.” Which is fascinating, though I have no idea if it was true.

Mike: Right, you and I worked together … seven years ago? And we both made just under $30K at the time.

Ester: Wow, was it that long ago? I guess. Yes. I figured maybe they just told the girls that and went ahead and paid the guys more.

Meaghan: It’s funny around pay my capitalist brain and my JUSTICE brain really collide.

Ester: Say more about that!

Meaghan: Like, paying everyone the same seems…fair? I want to say it’s “good” but also I’m like, there is no way that everyone was “worth” (oof) the same amount or brought the same value to the company. It seems like a silly way to run a business! How do you motivate people to do better?

Mike: I get that. Or how do you “poach talent”?

Ester: Right. And it became ridiculous very quickly. Mike, as you can imagine, showed up before everyone else and left after everyone else and remembered (and celebrated) everyone’s birthdays. Whereas some people watched movies on their computers all day.

Meaghan: Right, and if I were him, I would get resentful really fast!

Ester: He channeled his resentment into buying nicer and nicer snacks for the office.

Mike: God, I loved everyone. But yeah, the pay sucked. I certainly applied to other jobs.

Ester: Pay has sucked in most places I’ve worked. All? Perhaps all.

Mike: It’s the industry and it depends. Like Meaghan and I both worked at big name tech companies and I felt like I was getting paid a normal amount of money to work and live in New York finally.

Ester: Like, in Manhattan even, by yourself!

Mike: Enough to have the privilege of living without roommates, yes, hah.

Meaghan: Yeah as did I, in the end. And I told everyone newer than me in the company how much I made!

Ester: #transparency

Mike: I did too.

Ester: I have one friend who’s in a UNION.

Meaghan: Ha okay not everyone. But I would be like, Hey I just got a $10k raise, so hopefully you will too soon? And if not, consider that. I want to be in a union!

Mike: I went out to happy hour and one night we all just told each other.

Ester: The union seems kind of amazing! There are all these rules about mandatory raises and bonuses.

Meaghan: It’s always at happy hour, ha. Is there a blogging union?

Mike: We should start a blogging union.

Ester: Actually she works at a magazine! It’s an old-school lefty publication so even though they’re writers they’re unionized

Meaghan: I mean, if anyone is going to…That’s awesome.

Mike: Okay, so Meaghan how did this come up at happy hour?

Meaghan: Oh man I don’t remember! Probably we were talking about end of year evaluations and retelling everything that was said in our “one-on-ones” and then someone was like, “But I got a raise so that’s good!” and then someone is like, “Me too!” And everyone is being abstract. And gets quiet. And someone will be like, “Yeah I got a $10,000 raise.” “Me too!” “Yeah I make 70 now.” “Oh, I make 55. WTF.”

Mike: Yeah, I guess for me it was also getting together after work and complaining. That’s how it came up. Someone is denied a raise, and it comes up.

Meaghan: Oooh. I have never asked for a raise. Or more money! Shit. Actually I did for the first time on a freelance piece like a month ago and it was painful and fruitless, but I think it was a good step for me.

Ester: Wow! Someone once told me, after I had Lara, to think of her when asking for more money.

Mike: That’s smart. Makes sense!

Ester: Supposedly it helps women to picture the money going toward someone other than themselves.

Meaghan: Yeah. Now, looking back, I think of the men who came after me and probably make more.

Ester: I often ask for more because as my brother Adam put it, “You never know what someone is willing to give you unless you ask.” And most of the time I have gotten it, too. It never ceases to surprise me.

Mike: I didn’t get the raise I asked for at my last job, and when I told them I was leaving, my boss was suddenly like, “Wait, how much do you want for us to keep you?”

Meaghan: I just think of the men demanding more money and it makes me want to steal it back from them. Like, when I made $75,000/year that was a LOT OF MONEY to me, and it still is, and I felt well-compensated for my experience, but I can only imagine the person hired after me asked for and made six figures, you know?

Ha, wow what did you say?

Mike: I said, “I’m not going to even throw out a number because I’ve already made my decision to leave.”

Ester: Mike was like, “F you, F-balls! I’m going to go get paid for being MICHAEL DANG.”

Meaghan: Ha, yeah when it gets to that point you kind of get soured on them.

Ester: Someone in the comments said it’s not wise to accept job #1’s counter-offer anyway. Have you guys heard that?

Meaghan: Like oh you will only give me a raise under duress, how appreciative

I haven’t! I think it makes as much sense as any business advice… which is that it’s impossible to generalize. But i can see that I guess?

Mike: I would only accept a counter-offer if I liked a company and had a good relationship with my boss and was only leaving because I needed to earn more.

Meaghan: That’s true, yes. If you are tempted to leave for other reasons, money probably wouldn’t change the situation, though at least you’d have more money!

Mike: But in this case, you usually have a boss who advocates for you. Like, you put in your notice, and your boss wants to keep you so she takes it to the Top Brass and gets you more money.

Ester: I had a lovely boss at the job I left to go work at the start-up with Mike. She was very sad when I told her and offered to help me get anything I required to stay. It was sweet and great, and I really wanted to make her happy.

Meaghan: Yeah. Or maybe you’re feeling unappreciated, and money makes you feel appreciated? Heh.

Mike: Hah, money does help! Kudos only goes so far.

Meaghan: Leaving a job ahh, so many feelings.

Ester: SO MANY. By the way MoC, I’ve never made $75,000. I’m kind of in awe of you.

Meaghan: It was nice while it lasted. I subscribed to the Steven Alan newsletter. Ha!

Ester: Where does dishonesty enter into this?

Meaghan: Ooh what do you mean?

Ester: Well, for example, how can you be sure your employers are telling you the truth when they say “We’re paying everyone equally” or that your coworkers are telling the truth when they tell you what they make? Maybe it’s like online dating where men say they’re taller and women say they’re thinner?

Mike: Hmm. I hadn’t considered that.

Meaghan: I just got so enraged imagining your employer lied to you about paying everyone equally. They should know that you could talk?

Mike: Though I’ve only had these conversations with people at work whom I respect and trust and am friends with.

Ester: Right, that’s true. The atmosphere at Office #1, the talent agency where we were explicitly told not to discuss compensation, was one of fear and general distrust. I think it kind of poisoned me, or at least made me paranoid for a long time that I was naive if I didn’t assume I was being cheated somehow.

I guess I’d rather be thought cynical than naive?

Meaghan: On the other hand I think it’s important to remember, when thinking about this stuff, that people aren’t doing you a favor by giving you a job, you can’t assume people are “looking out for you”, and that you have to be your own advocate. Yeah same!

Mike: Yes. You definitely have to advocate for yourself.

Meaghan: Even though I am cynical talking about it, when I’m in a job it’s much harder to not be like, overtaken with gratitude that I even have a job and so on. REMEMBER THIS IS CAPITALISM. Mike Dang is extracting value from me.

Mike: Hah, yes, I am. From you and your unborn child. Can’t wait for our baby correspondent to join the team.




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