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Sneaky About Salaries: How Employers Entice You To Take Less

By: Christian Carlo D’Ambrosi
Initial publication date: July 1st, 2020

No matter what industry you work in, at some point you will have to search for a job. And be it Indeed, Workopolis, or Zip Recruiter, chances are that you’ve used a website to help aid said job search. However, time and time again, we see employers get sneaky about the salaries they are offering. That’s because rather than disclose either the exact salary or a salary range up front, oftentimes they will simply say that the salary depends on your experience. And while this may seem like a slight annoyance on the surface, the truth of the matter is that this practice can lead to some serious negatives for job seekers. So today, we’re going to be answering three simple questions: why employers hide salaries, what negatives salary hiding can have on job seekers, and of course what can be done to adapt to this practice!

For the sake of transparency, we must first concede that employers do have a right to not disclose a job’s salary until an interview; as such, the practice is not illegal. However, what motivates it is annoying at best and sinister at worst. Now, one of the most commonly cited reasons for doing so is in order to not get stuck at the top of a salary range. This idea comes from the fact that if an employer were to state a salary of, say, $60 000-$80 000, most people will subconsciously value themselves closer to the top rather than closer to the bottom. As a result, many employers argue that employees get offended if they then offer them a salary on the lower end, making them disgruntled before they even begin.

Yet, while this is a valid point, there are many others factors that, when explored more deeply, have rather sinister intentions. An example of one of these is the fact that salary hiding is often done in order to prevent current employees from figuring out what their co-workers will be making. This is problematic because it perpetuates wage gaps, as it diminishes all transparency and makes it very easy for employers to act in a discriminatory way. This is compounded by the fact that hiding salaries diminishes the wage market. This is because when multiple companies don’t post salaries, they do not have to compete with one another in regards to wage. As a result, if enough companies partake in this systemically unfair practice, they can keep wages low by virtue of them complicitly agreeing to keep them hidden.

Unsurprisingly, these tactics are a net negative to job seekers. Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that hiding salaries generally leads to lower salaries across the board, as individual companies are not held as accountable by the wage market as they would have been otherwise. There is also the consideration that not showing a salary leads to a lot of time wasted for job seekers, as they may put in the time to apply and go to an interview only to be told that their proposed wage is lower than they would have liked. Yet, worst of all, salary hiding is especially brutal because it encourages systemic wage discrimination practices. After all, by only paying people based on “qualifications”, it is very easy to use this vague reasoning as a mask to pay a minority group less than their non-minority counterparts. Thus, all in all, despite being completely legal, salary hiding is easily one of the most problematic hiring practices exercised by employers.

Of course, this begs the question as to what can be done to stop salary hiding. Now, on the job seeker side of things, the unfortunate reality is that there is little they can do to stop it. After all, the problem is not only out of their control, but completely legal and widely accepted. Yet, what job seekers can do is learn to adapt to it. You see, whenever a salary is open-ended, it almost guarantees that some sort of negotiation will be involved. As a result, if you can play the upper hand while at the negotiation table, it is actually possible to overcome salary hiding and use it to your advantage. Now, it goes without saying that this is much easier said than done; however, for those of you out there who are in need of some negotiation tips, we have a few pointers that you should keep in mind before entering into any type of salary discussions:

  • Know the market. While the company you are applying to may not have disclosed their salary, that doesn’t mean that others have followed suit. Therefore, look for other company job listings in the same industry as yours and use them as a guide in order to make a reasonable salary demand.
  • Don’t undervalue yourself! If you’d like to get paid well, then you must convince your employers that you are worth the cost. Therefore, don’t shy away from discussing your accomplishments and noting your skills if you want to get the best salary offer possible.

However, if you are an employer, then it goes without saying that it is of benefit to you to keep salaries ambiguous. Of course, it is also of benefit to you to do what is right, and we hope that this article perhaps shed some light on how salary hiding can have a lot of negative effects that you may never have even considered! So, we encourage you to perhaps stray away from this negative practice and instead be upfront about a salary on your job postings by either stating an exact wage or giving a wage range. That way, you can not only end the systemic problems that come with salary hiding, but also serve as an example to other companies and thus encourage them to do the same!

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