More often nowadays, I see jobs advertised with no salary definition. But why? 98% of employees want to know salary details before applying for a job. That figure is no surprise to me. (Well actually, who the heck are that 2% that isn’t bothered with knowing what they’re going to get paid?).

In November 2022 a new law was passed requiring all New York employers to disclose salary details. In January 2023 California and Washington states followed suit. Europe is also planning to force transparency of salary on job vacancies. Yet according to HR magazine, salary transparency is at a six-year low. Why are employers so against being salary transparent? Here are my thoughts:

  • It could cause animosity amongst existing employees if they discover newly hired colleagues are being paid more.
  • A company might pay an employee differently based on their geographical location. (I’m making an estimated assumption that in the UK, southerners benefit from this, and northerners don’t). 
  • Companies don’t want competitors knowing how much they pay their staff. 
  • If companies advertise a salary range for a role, employees might (fairly) request to upgrade their salary to the higher benchmark based on their service, commitment, experience. Rather than accepting (and being none the wiser) that they could have a higher earning opportunity within their current role.
  • More and more, companies expect negotiation of salary. For an employee to know the marketplace standard for a role, and negotiate accordingly. 

Companies might think their non-disclosure of salary doesn’t say much to a potential employee. But it says quite a lot. Here are my own takings: 

  • Your company is more like to discriminate with its payment practices. What concerns me the most with all of this lack of salary transparency, is pay equality. A lot of research shows women, people of colour, disabled or older people are paid less. As one of these groups (edging closer to ‘older’ territory too) that’s not a good sign for me. And research has shown women tend to undervalue themselves, whilst men will over embellish their skills when it comes to job applications. In this scenario, who do you think is offered the higher salary?
  • You are hoping you can pay me as little as possible, rather than what I deserve for the skills and knowledge I can bring to the table. Because this practise allows companies to offer salaries based on what they think we’ll accept (or rather, as low as they can get away with) rather than what we actually deserve for the role. Which means you likely don’t have a fair salary practice in place. Meaning whilst I might benefit from entering a role in a higher salary position to existing employees, I’ll assume it won’t be long before another person joins who’ll be paid higher than myself.
  • I might just be wasting my time. I’ve turned down job offers I loved the sound of, not because I didn’t care about the opportunity, or felt unpassionate about the prospective job, but quite simply because compensation wouldn’t have been adequate to cover my bills. Yet I am expected to prove  – via complex interview processes, theorized strategies and project plans – the value I can offer a company, before I can approach the question of, What does this job actually pay? And finding out it either a) it wasn’t what I need or b) was so overly above my current salary band that clearly, I’m not the one. What a colossal waste of everyone’s time. Companies should place a salary band if necessary that is moveable based on experience, passion, mission-driven and so forth. But to have zero salary mentioned doesn’t help a prospective employee or that company. For me at least, more and more it puts me off.
  • And lastly (definitely not the entirety of my list, but it has to stop somewhere) As employers often associate an employees need to know a salary with a lack of passion for a role, you’re likely hoping I will feel awkward about negotiating a salary. That my simple need to know whether I can make my mortgage payments or buy food (because despite what you might think, passion alone doesn’t pay the bills) wont be as important as making sure you don’t think I’m totally money orientated. The sad thing is, they’re not wrong. This awkwardness means I’ve accepted less than I probably should have in the past, because a hard discussion on salary feels like an incorrect move. And I would therefore be considered ‘money orientated only’ as opposed to mission or passion orientated if I asked a fair question of, ‘What does this job pay me?’ meaning less likely to get the role. And without any knowledge as to your benchmarks, I’m totally in the dark as to whether that’s a high or lowball offer. 

The simple resolution to all this salary confusion?

Pay people fairly. Pay people fairly enough that disclosing a salary band on a job vacancy isn’t going to cause an issue to anyone seeking employment. Existing staff won’t find out after ten years grafting that someone else was more confident at negotiating in interview stage and has been on 5k more than them for a decade for doing the same role. A lack of transparency will stop discouraging new applicants. And being transparent with salary sets a benchmark for all businesses.

Reward existing employees adequately and have a fair structure in place to enable salary progression based on performance. Set a benchmark, stick to it, be transparent about it. Existing employees who want or need more money aren’t going to be stopped by a company disclosing salary information on new posts. They’d find out eventually, and leave anyway if that was the right choice for them. Yet a transparent salary practice is more likely to retain existing people (which is far cheaper in the long run that constantly retraining and hiring new staff).

Stop associating someone’s need to know a job’s salary as a negative

Don’t we need money to pay for food, bills, buy clothing, to pay the mortgage? So why would asking the salary ever be a negative? It’s quite simply a necessary to assess whether a job is going to pay what we need to cover our expenses and provide enough to get by.

I get that a company wants to hire an employee with passion. Whose values align with their own. Someone who cares about the product they offer. Mission driven rather than money focussed. But money, is a necessary entity to live by. People can be passionate about what they go for in their careers, whilst also caring deeply that they are fairly compensated for the value they are going to provide, wanting equality and fairness in the way they are paid in alignment with their colleagues, and striving to not just live in a way that ensures bills are paid, but in a way that leads to building a better life.

Let’s normalize a conversation where it’s perfectly acceptable for a job candidate to care about what they are going to be paid. As much as it’s perfectly fine for a company to care about what that employee is going to give.

Work is an exchange between two parties. One is offering a service. The other, compensation for that service. There are many people out there who like, even love their job. But without compensation, if we did not get paid. I think I speak for most people when I say, we absolutely wouldn’t do our job. There is nothing free about our time or energy. There is huge value in what we provide in that service to a company. And that value, is rightfully compensated.

If we stopped working or providing value, didn’t put time and energy into our job. Just as rightfully, a company wouldn’t have us working for them anymore. Whether we were laid off as the company no longer required that service. Or fired for neglecting our duties. Those actions, as long as respectful and fair, wouldn’t be at fault. Because the roles of employee and employer are quite simply transactional; service for compensation.

So how did asking what that compensation will be become awkward?

Or even seen as a negative question to ask at the end of an interview? Or a negative to ask at any stage of our careers, whether it be for reward and recognition, progression or a new role altogether with an entirely new company? I really don’t know. But what I do know is, something has to change.

Companies need to be clear from the off, starting with being upfront in their job postings. And not attribute someone’s interest in the salary of a role as ‘purely money orientated’ and therefore less passionate for their work or the company itself. Passion doesn’t pay the bills. Being mission driven won’t help me save for retirement. I can’t work for no pay. And all I want, is to be paid fairly for that work. Companies know what salary a role deserves, so just be clear with it.

Do you think job adverts should always show salary details? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.