Nobody ever under-sells the size of the fish they caught.

How many of your employees share their confidential information with each other? Specifically, their compensatory information.

For whatever reason, the discussion of salary and bonus amongst co-workers is no longer considered taboo at the employee level. The challenge is, despite the practice being unwise, it’s not illegal.

Some companies use paper tigers to discourage such talk, i.e. “Employees are prohibited from discussing their salary or wage levels and company benefits with other employees. Any employee violating this policy will be considered to have committed a breach of confidentiality and will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and possibly including termination of employment.

Good luck with all that. The National Relations Labor Act has a provision specifically protecting these discussions, so again – just because it’s stupid doesn’t mean it’s illegal.

So, what can you do as an HR professional when you are made aware of these discussions? What do you do when your business leaders ask you to take action?

Throw the monkey right back at ’em.

Schedule conversations with your business leaders, or even individual employees who are openly discussion (or seeking to discuss) this information. This is a classic example of not letting “YP” (your problem) become “MP” (my problem.)

  • Employee: “I know Gavin is making more money than me, and I’ve been here longer.”
  • You: “Is that right? And that’s a problem for you?”
  • Employee: “Well yeah it’s a problem for me; it’s not fair.”
  • You: “Okay, so let me ask you – how much more is he making?”
  • Employee: “Not sure the exact amount, but I think it’s about $5,000 more a year.”
  • You: “Okay, I can’t & won’t confirm of deny that information, but let me ask you a few questions.”

and that’s when you toss the monkey…take your pick of a few questions, but make this an educational session instead of a gripe session:

  • How do you think compensation levels are established?
  • Why would people have different levels of compensation even in similar roles?
  • In your opinion, do more people tell the truth about their compensation, or exaggerate?
  • What are the pluses of having discussions about private information?
  • What negatives could happen as a result of discussions about private information?

You get the gist – don’t make this your issue. I find it hard to believe that people would find value in comparing income, but we know it happens, right?

Cut that monkey off mid-flight.