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Monday, August 12, 2019

Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.

Anyone who plays the game of Blackjack at a casino knows that the dealer has the advantage. That’s why, in the end, the house always wins. It’s also how casinos stay in business.

Obviously, if the house wins, the customer (or gambler) loses. It’s just a matter of time. And yet, there are always players at the table.

In the workplace, there are other forms of a “gamble” that take place. We usually call it, “negotiations.” And most often, the house – also known as the employer – wins. Big time sports and other high profile type jobs will use agents or intermediaries of some type. Nice, if your situation allows it.

The reason why a third party is best is because when you negotiate for yourself, you become emotionally involved. Bad idea. The employer rarely has more on the line than you do. So the negotiation falls in his or her favor.

Nowhere does this play out more directly than when you are applying for a new position. Often, a question has appeared on an application or it surfaces in an interview that is, at minimum, irritating. It’s when you are asked about your recent pay or salary history.

Really? Why do you, Mr/Ms Employer, need to know THAT? Do you mind telling me details of the pay history for the position for which I’m applying? What did you pay the LAST employee for this work? Don’t go there. Like I said, the house has the advantage.

Unless an employee is rather shrewd, most don’t know the pay dynamics or benefits involved in a job. And if management can find a way to turn a deal in their favor, they will. That’s the nature of business.

Even asking an employee a question like, “What type of compensation (or package) were you expecting for this job?” makes most applicants uneasy. What if you ask for something “outrageous?” Regardless, the employer can look down over the glasses and say something like, “Oh…I see.” And you think…what did THAT mean? Perhaps you might even grovel a little.

In Illinois, the government decided to do something about this seemingly inequitable situation. A law recently signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker, which takes effect in less than 60 days, will forbid companies in Illinois from asking job applicants or their previous employers about salary history. Seems reasonable.

However, the advocates of this measure championed the bill because they believe the salary question “perpetuates a wage gap between men and women doing the same jobs.” Perhaps it does. Perhaps it doesn’t. No hard proof was offered by the Chicago Tribune in their story on this bill.

Governor Pritzker said this at the time of the bill’s signing, “We are declaring that one’s history should not dictate one’s future, that no person should be held back from earning their true value because of how much money they were paid in a previous job.” Perhaps he even added a “Hrrumpphh” at the end.

This is not something an employer should take lightly. The bill specifies that workers can seek up to $10,000 in damages if their employer violates this law. It further protests “the right of employees to discuss their salaries and benefits with co-workers.”

I’m not so sure about the wisdom of that last part. Both of my previous employers strongly forbade discussing your pay or benefits with others within the organization or outside. For ministries or other sensitive work environments, there are highly practical reasons to avoid this.

Not everyone carries equal talent or value within an organization. Pay variables will always exist. And should. Inside chatter about those differences can only lead to envy and bitterness.

Jesus of Nazareth said a lot about money. Luke 12:15 records Jesus' words, “Then he said to them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one's life is not in the abundance of his possessions.” (HCSB)

Employers should offer fair pay and especially treat women with the same respect as men. But all of us need to be on guard about the greed problem. Keep your finances to yourself.

Best advice? Don’t ask. Don’t tell.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Watch for a new YouTube program and podcast with Mark Elfstrand beginning in late summer.


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