02.12.15
Bonnie Siegler | Dear Bonnie

Sighing in Springfield

Dear Bonnie,

I’m stuck in a tricky situation. I just started a new job a few weeks ago, and I learned that my coworker knows my salary. The worst part is that it's clear she thinks I am undeserving of how much I make.

A few days ago she let it slip that she knew what my salary was, and commented that I "make a lot for a young person with not that much experience." To make it worse, she keeps making offhand comments about things like the size of my apartment when I can "obviously afford somewhere better." I’m getting very stressed out, but I'm not sure what to do about it. I work in a small team, and my coworker is more senior than I am, which doesn’t help.

This new job has really started off on the wrong foot. I would appreciate some advice. Thank you!

Sighing in Springfield


Dear S.,

Her behavior is beyond inappropriate. She is clearly threatened by you and envious of where you have gotten in your short career. This is classic bullying. She feels badly about herself and the only thing that makes her feel a tiny bit better is trying to make you feel badly. Don’t let her succeed. Please know this and repeat it to yourself: her comments only reflect how she feels about herself and have NOTHING to do with your ability or your salary.

The goal here is to improve your work life. I think a combination of manipulation and honesty is the best approach here, which means you're going to have to deliver a cocktail of ass-kissing and confession. You need to pull her aside and talk to her in private for a moment. Tell her how much you admire her and respect her work and her opinion. Then, and only then, tell her that open discussions about money make you incredibly uncomfortable and you would so appreciate it if she didn't bring it up. DO NOT criticize her for mentioning it in the past. Just let her know what you need going forward. This is a goal-oriented approach!

If that doesn’t work, you must speak to her boss. If she continues bullying you after you let her know how you feel, it could be considered workplace harassment. However, it’s always best to begin by giving the harasser the benefit of the doubt, as in: if they only knew they were hurting you, they would stop.

And, on a related note, the idea of salary transparency has been much discussed lately and is worth bringing up here as a possible broader solution to many kinds of salary-related issues. It may not be the best practice for every company, but the thinking goes that such transparency would likely eliminate the kind of taunting you're experiencing. (You know what they say about people in glass houses.) Plus, salary transparency has been shown to eliminate anxiety and, contrary to popular belief, does not create resentment, but rather builds trust. And most importantly, it is the easiest way to ensure equal pay for women. 


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