The survey revealed the most common issues that the 329 participants felt uneasy when discussing with their current or most recent manager. Pay related discussions were the subject deemed most uncomfortable to discuss by 42% of respondents, followed by promotions (22%), reporting a member of staff for inappropriate behaviour (19%), flexible working requests (19%) and absence due to sickness (18%).
In terms of discussing pay, 35% of participants admitted to preferring to disclose their wage to colleagues rather than addressing pay concerns directly with their manager.
Nathan Combes, a senior associate solicitor at Yorkshire-based Lupton Fawcett Denison Till, warns of the potential backlash for employers who do not encourage employees to raise concerns with them directly: “Failing to appear approachable in regards to work-related issues, such as payment, can lead to all sorts of problems. A common situation is that employers start to discuss their wage with colleagues, which can lead to individuals who are paid less feeling undervalued and leaving, resulting in a high staff turnover".
“It is impossible for businesses to prevent wage discussion. However, management can offer employees salary review meetings on an annual (or more frequent) basis so that the topic can be discussed in an environment where employees feel confident that any concerns or viewpoints will be listened to and addressed. By giving employees a set date for a salary review, employers demonstrate that they are open to discussing the topic, removing the need for staff to turn to colleagues for advice on the matter. It also allows managers to monitor performance without micro-managing, and this helps to businesses to ensure that their top performing employees are adequately rewarded and consequently that they are more likely to stay. Another obvious route for businesses to take is to implement a clear pay grade and structure so that employees feel confident that their performance will be rewarded and that future pay increases will be objectively assessed and will not be influenced by irrelevant subjective criteria or gender bias”
Despite both male and female employees admitting that they find it difficult to discuss wages with their employers, men are more likely to address matters with management, with 49% stating that they would feel confident bringing up the issue compared to only 27% of women. When asked to describe salary issue discussions with management, 47% of women associated negative emotions (including feeling uncomfortable, nervous and scared) with these types of conversations compared to 39% of men.
Nathan explains: “With the gender pay gap such a hot topic at the moment, it is important that companies do everything they can to ensure that female employees do not suffer unfairly in terms of their pay , including making it easier for workers, both male and female, to discuss any pay-related concerns. An anonymous survey can often reveal potential areas of concern as staff are allowed to speak freely on issues such as salary, job satisfaction as well as providing their general thoughts on the workplace.”
Age was also shown to be a factor in determining discomfort felt by employees, with 50% of 18-25 year olds choosing pay rises as the most unapproachable topic, compared to just 37% of 46-55 year olds who perhaps view job security as the overriding factor.