Thursday, February 01, 2007

Paystub Paranoia

My company recently switched to an online HR system where we have to print out our own direct deposit statements. I don't like having to do this, as I have always been very protective of my privacy when it comes to my salary. This may seem a bit odd given how open I am on this blog, but that's because I can be anonymous. In "real life" I definitely don't want my co-workers knowing my business!
Our paystubs used to be distributed by one of the assistants in the office-- usually if you weren't at your desk, they'd just hold onto it, but once or twice I came back to find it left on my chair or tucked half under my keyboard. It drove me nuts that someone could just snatch it and have a lot of personal information about me. Once I had my paystub in my possession, I would always stash it away in my bag unopened. That was a tip from one of my first bosses, and I've never forgotten it. Maybe it was more pertinent back when we worked in a store where everyone's bags were all on the same shelf in the stockroom and it was a bigger deal if a clerk making $5.75 an hour found out the manager made $30,000, but I still follow that advice to this day-- I don't peek at my paystub until I'm home.
So now, it bugs me that since the printer is down the hall from my office, I have to poke my head out, see if anyone is in the middle of a big print job, and then, if the coast is clear, hit PRINT on my computer and then run down the hall to the printer to make sure no one grabs my pay statement before I do! (I should mention that I don't have a printer at home, and wouldn't bother to spend money on one just for this!)
So I wonder, why is it that I don't want someone to see my paystub? There's the usual social taboo about revealing one's salary. There's the fact that I have people who report to me, and it just doesn't seem right to have them know how much more I make. But honestly, one of the reasons I worry about it is just personal embarrassment. I worry that some of the people who might see it would think I was underpaid for what I do, and that I'd look like a chump who'd never played her cards right, and perhaps I sort of am. Either that, or they'd think I'm overpaid, and wonder how such a useless twit gets away with doing so little for so much. Somehow, I'd be less embarrassed about that! They might not like me but they'd at least think I was a good negotiator. Especially since the possibility of me having seduced my current boss is pretty much nil, so they wouldn't think I was just some manipulative ho. Interesting value scale, isn't it?

  • Bad: being seen as lazy and useless but able to fool someone into paying me well.
  • Worse: being seen as a manipulative ho.
  • Worst: being seen as a wimp who lets herself be underpaid.
I once inherited some old files from a boss who left the company, and she'd inadvertently left me a document with the salaries of everyone in our entire department. (At least I think it was inadvertent, but I have sometimes wondered if it was actually a subtle parting gift, as some kind of encouragement to ask for what I thought I deserved. This was actually the same boss who steered me in the right direction in my "How to Ask for a Raise" post.)
For the most part, in judging my salary against everyone else's, things seemed pretty much fair. But there were two guys who seemed wildly overpaid in comparison to everyone else. One of them was routinely ridiculed for spending a little too much time reading the newspaper with his feet up on his desk, and I'd already heard some gossip about him being overpaid. (Bad: lazy but fooled someone into paying him well.) The other guy had just gotten a promotion to become my new boss, so I now knew he was even more overpaid, and I wasn't too happy about working for him for other reasons that had nothing to do with money. (Probably because I suspected he was both useless AND a manipulative ho.) So that just felt kind of icky.
So despite my belief that financial openness is a very good thing, I do think there are times when it's best not to know how much people make. Anyone else have any stories about deliberate or inadvertent snooping into the salaries of others?


Anonymous said...

I totally feel your pain. At my former law firm our HR Director proposed - and again I say PROPOSED - us going to an electronic system whereby we would print our stubs out, etc. to eliminate paper waste. Well the pushback from the attorneys and staff was immediate and it was fierce. Saying that the shit hit the fan is putting it mildly. The same concerns you raised were the exact ones they voiced. What happens if the computer system crashes, or there's a fire, etc. What happens if someone does see another person's private business, etc.

Of course they put the kibosh on the electronic plan. I'm old school and I still like something tangible, something I can look at in my own time and in the privacy of my home/office/bathroom, etc. Great blog, BTW!

Pink Shoes said...

Working in/for a church, my salary is part of the congregational budget (clearly), which is voted on by all members who would like to attend at an annual meeting. The budget is also distributed throughout the congregation. It's always felt a bit awkward, for everyone to know (and technically have a say) in how much I make -- right down to insurance costs, pension contributions, etc.

Anonymous said...

I understand that printing your own pay stub is uncomfortable. I found taht using the 'secure print' option in the printer driver helped solve the problem. You specify a 4 digit pin when you print and the printer holds the print job. It will only print when you enter the pin number- so you are standing right there to grab it. Worked for me... good luck.

Anonymous said...

I'm a new reader to your blog and found this topic pretty interesting. I've been out of college for four years and at both of my Real World jobs, we had online payroll stubs. The thing is, I never bother to print mine out unless I need them (when looking for a new apartment, for example). Why would I? The data is all there, secure and backed up (sure, there could be a server crash but there could also be a fire in my apartment and frankly the risk of someone seeing paper documents vs. my online information is much higher).

Is there a REASON you need to have a paper printout? Could you save the file to a flash drive or disk and when you get home transfer the files to your computer? If you ever needed to print them out, you can take the flash drive to a copy/print place and print them securely there.

As far as the difference in salary, I went through that when changing jobs a few months ago. At my first job, I was so desperate for money I accepted an offer 3k more than the bare minimum I knew I could live on, and thought I was flying high. At the end of my first year I got a 15% raise, which I thought was for my work but later realized it was probably more my boss's guilty conscience as that BARELY raised me to be even with others. My fresh-out-of-school replacement is making $5k more than I was after 2 years (she has a masters degree BUT no experience in 2/3 of the job requirements, and is having a hard time picking those things up--not very willing to learn). Another coworker left not long after I did, and was happy to share how much she was making at that point--$15,000 more than I was (she'd been there one year longer and spent most of her time on personal calls). She was making $10k more than another employee who'd been there three years longer.

To some extent all this was a slap in the face and very frustrating but on the other hand, it reinforced for me to never just take what is offered. I should have negotiated for that first salary, no matter how badly I needed money. I should have asked for a raise when I took on additional responsibilities. At the very least, I should have asked for a title change. I'm partly miffed at my old boss, who knew she was short-changing me, but utlimately I'm irritated with myself, because I didn't do enough research and then go after it. I think to some extent it's a shame that we're so secretive about our salaries, because companies would have to pay much more fair salaries if we stopped connecting our worth as people to the size of our paychecks.

Anonymous said...

if you don't have a secure print option, you can always use the old fashioned method - select it to print on a type of paper - say, plain blue paper - that you don't have stashed in the printer at all times. Then, when you get to the printer, place a sheet of plain paper in the bypass tray, and when it prompts you what kind of paper it is, select "blue" or whatever. Voila, printing on demand!

That's what I do in my office to print on the 2nd side of scrap paper, or things I don't want others to pick up.

Andi @ udandi / Lunch It Punch It said...

interesting that you have no other print needs at home. when booking airline, online purchases or bank interest statements, do you save the confirmation to your computer, not save or print it at work?

just job is constantly bustling so even if I wanted to sneak a use the office printer for printing my paystub, I would be pressed for time.

Anonymous said...

I have learned long ago that sharing salary info is not a good idea. It is guarenteed that at least one person will be pissed off.

My wife (who was an architect), a few years back, saw the salary of most of the people in the office (by accident). When she discovered how little the senior leaders made, it totally discouraged her. Why put in all the sweat and hard work to get so little back in terms of compensation down the road?

As a result, she switched careers.

Amy K. said...

My other half works for Intel, and they're completely paperless and happy. I know he can connect to work from home via his work laptop, and uses that to print paystubs when needed (meeting with our financial advisor, applying for the mortgage). Other than that, they stay electronic and he can look 'em over whenever.

At work, I have the ability to view the pay rate of our hourly employees, but not the salaried employees like myself. Everyone is very determined to keep payscales safe - we don't even have published pay ranges for a given position, so it's wide open. I did compare my pay to that of the hourly employees, but since they do highly specialized work that's completely different from mine, it was apples to oranges and meant very little.

Anonymous said...

I completely understand your reluctance for other people to know your salary -- it just feels kind of dirty. But, as a woman working in publishing -- an industry with low salaries across the board, I often think that if we all banded together and shared financials, we could actually do much better as individuals. I think women are less likely to share this information, too, and perhaps that makes it just a little bit harder to get those salary bumps.

Anonymous said...

You could always print the paystub to a PDF file. (there is free software available to do this - very easy). You could store the PDF files at home, and if you ever need actual hardcopies, you can print them from the PDFs.

It is rare to actually need hard copies of your paystub for anything... Unless maybe you have a secret addiction to those predatory "payday loan" scam places.

I agree its weird that your company has altered its practices in a way that creates such awkwardness. It might be worth your time to complain to the folks in the HR department. They probably don't realize the logistical difficulties they are imposing, and might be able to do something about it.

Anonymous said...

There's a program called CutePDF which will print to a PDF instead of paper. You could look it up at home and print it to a file to keep on your computer. Unless you really feel the need to have an actual paper copy.

HC said...

I fourth (fifth?) printing to PDF. I HAVE a printer at home, but have been too lazy/cheap to get a new cartridge for a few months.

But saving PDFs and such to my hard drive has meant that I have a copy of the documentation without printing it.

As for paystubs, my office mails us copies of our statements regardless. I'd actually be just as happy if they'd stop.

Cheryl said...

I once had my Manager, when passing out checks, hand me a newly hired co-workers check...imagine my astonishment when I opened the envelope without even looking at the name, and saw quite an increase in the salary...thinking I had gotten a huge raise! When I found out it was not mine, I was furious! I went to the managers office and laid out my case, I had perfect attendance for 5 years, had finished my college education while working there (on THEIR tuition reimbursment program!), and was constantly asking for more work and responsibility! He said there was nothing he could do.....I found another job, making more money, and gave my notice less than a month later!

Prasanth said...

Ha !! I'm with you on this. Your mention of the "parting gift" your old boss gave you reminds of the time i got to see salary details and future increases the company was planning to give for all employees. This happened because i was allotted a PC )when i came back from a long business trip) which was previously used by HR and they had forgotten to clean it up before releasing it. Anyway i was happy to find out that i was paid pretty well compared to others !!

Anonymous said...

Most of your concerns are about what *other* people will think about what you're paid. But isn't the important question really: are you overpaid or underpaid? And how do you know the answer to that unless people share salary information? Keeping people in the dark about other people's salaries usually benefits bosses by keeping salaries down across the board.

You're so concerned about saving money in small ways -- not buying a printer, etc. -- that I'm surprised by the possibility that you're losing far more money every year by being paid less than you are worth.

Frugal Duchess said...

I agree with optioned unarmed, I would complain to HR and stress how it may not be best for the individual or the company to have sensitive data popping up in printers.

Bitty said...

If you go paperless, DON'T rely on it always being on the company's site. We changed systems and too late I realized that I should have saved all that info. DO save it to your computer.

I work for the state gubmint and everyone's salary info is open to any citizen, not just coworkers. If you know where to look.

Anonymous said...

The college I work for has had electronic paystubs as long as I've been here, but also mailed the direct deposit stubs. What a waste of paper and resources!! I was thrilled when they stopped mailing them. I'm all for conservation and less clutter!

Anyway, as others have mentioned, there is rarely a need for paper paystubs. They will always be available electronically, so if for some crazy reason you actually need to look one up, it's right at your fingertips!

I guess my point is, your company's new policy seems like a great idea... just don't worry about printing it out on paper. Print it to a file or not at all!

(Another benefit of printing it to a file like a PDF is that you can attach it to the entry in Quicken. Such fun!)

Single Ma said...

Madame X, this post made me LOL. "manipulative ho!" HA HA

In my office, salary is public knowledge. No big deal to know and everyone is ok with that. Then again, floating your SS# is pretty normal too. But anyway, I think it's weird when people act like their salary is such a big secret.

My stubs have always been electronic. For some odd reason, I thought everyone received electronic stubs too. Duh! Every Wed. before payday, it's become 2nd nature to check my stub online. In 5 years, I've had to print maybe 10 times and half of them were last year when I was buying a house. Paper copies seem so archaic. Ha!

I don't have a printer at home either. This is what I use to print .pdf files and save on my computer.

Anonymous said...

Can you get a software to print PDF? So you don't have to leave the paper trail.

Anonymous said...

At my old job, hierarchy based salary was the norm in the society but the firm had individually negotiated salaries. At office drinks with a new hire, someone dropped figures thinking everyone was getting paid similarly. The new hire wasn't. This raised a big stink and the firm had to raise the new guy's salary.

Currently, I work in a big law firm, and follows "market" rates by year of qualification. So everyone at the same level gets the same salary and even bonus, and it's public knowledge. It's not really fair for the smarter, harder working, but at least I don't have to wonder what my co workers are getting paid.

Anonymous said...

This has happen to me last year! I had to go online to print my paystub and hated it! I do have a printer at home but i hate to use my ink. Anyway I know for a fact that us females need to work harder than males!

The Baker Family said...

I was very interested to read your post because at my company I'm the one who passes out the paychecks. I don't use envelopes because I consider it a waste of resources. I usually hand them directly to the person or, if they're not there, I leave it face down in their inbox. I never considered that some people might not like that. Did you ever tell the person who distributed the paychecks know that you didn't like that? I know I'd want to know if my coworkers were unhappy with something.

mOOm said...

I hate our new online only paystubs. I thought of printing them out, but they don't even print out right. But my chairman says they're great as they give MORE privacy. His paystub can't get lost in the mail and he can print it out at home (I also don't have a printer at home). Previously we'd all receive our paystubs in the internal mail and they'd sit in the mailboxes in the Department Office. Being academics we all have our own offices with doors that close to look at the paystub in :)

When I joined the department I saw a list of everyone's pay on the former chairman's desk. At my previous organization we all got a budget with everyone's salary on it. The difference was that was a public university and this is a private university.

mOOm said...

This reminds me that I really should edit that piece about what would happen if everyone knew everyone else's salary. People in this discussion think that salaries would go up, when economic theory shows that in fact they would go down on average, though the very poor bargainers would see gains.

Anonymous said...

At my job we are continously trying to "go paperless". Our paystubs are online and I love it. I think most of our employees do too. They also loaded all of our past stubs so you have that history as well. I felt more paranoid when I had paper statements, prob cuz i don't own a shredder.

Anonymous said...

Someone had mentioned that their company never even posts salary ranges - however if your company has ever hired someone on an H1B visa, they are required to disclose that information.
You can look up the information on this site -
Just enter your company name, state and which year you want data for.

Anonymous said...

Is it Illeagl for a boss to show a co worker someone else paysub with all their personal info. on it so that they can see how much they are making? (Does anyone know)