Culturally, asking someone how much they make is like asking them how many bowel movements they make in a day.
In some cultures—like Singapore, for instance– it’s not as uncommon to be asked it, (the money question, not the toilet question) but I think that most locals in the Lion City still think it’s rude.
But why is it rude?
Is it because we recognize how unequal our society has become, and we’re embarrassed by what the comparative answers reveal?
You can’t tell me that an investment banker making $600,000 a year works harder than one of the Bangladeshi workers we have building and maintaining roads here in Singapore. But the Bangladeshi worker gets about $2 an hour.
And you can’t tell me that the investment banker already put in his time, sweating away at an Ivy League school. I don’t buy that either. Until you’ve watched a young man laying tarmac on the equator, in 100% humidity, for 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, you can’t talk about sweat equity. I won’t listen.
But there’s something else to this.
Our reluctance to share what we get paid can leave so many young people in the dark. For instance, wouldn’t you have wanted to know answers to the following questions when you were choosing a career?
1. How much do you make?
2. How many hours do you work per day?
3. What are your holidays like?
4. Do you have to spend time away from home?
5. Do you love your job?
6. Do you think the majority of your workmates enjoy the work they do?
7. What do you like most about your job and what do you like least?
Strangely, when students have “career days” at school, they never seem to ask these questions.
I’ve been privy to a number of career day sessions, where professionals from the community give talks to interested students, while the students ask only the “polite” questions.
What are your thoughts? Should the above questions be considered taboo—especially the money one? Would you have wanted to know the answers to these questions before starting your professional career?