Will you tell your future employer your past salary?
You should not ask a woman’s age or a man about how much he earns, because it is considered to be impolite.
That is why employers advise you not to tell your colleague who sits next to you in the workplace and who does the same work as you do, what you earn and to never find out what he or she is paid every month, because that is like snooping and because it may lead to murder and mayhem in the office.
The reasoning of employers behind this secrecy is that people are greedy and want more money, even if you pay people much more than what they deserve. So the best thing is to keep everyone in the workplace guessing.
There are braggarts of course, who believe the best way to handle their team is to show off how much they are paid as compared to you, so that it will make you feel depressed and you will be easy to manage. But once people know what you earn then the response is, “Uff, do you know how much she/he is paid for doing nothing! I can’t work anymore today, let’s go have coffee to cheer me up”.
When I first arrived in this region, salaries were ridiculously high (compared to peanuts that journalists were being paid in my home country) and all I could do was shake my head in wonder and sign on the dotted line.
It was difficult to try and hide my salary figure from others because at that time, on the first of every month, we had to stand in a queue in front of the accountant’s window and he would hand over a huge wad of cash. This was way before plastic was king and people went deep into debt buying stuff on credit, and much before internet and phone banking.
It was embarrassing holding so much money like a cash-collector from the mafia. From having no money and having to beg your parents to enable you to give a treat to your girlfriend, to having oodles of cash and nowhere to spend it, was unnerving. The accountant knew which guys were nervous with their money and always spoke a little louder when you were at the window and always asked you to check whether the amount (so many riyals) was correct.
Financially, I was miserably illiterate, much like everyone else, because our school and university never put an emphasis on this aspect. The only reason why some people saved money as compared to others was because they were close to their money and were horrified at spending.
The cash made me nervous and on weekends, I would take the bus downtown to the money changer with my sweaty hand holding the wad of cash in my pocket. When it was safely on its way to my bank back home, I felt an immense sense of relief and to celebrate the mood bought myself a cheap 10 Saudi riyal (Dh9.79) chicken dinner.
When I tried to show-off to my wife-to-be that I earned much more than the president of India, just by writing and editing articles and features, she brought me down to earth, saying that the president lives in a palace (while I was sharing a rent-free flat with three colleagues and some cockroaches) and that he had a rose garden and gets ridiculously extravagant useless gifts from visiting heads of state.
The reason I remembered my first salary in the Arab Gulf was because Massachusetts recently became the first state in the United States to prevent employers from requiring job candidates to disclose their salary history.
In other words, employers should be polite and not ask you how much you were being paid in your last job. Some things like age, having plastic surgery and your salary are meant to be private.
Mahmood Saberi is a freelance journalist based in Dubai.