3 Awkward Money Conversations in the Workplace and How to Navigate Them

UPDATED: July 27, 2023
PUBLISHED: July 27, 2023
woman holding a money conversation in the workplace with a middle-aged man who looks concerned and has his hand across the bottom half of his face

Many people consider it taboo to discuss money, politics and religion, as any polite conversationalist or savvy dater knows. But we can’t always dismiss money conversations in the workplace—nor should we. Here are a few tips for how to deftly navigate this sometimes awkward topic.

3 common money conversations in the workplace and how to navigate them

Money issue No. 1: Celebrating a coworker’s (fill in the blank)

Engagement. Wedding. Babies. While you share in your coworker’s happiness, does that mean you’re obligated to contribute to the gift collection that celebrates multiple, and often back-to-back, milestones? 

Cynthia Holman is an IT finance professional based out of St. Louis, Missouri. Her colleagues encouraged her to contribute to some work collections in the past, but for her, the decision to contribute—and the price point—is situation-dependent.

Possible solutions

“I think it’s important for someone organizing a collection to clearly state that giving is optional,” Holman says. “Not contributing to a gift should not negatively reflect on someone in the workplace. Someone may be struggling financially and not feel comfortable sharing why they are not contributing.”

One option is to consider developing a policy that dictates when you’ll contribute, and sharing the terms of that policy when asked. For example, if someone wants you to chip in for a wedding gift for Susan from the accounting department, you can explain that you only contribute to gifts for people on your team. Or that you’ll share your well wishes with Susan on your own. 

Money issue No. 2: Lack of salary transparency

You’re applying for a new role and the application asks you to list your salary requirements. You don’t want to name a figure too high that puts you out of the running, but you also want to make sure you’re not underselling yourself. The salary is not listed on the job description, and Google comes back with such a wide range, you’re unsure of what to put down.

Possible solutions

Instead of having the onus reside solely on an employee to determine how much they should be asking for, more employers are starting to become transparent with salary, following new legislation in places including New York, Washington, Colorado and California. 

Companies across the country are beginning to post salary ranges in order to stay competitive. Research by Indeed determined that “the share of US job postings on Indeed advertising employer-provided salary information more than doubled between February 2020 and February 2023, rising from 18.4% to 43.7%.”

“In my view, salary transparency is a must,” Holman says. “It helps applicants understand what a position will pay and helps close the pay gap.”

She has applied for roles in the past without a published salary range. 

“I have usually known a friend at that company who could tell me an approximation of the role’s pay,” she adds.

If you’re looking to make a move up or out of your company, and can’t find the results you need online, ask a friend, former colleague or even just someone in the industry for more information.

This Today.com article has some helpful tips for improving your confidence when discussing salary, including:

  • “Practicing what you’re going to say”: Envision how your boss might respond to your request for a raise, and how you can bolster your argument.
  • “Keep your eyes on the prize”: Despite your discomfort, remember the reason for your conversation: to gain more knowledge, to ask for a raise or to better understand your path forward to a promotion.

Armed with more information, you’ll be able to better negotiate salary from a place of information and power.

Money issue No. 3: Feeling pressured to donate to charity

“Total US philanthropic giving decreased significantly in 2022,” according to Giving USA’s 2023 report, after the previous two years of heightened giving “largely due to… the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to racial and social justice movements in the United States.” And between stock market losses that impact high-net-worth donors and inflation that decreases the amount of disposable personal income, many people felt stretched thin.

But just because you might have less to give doesn’t mean the requests to donate to other causes, such as a coworker’s child’s fundraiser, will let up.

Possible solutions

As with the previous two money issues, ease possible discomfort by being the change yourself. If you’re an employer, offer employees alternatives to supporting an organization monetarily, such as volunteering their time. 

If you’re advocating on behalf of your child, send an email or have a sign-up sheet at your desk, but avoid approaching people one-on-one to minimize pressure. Whether you’re an employer or employee collecting funds, never imply that donating is mandatory or that an employee will advance in some way if they give.

And if someone approaches you directly and you’re unable to or uninterested in giving, always remember that “no, thank you” is a complete sentence—no explanation required.

Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.