ere Gavin, I think this is yours.” Lucy was standing over my desk, holding out a blue piece of paper. She had a wry smile on her face.
My heart sank. “Oh no,” I groaned to myself, “How could I be so stupid?” I took the piece of paper grudgingly and mumbled a thank you under my breath, my eyes fixed firmly to the f loor. I couldn’t bear to look Lucy in the face.
“You know you shouldn’t leave that kind of thing lying around for everyone to see,” Lucy scolded. She was enjoying my discomfort and seemed intent on drawing it out as long as she could. “That kind of thing can get you fired, you know,” She was waiting for a reaction and when she didn’t get it, she eventually left me alone. Thankfully.
It was 1997 and I was in the process of applying for my first cellphone contract. Vodacom required proof of income and so I had trudged off to the central photocopying machine and made a copy to send to the provider. My fatal mistake was to leave my original salary slip in the photocopying machine, to be discovered by the next person. Unfortunately, that person happened to be Lucy, the office gossip. Soon the intimate details of my pay package were disseminated across Lucy’s entire social circle in the company and beyond I’m quite sure.
I was mortified. It didn’t help that the head of human resources gave me a call a while later to politely remind me that disclosing my salary details went against company policy and that I should be more careful next time. As if I didn’t know that.
While that incident taught me an important lesson about protecting personal information, it also raised some interesting questions about the social taboos around disclosure of our incomes. Why are we so secretive about what we’re paid? Why don’t we share our salary details with our work colleagues? And why did my innocent mistake lead to an uncomfortable conversation with the head of human resources? WHAT IS YOUR WORTH? On some level, we tend to equate people’s income with their worth as a person. Someone who earns a R1m salary automatically commands more respect than