Finweek English Edition - - MANAGEMENT -

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

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