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Why we should break the salary taboo


Hands up if you think you ought to be paid more for doing your job. OK you can all put them down again now!

Few of us have ever actually turned down a pay rise because we think that we are already paid enough.

Generally speaking civil engineers, like the rest of the population, are underpaid and over-worked.

Salary levels have always been a massive issue for civil engineers. It remains a regular topic of conversation in offices, in pubs, around boardrooms and, dare I admit it, in magazines including NCE. Comparing 'our lot' with the green grass of other professions is now a well-practised pastime for civil engineers.

And rightly so. How we are rewarded for the work we do is a very important subject and there is nothing like a slice of partial fact, a dollop of hearsay and a smattering of anecdotal evidence to fuel a vital debate.

Unfortunately it always is just that. We never really have the precise facts to use when it comes to discussions about pay. As we found when assembling our article this week on top salaries in the consultancy profession, the subject of what people are actually paid - and specifically the public discussion of it - remains a huge social taboo.

While everyone wants to talk about what everyone else earns, few people are willing to disclose what they are actually paid themselves. It is just not 'the done thing'.

So on this basis a salary survey by the ICE would seem a pretty dangerous idea. There is, after all, nothing like a little bit of self-selected information to spark a few ideas and breed a mass of disgruntlement. Is your salary above average for the job you have or below average for the job you do? Are your skills undervalued or are they unwanted?

Often too much can be read into a few statistics and comparative averages. There is a fine line between a survey that creates a document that sets out standards and one that becomes an instrument for your employees to beat you with.

But on the other hand the ICE's survey will unquestionably provide an important focus for discussion about this normally taboo subject and for me this more than justifies it.

The more that we talk about what we are paying ourselves in the profession - starting at the top as we have in NCE this week - the more we will get to grips with putting a value on what we do.

We should not be embarrassed as a profession to say when we feel underpaid or to run away from justifying charging a high fee for our time.

So make sure that you take part in the ICE's salary survey over the next few weeks. You all know that you should be paid more. But only by sharing and benchmarking against ourselves and our peers will we know how much more.

Right. I'm off for a quick word with my boss. . . .

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