Over half of workers didn't negotiate their most recent salary offer, breaking a cardinal rule of business

For a typical employee, taking the first offer is almost always bad business. But when they’re offered a job, more than half of employees are doing it anyway. 

Fifty-four percent of professionals recently surveyed by Glassdoor said they didn’t negotiate in their most recent salary conversation. While the percentages varied among generation and industry, men and women both negotiated the same amount—46%—among the nearly 6,700 respondents. That may be surprising considering men have historically negotiated more, and women who do negotiate their offered salary are still much more likely than men to be rebuffed, per Pew Research Center data.

More than half (55%) of professionals between 36 and 40 years old negotiated—the highest share of any age group. That percentage fell for each age group, bottoming out with those aged 21 to 25, just 27% of whom negotiated, per the report. Workers in the advertising, marketing, and tech industries negotiated the most, but grad students, accountants, and lawyers negotiated the least. 

These figures are grim, but they’re still an improvement. A 2018 survey by consultancy Robert Half found that while 46% of men negotiated a higher salary (the same as Glassdoor’s new data), only 34% of women did the same. That disparity only stands to, over time, deepen the gender pay gap, which currently has women earning fewer than 84 cents on the man’s dollar. 

Of course, Glassdoor’s findings could partly be the result of many states’ new laws requiring companies to include salary ranges on all job listings. That might necessarily lead to fewer negotiations, seeing as interviewees already have a grasp on what the company is willing to offer. But many companies aren’t playing fair, putting artificially low salaries—or extremely wide ranges—on their postings, to avoid applicants figuring out if and when they’re being lowballed.

That exact problem is pervasive, Melanie Naranjo, vice president of people at compliance training platform Ethena said last year. “Part of the challenge here is that pay transparency is new, so there is this fear among HR people about this new information, that people will not understand it. So the feeling is, ‘Let’s help cushion this, so we are not pressured.’ Do I think it’s the right approach? No.”

While most master negotiators insist against accepting the other side’s first offer, some even say the problem starts before that and caution applicants against even naming a figure at all. The best way to find out whether companies are truly firm on the number they’re offering is to dig deeper, Jeff Weiss, a partner at Vantage Partners, a consultancy that specializes in corporate negotiations, and the author of the Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Negotiating, wrote in HBR in 2015. 

Beyond just asking whether salary is negotiable, ask about how the company settled on the figure they’re offering. “Ask, where did the number come from? What did you count as my years of experience?” Weiss suggested. “There are many companies that don’t want you to negotiate but that doesn’t mean you don’t come back with questions. If an offer is made, there is an opportunity to explore and expand it.”

It will only end up hurting companies in the end if they’re tempted to be withholding or dishonest. “Employees are not stupid,” Naranjo, the VP of people, said. Employees at companies that lowball salary ranges “are going to take the job offer and then say ‘Wait, there’s actually a different salary band?’ And then you erode trust.” 

That’s a risk few companies can afford to take; it’s almost always more expensive to replace someone than it is to keep them. 

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