A Matter of Fairness

MinimumOnce again, the discussion on raising the minimum wage has heated up again; those opposed argue that the economy will be crushed under the weight of its own folly. It has been claimed that raising the minimum wage would have a negative effect on employment and at a time when the unemployment rate continues to linger around 8 percent. Employers, particularly small business employers would resist hiring additional workers or even reduce their workforce outright. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, when asked what would happen if employees were paid “a lot more”, cautioned:

“Well, jobs are a great thing. You have to be a bit careful: If you raise the minimum wage, you’re encouraging labor substitution and you’re going to go buy machines and automate things — or cause jobs to appear outside of that jurisdiction. And so within certain limits, you know, it does cause job destruction. If you really start pushing it, then you’re just making a huge trade-off.”

The headline of the comment was, Bill Gates: Raising Minimum Wage Can Destroy Jobs. Ironically, the tag underneath the image of Gates read: THE WEALTH DIVIDE – THE RICH GET RICHER.

 

The minimum wage was last increased in 2009 to $7.25 per hour or just over $15,000 a year for a worker who is lucky enough to get paid for all 52 weeks of the year. Over the last 20 years, workers have been rendered powerless as worker rights have diminished and income disparities have grown dramatically. While the wealth of the top1percent has ballooned to over 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, the bottom 50 percent has plummeted to a jaw dropping 1.1 percent; and that was in 2010.  To be clear, there has never been any accurate statistical correlation drawn between a moderate raise of the minimum wage and a drop in employment. Let me say it another way; there is no proof that raising the minimum wage judiciously will decrease jobs; there is only rhetoric, assumption and false analogies. In fact, the Department of Labor, as well as a joint study by Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin reports that the last two increases had an insignificant effect on employment.

 Greed

What is reality is that raising the wages of workers is the single greatest economic stimulus to the American economy. Higher wages means that workers will have a higher stake in the health and welfare of the American economy. Even a $.90 increase in the minimum wage buys 7 months of groceries, a year of healthcare costs, 9 months of utility bills or full year’s tuition at a local 2-year college. So why do proponents raise such a fuss, it’s simple, business owners, and investors fear a reduction in profits. Anything that reduces or threatens the sacred shareholder percentage is damned as intolerable. A sad truth is that 63 percent minimum wage workers are adults over the age of 20, many of whom account for 51 of their household’s income; these are not the burger-flipping teens of urban myth. Raising the minimum wage is not only a sound investment in America’s most precious resource; it is plainly the right thing to do.

 

 

~ Richard

 

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Under-serving Customers

Short staffedToday’s business model extols the virtues of doing more with less; that is often translated into serving more customers with less staff. If you sift through the Web sites and blogs that offer advice on providing great customer service, you would be hard pressed to find many that recommend having enough staff on hand to do that. The popular lists talk about smiling, listening, training, communicating and a host of other well-intentioned homilies. At the end of the day however, if your staff is stretched beyond its reasonable limits then your customer service outcomes will be inconsistent at best.

A recent trip to my local drug store put this front and center in my mind. The super drug stores have all but replaced the small, family-owned shops, which catered to the customer who need to make a quick trip to pick up one or a small bag of items in-between major shopping excursions. The chain drug store I tend to frequent almost always schedules one person to run the front counter and relies on calls of help over a loudspeaker to provide backup. The employees who are called have other responsibilities and are not easily available so there is always a lag in getting to customers. Heaven forbid if a customer has a question or issue that cannot be resolved by scanning into a register; that is when the whole system breaks down. During my last drug store visit, I waited behind a customer, who picked up a common cold remedy product, which when scanned, gave the clerk the message that the product was recalled and could not be sold.

The clerk offered no explanation or alternative for the customer; she was left consider her options and to grouse quietly about the product being on the shelf in the first place. What further created a poor experience for her was that just before getting to her recalled medicine, the register scanner had trouble reading the digital coupon on her cell phone and again, the clerk was of little use in resolving the problem. Like most of us who do not wish to be that person who holds up the line at the store, she began feeling the pressure to simply, get out of the way. I made a point not to exhale loudly or display any impatience, but the frustrated customer ultimately walked away from the counter in search of a replacement product and leaving the clerk to deal with the other items scattered around the register.

It would be simplistic to lay the blame entirely at the feet of the clerk and there is no doubt that he could have handled the situation much better. However, it is also fair to ask why the recalled cold medicine was still on the shelf at eight-o-clock at night. It is also fair to question why he was not provided a list of alternative products for the customer to purchase instead. These two questions led me to consider whether there was enough staff on hand that day to update the inventory and restock the shelves properly. I considered whether management was willing or able to train and communicate changes with their staff each day. I also had to consider whether that employee was frustrated at constantly being put in situations in which he is not equipped or trained. I consider these things because I have been in these situations myself.

If this employee lasts at this job, it will be for no other reason other than acquiring a paycheck and perhaps healthcare benefits. Sadly, this is the attitude that all too many customer-facing individuals carry when they greet and deal with customers. Having a barebones staff is the low-hanging fruit of business accounting and even with outstanding team members, there will be times when customers will feel under-appreciated. Employees at the front lines of customer service require more support, not less. Customers need to feel that they are doing more than going through a cattle line. If you find that you are turning over a consistently high number of people whose job it is to be the face of your company, you should consider whether you are frustrating those employees out the door. If that is not enough for you to make substantive changes to your approach to staffing, then perhaps you should consider how many customers you are also pushing out the door.

~ Richard

Overcoming the “Holiday Brain” at Work

Holiday shoppingSometime during the height of the fall season, my mind becomes less focused on the routine tasks that accompany my job and increasingly wanders toward the holiday season. I thought I was the only one who experienced this phenomenon until my co-workers began excusing their lack of concentration as a symptom of “Holiday Brain Syndrome.” The mass revelation seemed to break down a silent wall we had all been hiding behind and allowed us to find mutual solace in the esoteric explanation of our temporary lack of productivity. With that, the doors of distraction flung open even wider; internet shopping excursions and the constant chatter of holiday plans abounded throughout offices. The nonstop reminders of holidays from Halloween to New Years Day did not help and the many mini celebrations at work only reinforced the feeling that anything but work is in vogue. For organizational leaders, finding the right tone in addressing the distractions of the holiday season and keeping employees productive while avoiding resentment and dissention among them is a challenging balance. What are some ways you can keep your employees performing at a high level without sacrificing their humanity?

 

For a small number of companies, a drop in productivity during the holiday season is not only acceptable but a welcome relief from the ordinary hustle and bustle of corporate life. For most however, increased productivity and effort is critical to remaining competitive. It is the time when companies have their last and best hope for having a profitable year. It is during this time of year, in such a supercharged environment when the work – life balance can become skewed and the lack of either can lead to additional emotional stressors. There are some underlying factors to consider when assessing your corporate policy regarding the holiday season. In 2010 Mercer, the global HR consulting firm, ranked 39 industrialized countries ahead of the U.S. in terms of how much vacation time is allotted. As a country, the United States does not mandate time off for workers, even for national holidays, so it is up to each organization to provide “time off” for employees. It is quite possible that employees who feel they are not allotted enough vacation time become less shy about stealing away chunks of time at the office in order to find the balance in their lives they require to feel whole. Also of note, according to online job search company Indeed, online job searches increase significantly between November and January.

 

The holiday season is more than a time to celebrate; it is also a time when people reflect; that reflection often leads to people considering how fulfilled and satisfied they are at work. Here are some practical ways to keep your employees working at peak efficiency during the holiday season and stick around for the next year:

  •  Embrace the reality of the season

There are gifts to buy, people to spend time with and meals to be prepared and eaten. Each of these activities require time that goes beyond the moment itself and if your employees cannot get time off for them, they will bleed them into their business hours. Try offering your employees small periods of time and resources to plan the time they will have off. This will leave them with fewer distractions when engaged with company business.

  • Offer more time off during less hectic seasons

Your employees are every bit as practical and realistic as you are, so if you provide them with a clear understanding of how why business succeed and how they are an integral part of that success, they will be more inclined measure their time off demands in line with business needs.

 

  • Give meaning to what they do

For people to feel fulfilled in today’s environment, their jobs have to mean more than the product or service provided, but rather the difference they make in the lives of those who seek out those products and services. Take the opportunity, now more than ever, to remind employees of the differences they make. Feel free to use real world examples and testimonials.

  • Consider hiring temporary workers

Well-trained, well-placed temps can provide more opportunities for your permanent workers to be with their families. In addition, it can be an opportunity for your business operations to be seen through fresh, undiluted eyes. This can be a valuable tool when recruiting due to growth or attrition and a great laboratory for testing the validity of your corporate culture.

  • Doing more in less time

Try ampping up the incentives for teams or workers who can come up with time saving ideas that do not sacrifice quality or productivity. The goal should be to provide more time off for more people. Be careful though limiting the scope to a small number of individuals will only create jealousy and resentment. So if this cannot be accomplished on a large enough scale, find incentives that are more practical.

  • Manage the managers

According to a 2007 Florida State University study, 40% of employees feel that they work for “bad bosses” not bad companies. Mid-level managers and supervisions are caught in between meeting executive demands and maintaining motivation for workers. Provide your managers with the tools, training and incentives that will build trust among employees and growth in the bottom line. Take some of the pressure off your managers by acknowledging, accepting and broadcasting your responsibility for the difficult compromises that have to be made.

  • Create a fun environment

Along with the other items that have been mentioned, the holidays are also an opportunity to show thankfulness, kindness and generosity. Full-time employees spend more than a third of their lives at work or commuting to and from, so why not have a work environment where people actually enjoy being a part.

Productivity does not have to drop during the holidays in fact, you can use this time as your organization’s Super Bowl. Your company gears up all year for this busy time so embrace the holidays and keep your employees brain in the game.

 

~ Richard

Companies Should Not Shy Away From Embracing Differences

By Alison Johnson

By Alison Johnson

It is not enough to simple acknowledge those that have different views or come from different places; welcoming and acceptance are high values, values which allow all employees to come together in a spirit of common purpose, trust and shared reliance. If your organization has committed to leading the way toward an environment which embraces differences in culture, gender, age, experience and perspective, then the next most important decision is how best to encourage and celebrate those expressions of rituals, artifacts, heroes and values that signify our uniqueness and demonstrate our commonality.

Navigating a potential minefield of politically incorrect missteps is one reason why most companies only offer token acknowledgement of diversity. One person’s values may be completely misunderstood or even found to be offensive to another. It is perfectly understandable why some leaders would prefer to remain as generic and neutral as possible. If real values are going to be a priority, the only real defense against bias and misunderstandings is education and communication. Positive relationships are established and honed as much through the trials of disagreement as mutual interest; certainly much more than generalized pleasantries.

The real gem to be found in embracing differences is that your employees will begin to feel as if your organization is where they belong. It is not necessary that the process be perfect, because your employees will feel the integrity of your efforts, providing that integrity actually exists. This may require a shift in perception of what your office, your employees and even your company image should look like. This is a huge step for leaders, I get that; nothing is more difficult for those who are used to being in control than relinquishing even a small part. Whether yours is a company that has many years in the market, or just starting out; when considering corporate values, it is not only the corporation’s which must be considered. Understanding the values of all your employees and embracing them will create a workforce whose dedication runs deeper than the temporary comfort of a salary.

~ Richard

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