Salary, benefits and quality of life
By Che Watkins, President and CEO, The Center for Working Families
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of students at Georgia Tech. The class was called Business Decisions for Sustainability and Shared Value which explored responsibility around food, water, shelter, energy and community. The topic that that I was asked to address was around Wages and Income – both sustainability and shared value. As a workforce development professional, I could have this conversation all day. First, I discussed what it takes in order to cover normal every day costs that families incur and how the minimum wage doesn’t actually cover that. Then, I talked about why wages are so low including the change in the nature of work, public policy decisions, the skills gap, etc. Then, I talked about our mindset and how wage inequality has to be a shared value of all of us. We actually need a middle class and we are currently holding onto one by our finger tips. We all need a sense of community and a bigger purpose for our lives. It was a wonderful conversation and I was so completely impressed by those kids. Thanks Professor Subramanian for the invitation!
What I thought about after that session, is that working is not always just about how much money you make, it is about many other factors. I remember when I was coming out of college and first learning to negotiate my salary. Some would tell you that if you didn’t get the money that you wanted that you should try to negotiate more vacation time, additional flexibility, better benefits, etc. Companies showed you how much they valued you based on your TOTAL compensation package. Okay, got it. Well, what does that mean for low-wage workers? The minimum wage conversation is a tough one to have and I completely understand that. But what else could we provide for low-wage workers to help to retain them? We know that the low-wage worker base has expanded over recent years and we know how hard it is to fill those roles and retain good people. I am sure that businesses are wondering, what can we do?
To the point that I made above, if you can’t get the money that you want, another significant benefit is around time and I am using time very broadly here. Not only do you need vacation time, you also need to be able to take time off if you are sick, if you have a baby and if a family member is sick. You also need clarity and consistency in your work hours so that you can properly plan your work week. How can you afford to put your child in an early learning center every day if you don’t know if you will be working every day? You also need to work enough hours to be able to pay your bills, much less save for emergencies. These are some of the “time” challenges that low-wage workers struggle with.
We can have the conversation about minimum wage and we should. But we also need to recognize that there other ways that workers can feel like you value them called non-wage compensation. Not only does it help retain workers and give them a level of equity but it also allows families to be happier, healthy and therefore more production. The good thing about shared value is that we all win.