Can you be an employer of choice and pay workers minimum wage? Or, phrased another way: Can an organization be successful if it essentially treats its most important assets like replaceable pawns?
Minimum wage rates vary across the country, from $9.75 per hour in Alberta to $11 in Nunavut. That means full-time minimum wage earners in Canada pull in anywhere from $20,280 to $22,880 per year.
If you listen to business groups, you’ll hear many employers can’t afford to pay a nickel more. Many small businesses, particularly those in the retail and hospitality sector, have razor-thin margins.
But are the margins razor thin because turnover is so high and the quality of staff and service is so poor? Would better, more productive and loyal employees translate to more revenue? In past columns, I’ve discussed the experience of Circuit City, which tried to save costs by jettisoning “expensive” employees and replacing them with low-wage earners. It went bankrupt.
Warehouse superstore Costco has been lauded for its decision to pay above-market rates, as has Trader Joe’s, a specialty grocery store. The most recent example is QuikTrip, a Tulsa, Okla.-based convenience store and gas station chain. You’ll likely assume the pay at Quik-Trip is in the minimum wage range — with no benefits. You’d be wrong.
A recent article in the Atlantic outlines that while the average cashier in the United States makes US$20,230, Quik-
Trip offers entry-level employees an annual salary of US$40,000 plus benefits, or about US$19.23 per hour.
“These high wages didn’t stop QuikTrip from prospering in a hostile economic climate,” the article states. “While other low-cost retailers spent the recession laying off staff and shuttering stores, QuikTrip expanded to its current 645 locations across 11 states.”
Every new hire also undergoes two weeks of training, and the company’s philosophy is to promote from within — so workers can see their hard work and dedication will pay off, and maybe even lead to a long career.
Compare that mindset with the one of the person who takes a job — currently posted on Service Canada’s Job Bank — at the Petro Canada in Moncton, N.B., earning $10.25 per hour. Or the one at a Toronto gas bar earning $10.35 an hour.
How about the cashier who is hired at $10.35 per hour at the Shell station in Kindersley, Sask.? Do you think she will see this as a career or just a job?
Whether you’re a mom-and-pop operation or a multinational, you can’t afford to have employees who view the gig as temporary, struggling to make ends meet until something better comes along — and they will always be looking for something better.
Unions are also setting their sights on minimum-wage workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has been playing in this field for years and the yet-to-be-named mega-union formed by the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) union is eyeing it.
In his Labour Day message last year, CAW president Ken Lewenza said he is “most concerned” about employees who feel like they’re stuck in dead-end jobs — and that concern is being backed by a $50-million organizing fund.
Pointing to a Bank of Montreal poll of 1,000 people that found one in five workers feel this way, he said: “That means millions are stuck in jobs they don’t want, earning less than what they need, without the prospect of anything better on the horizon.”
Is that the type of person you want on your payroll? Because if you’re paying minimum wage, that’s probably who you have.
Todd Humber’s blog discussing the British worker on stress leave who was fired after he was filmed wrestling a shark away from toddlers on an Australian beach is another reason why every organization should have a great EAP program that includes a mental health disability management component.
Stats show the longer someone is off work for mental health issues, the less chance she will successfully return to work. That’s why it needs to be properly managed right from the start. This includes a case manager who will liaison with the employer, employee, medical doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist and other relevant parties.
This is important not only to weed out the “bad apples” but to actually support a successful return to work for those who are genuinely struggling with mental health issues.
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