Monday, October 20, 2014

Attracting and Retaining Better Workers: Higher Wages Alone Won't Do the Trick

We have heard a great deal of commentary about the low wages paid to front-line employees in some industries, particularly the retail and restaurant sectors.   While politicians debate the merits of raising the minimum wage, some people point to the companies paying higher wages as a model.  They argue that these companies attract and retain more productive workers because they pay higher-than-usual wages.   For instance, people point to firms such as Costco, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods as examples.   I think that we have to be very careful about these arguments though.  These firms attract and retain highly productive, engaged employees for reasons well beyond the wages that they pay.  Yes, they pay their employees more than some of their rivals.  However, these firms also have built an entire organizational system that supports an engaged, productive, and collaborative workforce.  They have developed a culture that attracts talented people.  They have embraced certain values and principles.  They have articulated a sense of purpose that people find compelling.  They have developed managers and supervisors who know how to engage employees.   I could go on.  The point is simple: they have built an entire system that attracts and retains these workers, and helps them produce great value for the firm.   Paying someone a few bucks more without doing these other things won't have any significant effect on engagement, customer satisfaction, employee retention, or profits. 

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