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Pay Fewer People More

March 17, 2022

I have visited a number of businesses recently where staff are paid the living wage. With the cost of living rising exponentially the future is looking especially bleak for these hard working people. It is no wonder that workplace engagement is nose diving.

Both statistically and anecdotally, in most teams, fewer than half of the team are committed to their work. A 2021 study by Gallup found just 36% were actively engaged in their jobs. The next time you visit a coffee shop, retail store or health care provider see if you can measure the ratio of staff that are either motivated or morose.

Disengagement comes at a cost. We see it in absence and time wasted on unnecessary tasks. Added to this, it is harder than ever to recruit to these lower paid positions. So, here’s a radical suggestion, pay fewer people more. Simply put, rather than recruit a tenth team member spread their pay across the 9 that are in post. Much as this sounds like a bean counters wheeze it can’t actually succeed unless the team agree to it and commit to reorganising their work to accommodate the higher demands.

My bet is that the more engaged teams will grasp the opportunity for a temporary pay rise with both hands. We’ve all worked alongside shirkers and people who take a day off for the merest ailment and felt somewhat perturbed that their pay slip will match our own. Here’s an opportunity to redress the balance.

Let’s imagine one of your teams agrees to trial the plan, the risk of course is that they are not all equally committed to their work. Peer pressure should help but there’s also a significant requirement for the leaders to foster a culture in which it is easy to engage. A recipe with three vital ingredients:

1. Purpose

We all work better when we are doing something meaningful. Think of the care taken when decorating a nursery for a baby we are yet to meet, compared to times we’ve attended a committee meeting unprepared and late because our heart simply isn’t in a debate about the cricket club’s constitution. Remind the team of why their work matters, how it is making the world a better place. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because there’s a statement on the website everyone gets it. Like the wife that feels unappreciated because her husband hasn’t said ‘I love you’ since their wedding day because, he claims ‘nothings changed’. Our people need to be reminded every week that what they do matters, tell them you are proud and repeat success stories.

2. Recognition

There’s no denying that pay is a big part of this but it’s short lived if it’s not backed by sincere appreciation from colleagues. Create a culture in which gratitude is natural, free flowing and frequent. And if there are perks such as free staff meals, flexible hours or a generous holiday allowance then celebrate these. It’s appalling that some of the most slovenly workers are employed in the public sector with the most generous pensions, funded by the very people they fail to serve with a smile.

3. Fun

Mark Twain said ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’

If we recruit people with a passion for their work they will be engaged. Sorry, installing table football in the office will not magically make work fun. Instead give people permission to play, understanding that we all play differently. Play isn’t always frivolous, one man’s game of chess can be just as much fun as someone else’s office chair race. Managers must take time to identify their team’s optimal playing field and then facilitate the games.

The next step

Don’t take the decision to ‘pay fewer people more’ yourself, talk to the team. Share your vision, thank them sincerely for what they do, give permission to play and let them decide.

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