The Value of 50 Cents — Encouraging Low-Wage Employees
One day at my business, I overheard one of my employees commenting about how much she was being paid. It was indeed minimum wage, as was that of her coworker she was complaining to. Not knowing I was in the hallway and could hear their conversation, she said, “I’m only paid this much because he’s required to pay me that by law.”
What do you pay your low-wage employees? By low-wage, I mean those who do menial tasks that for some reason you cannot have volunteers do or require some level of accountability requiring a paid position. This may be a part-time custodian, security guard, or office clerk. Typically, these types of positions are not full-time nor intended to support a whole family. Often, they might be held by young college students, or someone just looking to earn a few extra bucks and help the church in the process. Do you only pay them the minimum wage the law requires? What do you think that communicates to those employees?
I fully understand that not every position in a church, or any job, should be paid high wages. Not all positions are created equal. Not all employees perform the same, but should you pay them the lowest amount required by the government?
The implication from my employee was that I might have paid less if the law didn’t require me to pay her the minimum amount at the time. Her comment was quite hurtful, but it was warranted. I had never thought about it from that perspective. Would I have paid her less if I was allowed to? At that time, the minimum hourly rate was about $9. Had the minimum been $8, would I have only paid that? What if it was $5? She was a decent employee and did deserve more, but my fledgling business at the time couldn’t afford to pay her what she was really worth. I could see that her hourly wage was bothersome to her, not because I could not afford to pay her more, but because I had not considered what it meant to her that I had not communicated she was worth more than minimum wage.
I crunched the numbers and came to a simple conclusion: I would never pay an employee minimum wage. Even if the position was incredibly simple, very easy, and deserved to be a low-wage job, I would not pay anyone the minimum required by law. Rather, I would pay them at least 25 or 50 cents more than the minimum. This may seem inconsequential, but it communicates one thing: you are willing to pay this person more than what you have to. By paying just the minimum wage, it communicates you probably would pay them less if you could. And chances are, you would. I did. And I refuse to ever again.
If this raises the question of whether you have the budget to pay these employees more, then crunch the numbers. It might be doable. For a 16-hour-a-week employee, to give them a 50-cent raise, costs you $416 pre-tax for an entire year. Considering that increase is spread out over twelve months, it’s inconsequential to your overall budget with an increase of $34.67 per month. But it may make the difference in how that employee perceives their employer, and therefore their job.
On the other end of this conversation is whether this employee is actually worth the required minimum wage. If they are not, and we’ve all seen employees who are not worth the minimum wage, then they should be let go. If you really struggle with an employee’s performance and whether they should be paid just slightly more than minimum wage, I would encourage you to gauge whether they should be your employee at all. It is wiser to pay an employee who deserves more just over minimum wage even if it stretches you financially, than to keep an employee at the minimum when they do not deserve it. If they are not worth the minimum, then they are not worth keeping. Use this as a teachable moment and help the employee understand this concept, sharing with them in love that their work ethic, abilities, or attitude simply do not match what is needed by the organization at this time.
As humans, we often associate our value with our work. The perceived value of what we contribute to our company, organization, or church is often weighed with what we are paid for that contribution. When we apply the minimum standard that is forced on us, we neglect the intrinsic value that comes with the employer/employee relationship. As Christ followers, we must rise above the minimum standards that our government requires of us. Rather, we must show people that we see greater value in them than what our society requires of us.
Pay more. Encourage with value. Rise above the minimum.
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