I first heard about this story in late July by reading this NY Times article. I also decided to read this article in Forbes, this one in Entrepreneur, and this one in Fistful of Talent. Four articles is plenty for me to have an opinion.
Really, there are two pieces of this story that interest me.
Psychology – Price hears a psychology study and realizes his company can do better providing for people’s basic needs. Fact: people who make 70K aren’t worrying about paying the basic bills. “Price based the figure on a 2010 Princeton study he read, and an epiphany while on a hike with his friend who was struggling to pay her bills on an annual income of $40,000.” – From Entrepreneur. Basically, just take a look at Maslow – employee’s have their basic needs taken care of and can then focus on other pieces like improving job performance, or saving, or creativity.
Biblical Literacy – The man paid attention to this extremely disturbing biblical parable of the Workers in the Field that rocks me every time I read it. Seriously, go read it. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t work like the USA works, and doesn’t work like we want it to work. It won’t be “fair” they way we like to think of “fairness.” Is Price a Christian? Well, he grew up in a household of faith, but he isn’t anymore. According to the NY Times – “Mr. Price is no longer so religious, but the values and faith he grew up on are “in my DNA – It’s just something that’s part of me.”
So, this crazy decision made his employees obviously uncomfortable. No, it wasn’t fair within his company, and he definitely should have consulted other people on his decision. It’s demoralizing to people who only got a slight salary increase for their already higher paying positions. After all “ Giving large raises to lower paid, lower contributing employees may be well intentioned, but unless it’s paired with equitable raises for higher contributing employees, it is bound to cause dissatisfaction and turnover.” (As Forbes points out: Equity Theory!) I can easily see other psychology principles coming into play pretty soon, like the fact that we easily get accustomed to the new normal – hello Hedonic Treadmill!
But, quite a lot of what I see in this is that we (journalists? Americans? pundits? fellow employees) continue to confuse the idea of labor value with personal worth, and at the same time, pretend that how much we earn shouldn’t/doesn’t affect how we see each other.
The change forced the employees to reckon with the way they judge their own worth and the way they judge the worth of other employees. Suddenly, they’re all on the same “worth” scale, and so they cry foul, they see it as an attack on their personal worth. If I’m suddenly making as much as the admin, despite my different duties and education, am I worth what I think I am? Serious ego blow. I think this is also a story about identity and the way we value people.
That, and the obvious workplace connection, is what makes me keep thinking about this story. The Bureau of Labor Statistics gives us plenty of ways and formulas to help calculate salaries and benefits, but they don’t touch on how we as humans make meaning from that data and determine worth. A lot of us take what the BLS says about labor value, and the emphasis on making money and spending money and determine that a salary is equivalent to their personal worth. All you do is answer phones, that’s not worthwhile, you’re not worth a wage like that. That’s not even close to true. My labor is worth a dollar amount, but my worth as a person is priceless.
What I think Price did is to try and make that discrepancy between worth and value a little smaller. His method was flawed, imperfect and is causing waves, but I definitely applaud him for a radical decision and doing something.