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How to motivate minimum-wagers

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Once you take on the responsibility of leading those on the very first rung of the corporate ladder, you'll likely have to turn off your managerial auto-pilot and become more hands-on than you're used to. Make no mistake, it takes a very different skill set to summon real energy and drive from an employee making less than anyone else in the company. The key is an aggressively human touch:

1. See the world of work through their eyes. To a minimum-wager, each workday can feel like something to be merely endured and not a means to a career, the path of which may seem nebulous and even far-fetched no matter how pretty HR’s handouts are. This is especially true for teenagers and temps who are just trying to fill their gas tanks and keep their smartphone bills paid. Long-term goals and lofty career arcs are concepts you may be selling to those who have absolutely no intention of buying. Deal with the reality they see, not the dream that lies over the horizon.

2. Accept your status as the Other. Low-wage earners often perceive the managerial class as an exotic, privileged one. It will do no good to play the I'm-struggling-too card; that’s just not their perception, and everything you have that they don't is glaringly visible every day.

3. Go easy on the discipline early. Wield it indiscriminately—for example, coming down too hard because of a minor tardiness problem—and the trust between you could break immediately. When correcting behavior, spare the tired corporate-speak and express how poor performance affects real individuals, not the company or the customer. Show them that the true injured parties are the co-workers they like and the people relying on them to earn a living.

4. Make money talk. A small increase in pay (even a staff discount on your company’s products) gets real notice from someone who needs it more than most. Predictable raises don’t bring the same sizzle as spot bonuses; a minimum wager is likely to feel a raise is something overdue and merely keeping him afloat.

5. Ditch the tie whenever you can. The more you embody and promote the coldly practical side of the business world, the less low-wage employees are likely to want to give their all for you. Coming through for friends, allies and genuine people is alluring to them; helping Corporation X thrive holds dubious appeal. Speak informally often—and start during the onboarding process, which needs to express amidst the boring paperwork and “Don’t do this” videos that you want to get to know them and help them accomplish something in life, even if your relationship lasts only weeks, not years.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sandi January 21, 2015 at 12:49 pm

I don’t know. Do we have to hold their hand while they cross the street, too? Give me a break. When you’re young and just starting out you have to expect to make minimum wage. You work your way up from there.


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