I was so excited about the trip to New York City.
My company was usually quite frugal, but for the trip to Manhattan it had spared no expense. We would be staying at a beautiful hotel on Madison Avenue, eating at some beautiful restaurants, receiving spending stipend of “fun money,” and visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Some of us would attend a Broadway play.
The reason for the trip? Every salesperson who had achieved a minimum sales quota was able to attend the trip. We had spent months being encouraged and pushed as hard as possible to meet our quotas and make the trip.
Corporate America commonly offers exotic trips or special spiffs for certain positions. Higher-paid positions are more likely to come with travel stipends, relocation packages, sign-on bonuses, and fun spiffs. For the office building, executives will seek advice regarding the layout of the building, potential benefits such as wellness centers and gyms, and even the lighting to ensure that employees are happy and productive.
Meanwhile, production workers, waiters, warehouse workers, and production workers are often immediately cast into an older building, where little thought is put into the lighting. Many production workers are expected to do routine, manual tasks for several consecutive hours, constantly standing for several consecutive hours, lifting 40-50 pounds repetitively, often not even allowed to listen to music. Often these production or manufacturing areas don’t offer central air conditioning or heating.
I remember sitting in the office of an operations manager who was in his early 30s, talking about their biggest need: second shift warehouse workers. He was one of the few hiring managers who openly said: “I couldn’t do the job.”
I’m embarrassed to say that the positions paid only $8.50/hr. They did offer bonuses for hitting quotas. But still, the employees had to lift boxes repeatedly throughout the shift. They would have to stay until the job was over, even if the job would take 12 hours.
Let’s contrast the life of a warehouse worker to that of a higher-paid professional.
I remember speaking to a friend of mine who was being promoted to be a bank executive. His company would be paying to help him sell his home, find a new home, and even handling the logistics of moving. He explained that the company didn’t want him to have to worry about all that because they wanted him to focus on his job.
Compare that to a production employee making a low-paying salary. These employees often have one vehicle, they are commonly single parents, or perhaps they are the parent paying child support. The child support payment can be as high as 55% of disposable income if the parent owes back payments. They may have only one vehicle, they may have a suspended driver’s license, they will often only have one vehicle, and they often can barely keep up with rent.
I remember one time offering a manufacturing position to a candidate who seemed very eager and excited to work. I told him that for that particular position he needed to wear a specific pair of shoes. He didn’t have to worry about paying for them, because I had a voucher to give him. All he had to do was stop by our office to get the voucher and then take it to the shoe store, try on the shoes, and redeem the voucher.
He didn’t show immediately. I became more antsy as time passed and his start date came closer. The afternoon before he was scheduled to start, I called him and asked him if he was still planning to pick up the voucher.
“Well, I wanted to, but I am in the middle of moving, so I can’t come right now,” he said when I called him.
“You shoes are required in order to work,” I tried to explain. “And you start tomorrow.”
“I understand. But I really need to finish moving first,” he answered.
I was exasperated. Why would moving take priority over starting the new job? Didn’t he need a job in order to pay the rent or mortgage of the new place he was moving to? Shouldn’t the job have the priority?
I don’t know the nuances to his life’s situation. But I have since met several people who were either homeless, about to be kicked out of their apartment, stuck in an abusive relationship, or just living with family members who were very difficult to be around.
The “personal life” isn’t just personal. It often ends up bleeding over to their “work life.”
These employees, often lower skilled workers, don’t have the luxury of a company that is making sure their housing is taken care of. Many of them have to often choose between dealing with their housing situation or starting their job. It’s a tough choice, because they often need a job long-term in order to maintain their housing. But many will choose more stable housing over a job, or at least prioritize that at first.
Most people in America will not be truly homeless. But many are in a housing situation that is pretty terrible.
Having said this, there’s no doubt that many people make poor choices, communicate poorly at work, or have found themselves in their predicament for past bad decisions. But regardless of the situation, they often are met with some tough decisions.
A hiring manager needs to be aware of their situation in order to be able to understand why the turnover rate can be higher among lower skilled, lower paid positions.