A reflection on the nature of work in America

Over the weekend, the power went out in the office building where I work. The refrigerators in the cafeteria got too hot and the food needed to be thrown out. Since there was no food, the cafeteria closed for the day  – but what happened to the workers that day?

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Years ago I read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenriech. She described the world of the workers in lower paid jobs in our hotels, restaurants, big box stores, to name a few. Her first person experience was gripping and I never looked at these roles the same way.

When I saw the cafeteria was closed this week, I thought about the workers there who may have had an unexpected lost day of pay. I am thankful to have enough savings that a  day of lost wages, while annoying and disappointing, would not be a cash crisis for me. However, for lower compensated employees, one day less in their paycheck could mean not making rent for the month.

The business was closed – and therefore not making sales. It would be hard for a small operation to absorb the loss of a day’s sales. Is it beyond consideration to think that they might pay their employees for the day? They suffered the loss of the food product and the sales… would they take the hit and pay their employees for the day? What would you do?

While having a cash cushion and some cash for short term savings is really the responsibility of the employee, think about what a statement it would make if the employer were to pay the employees for a full day even though the establishment was closed. I know that acknowledgment would be a big signal to the employees that the company really cared for them. I am sure it would go a long way to foster employee engagement.

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