Tips for Motivating a Low-wage Workforce

August 1, 1998
Workforce’s March 1997 survey on human resources professionals’ thoughts about motivating a minimum-wage workforce, revealed that 62 percent of respondents say they have a problem retaining minimum wage workers strictly because of pay. Sixty-nine percent said they motivate such employees to better performance with incentives, such as bonuses, prizes or promotions. Finally, 53 percent said they’ve had to give benefits to minimum-wage workers because they were unable to retain them with pay alone.

So how do you keep a low-wage or minimum-wage workforce happy and productive? Here are three tips from Tony Bryant, human resources associate of Irving Tanning Co., a producer of fine leather products based in Hartland, Maine:

  • Connect workers to the big picture. It’s easy to become discouraged when you can’t see your impact on the final product. When you can see that your hard work is valuable, it makes you feel good.
  • Involve workers in decisions that affect their jobs. When making changes in policies and benefits, ask the workers their opinions. They’re the ones who have to live with the decisions, so involve them in the process.
  • Encourage personal growth. Educational benefits, training and internal promotions are good for both workers and their organizations.
And Miami-based Burger King Corp.’s Laura Parsons, director of field human resources for the firm’s U.S. operations, offers these tips:
  • Treat people well, and with respect.
  • Make the work environment a fun place to work. Burger King restaurant employees usually celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and recognize outstanding performance with a party. Some store employees organize softball teams and bowling leagues. Encourage activities that bring unity and teamwork.
  • Offer flexible schedules.
  • Offer bonuses. Burger King offers an anniversary bonus to employees for completing each year of service. The amount escalates with the employees’ years of service.
  • Offer benefits. Burger King offers a benefit program for full-time employees at its company-owned restaurants (3 percent are company-owned) who average 30 hours of work a week. The plan includes health care after six months of service and dental care after five years.
  • Offer management opportunities, and communicate the opportunities clearly and often.

Workforce, August 1998, Vol. 77, No. 8, p. 57.