The debate surrounding the Living Wage shows no sign of slowing down, with a rise in the hourly rate announced late last year. And while I'm a massive supporter of the Living Wage concept, the reality is that until it is law, most employers will choose to ignore it.
However, the good news is that being a responsible employer is about more than just wages - it's also about all the other ways an employer can increase their employees' quality of life.
A recent feature about Amazon in the Financial Times highlighted some of the ways working life is unpleasant for their employees. What struck me about the article was how little money was mentioned, and how much other things mattered, such as feeling comfortable or being trusted.
This ties in with what I've been finding when I've talked to my own employees, and in the cleaning industry it's particularly clear that workers are not always being treated as they should be.
One cleaner told me that he was working in a school where he would mop the floor with hot water and within two minutes the water had frozen. Another told me that in his previous job he wasn't allowed into Head Office, making him feel like a second-class employee. Hearing about unacceptable conditions like this is what motivates me to treat people more ethically at my company, The Clean Space.
Treating employees with dignity and respect is not just good for people, it's good for business. Research shows that workers are more productive when they're happier, and this article from the Organisation for Responsible Business outlines some ways in which companies can create a positive environment for their employees.
Here are five things that I believe businesses can easily do to make employees feel valued:
Flexibility is something that my employees value very highly - they want to fit their working hours around family and other responsibilities, and when they realise that we're committed to offering this, they tend to stick around.
In fact this is an area where SMEs are leading the way - research from 2012 shows that London-based SMEs are offering their workers more flexibility than larger companies, and finding that productivity has risen as a result.
Appreciation for your employees is so simple and yet so important. This brilliant infographic from US researchers Globoforce shows that praise and attention from managers is a bigger motivator than pay, and a simple 'thank you' for a job well done can make all the difference. Our Cleaner of the Year award is always well received - and not just by the winner.
A career path is vital for staff to feel like they are moving forwards and not stuck in a dead-end job. Providing a simple, clearly-understood route, with checkpoints along the way, can help people to see where their career is going.
Working conditions must be comfortable. In my industry, workers can often be subject to some pretty nasty conditions - so I'm well aware of how important it is to provide heat, light, areas for breaks, access to kitchens and other facilities. So simple, and yet a huge part of making staff feel human and respected.
Trust works both ways and is key to a positive working environment. Tesco electronically tracking their employees' performance shows a complete lack of trust - people are not robots.
By contrast, SMEs are doing well on this issue - research by Dell found employees of SMEs feel more listened to and trusted by their managers. I know that I like to make sure I respond to my employees' issues promptly so they trust me, and in return I trust that they'll do a great job.
These are just some of the ways in which businesses can increase employee satisfaction, and I believe SMEs are well-placed to set a good example to larger companies.
Simple human touches are easier to implement in small companies, and this research shows that friendly relationships between management and staff is one of the reasons why SME employees often enjoy greater job satisfaction than those who work for large organisations.
So let's extend the concept of the living wage to take all of these important factors into account, and let the small companies show the big firms how it's done. The current economic climate may make it difficult for employers to talk about money with their staff, but treating your employees like valued human beings costs nothing and is a vital part of a responsible approach to business.
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