Paying Attention to Pay

by Pan Demetrakakes

Yesterday I was interviewing the EVP of production at a major food processor. I asked how his company attracts and retains workers.

His answer: “You’ve got to start with a good, competitive wage and benefit program.”

Does that observation seem obvious? You’d be surprised how often people in production, HR and other functions avoid it. Instead, we get talk of empowerment and feedback and flexible hours and pet insurance and respecting generational communication styles and God knows what else.

I get it. Everyone needs to save money, and labor is almost always the biggest single operating expense. And yet, there comes a point at which if you want a dedicated, innovative and productive workforce, you have to do what you do to get any other desirable thing: Pay for it.

Food processors especially need a good workforce because they have fewer alternatives than other manufacturing sectors. In most cases, food processing can’t be viably offshored. And despite the steady progress of automation, many jobs in a food plant still have to be done by hand.

There are lots of ways to motivate people, and certainly well-paid employees can be unhappy. All the same, money is overwhelmingly the most prominent factor in job satisfaction, as shown by our own empployee survey and countless others. During a time when income inequality is at near-record levels, efforts to motivate employees while knotting the purse strings often come across as manipulative, even crass.

So yes, pay attention to all kinds of factors in employee motivation. But especially, pay attention to pay.