In 2012, not long after struggling through the economic downturn brought on by the recession of 08/09, I began to rethink what it meant to be an employer and needed to know that my business practices reflected my values.
What was important to me? As many of my customers and suppliers had fallen victim to the toils of their own situations, I had to suddenly be much more aware of every aspect of my business to avoid a similar fate . . . Just as I suspected, I wasn't proud of my low-wage / high-turnover business model and producing marginal profits was draining my entrepreneurial enthusiasm.
Could the business sustain another economic fluctuation, and if so, for how long? With all the energy it takes to operate and maintain a business, I owed it to myself to make an effort to raise my expectations. In retrospect, I'm confident that workplace efficiency and employee retention were key components in reshaping what previously existed. By engaging staff and constantly self evaluating, internal mitigation helped us overcome challenges while improving workplace-morale. Yes, an immediate investment in the employees through wages (above minimum standards) was required, but the cost of unnecessary turnover (lost production, hiring, and training) was (by far) much greater.
I found, developing a mutual respect built on trust (beyond that found in "Public Relations" material) created a team approach which allowed the business to make significant achievements in operational productivity and become a certified living-wage employer while doing so. 'Success' is often a matter of perspective, but working towards a 'desirable workplace' has proven to be mutually beneficial for our employees and the business as a whole.
Although every individual business will eventually find their own path of achievement, it's important to point out that our customers DID NOT assume the brunt of improving our workplace desirability or modified wage commitments. Our goals were achieved through a reduction in excessive outsourcing and exploring internal efficiency opportunities. In our business, the pricing is determined through an ongoing practice of measuring supply and demand. The services we provide are assessed on their compatibility with our operations and our capacity to be competitive within the market.
My professional association with the Better Way Alliance (Collaborative group of business owners who champion good job strategies and promote the value of decent-work in creating sustainable economic growth) has giving me an opportunity to share my business experiences and participate in forums with entrepreneurs, business groups, government agencies, non-profit/for-profit organizations, educators and labour groups alike.
I was grateful for the opportunity to present in Niagara Falls (July 19th, 2017) before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs regarding Ontario's BILL 148. I've included the transcript below...
When I first entered the world of business ownership, the objective of keeping costs low to maximize profits seemed simple. Reflecting on my manufacturing company, I remember profits being “King”. Although I kept up with minimum standards, it wasn’t long before I found myself surrounded by very capable people who felt underpaid and unmotivated. The stuff you wouldn’t normally see on flashy PR material. While sales were high, so was the employee turnover, and I spent more and more of my personal time hiring, training and covering shifts to stay productive.
Eventually, I hit an economic crossroads and took that opportunity to re-evaluate where things were going wrong. I realized temp staff didn’t feel secure, some permanent staff had secondary jobs, time with friends and family was sparse, and inevitably most struggled to pay their bills … including me. Without any doubt their challenges were an anchor and the thought of employees having to work multiple jobs presented an unforeseen condition of fatigue. I needed to adjust and change needed to happen quickly.
Today, my wife and I continue to own and operate a small business here in Niagara. We champion the entrepreneurial spirit, but strongly encourage the development of good job strategies. Joining business partners through organizations like The Better Way Alliance and Living Wage Ontario, we are committed to creating decent work opportunities and ensuring wages reflect no-less than the “basic” realities of day-to-day life. In exchange, we have a productive workplace in a highly competitive market. I’m proud of our reliable, focused staff and respect their need to know there’s shared value in the company’s success.
I feel, Bill-148, the Fair Jobs Act is simply catching up with reality and I’m confident many Ontario workers would agree. Let’s face it, government bureaucracies tend to move at a snail’s pace and the business community is usually the first to complain about it. The term ‘working-poor’ is very real and its impact on everyone is measurable. Poverty brings with it a diminished sense of self-worth, puts a chronic (and costly) strain on our health care system, and perpetuates a negative cycle through generations. With nearly 25% of Ontario’s workforce being positively impacted by improved employment standards, I need not implore your social conscience, just your common sense and a few basic mathematics skills should suffice. Heck, you can’t grow of an entire economy when a ¼ of the workforce has had less and less to spend each year.
Those currently lobbying for ‘a lowest common denominator’ or even suggesting ‘extended implementation’ might be laying on the ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric a little too thick. It’s highly unlikely their own pay-stubs reflect earnings that are less than $15/hr. Historically, these debates are predictable.
Some may say this is all ‘too soon’, but if you were to ask those earning $11.40/hr … they know it’s ‘long overdue’. A positive contribution to our economy through employment is deserving of fair considerations. These adjustments level the playing field for businesses, and bring legislation in line with common expectations.
Though, I know many do voluntarily take steps to understand and work through operational challenges. Workplaces that model themselves on minimum standards are relying on the government to do the homework for them. So, Bill-148 should be a welcomed piece of legislation. The homework is done!
Knee-jerk reactions become highly probable in the face of change, but we all must remember that the laws of supply and demand keep prices in check. Positive stimulus into local economies (and the ability to spend more in local businesses) should give naysayers pause.
Generally entrepreneurs don’t pack up and run. So, in the spirit of business, let’s be innovative, organized, and make our economy work for everyone. Let’s not be afraid to raise our expectations.
Presented to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs regarding Ontario's BILL 148, Niagara Falls July 19, 2017.