The debate that’s going on over increasing the federal minimum wage reminds me of a humorous piece of American pop culture.
In Office Space, one of my favorite movies, Jennifer Aniston’s character is encouraged by her manager to wear more than the required minimum "15 pieces of flair" so she can better "express herself."
Her manager actually had a good point. In my experience, companies that go above and beyond the bare minimum tend to be viewed more favorably by their customers, and that benefits the company’s bottom line. (I know, the analogy to Office Space isn’t quite right here, but I couldn’t resist).
If you don’t believe that paying workers a better wage translates to consumer love, go ahead and Google "Costco hourly wage." You’ll see all of the positive press that Costco gets over their generous employee compensation policy. In addition to the company’s good reputation, Costco’s employees are happier, and they stay at their jobs longer. All of that helps Costco’s bottom line and the company does better than many of its competitors, despite paying employees more. It’s no wonder why President Barack Obama has held up Costco as an example in his fight to "give America a raise."
It’s also worth mentioning that 71% of Americans support raising the federal minimum wage, including a majority of Republicans, according to a Quinnipiac University poll from earlier this year.
I would encourage other businesses to pause and take these realities into consideration before reflexively opposing the effort to boost the minimum wage, and I have three recommendations for them:
First, business groups should not be running ads that oppose the increase. The fortune-teller spot that just went up, warning against the dangers of raising the minimum wage, is not going to sway opinion. It only tarnishes corporate America’s reputation.
Second, businesses should realize that this debate is an opportunity for them to get ahead – Costco is a great example. It would be a wise business decision to recognize the opening here and reap the benefits of boosting employee compensation.
And lastly, remember that this is an election year. If you’re a business that wants to see Republicans win the Senate and build on their House majority, do you really want to run ads blasting something that 71% of Americans support? The ads only help Democratic candidates by turning voters off to Republicans.
It’s not easy to go against your peers and do something that would seem to be unorthodox. But sometimes that’s just what you need to do to get ahead. It’s also a great way to "express yourself."
Sam Singer is president of Singer Associates in San Francisco. He can be reached at email@example.com