Can Great Workplaces Close the Income Gap?

Can Great Workplaces Close the Income Gap?

Much has been made lately of the “income gap” in America, propelled largely by a recent report by Paul Solman of PBS which noted that  40% of Americans possess only .3% of the nation’s wealth (yes, that decimal was intended).  Add that to conversations about double dip recession, inflation and the debt ceiling and watch as a maelstrom of finger pointing, punditry and public outcry overtake the airwaves and we struggle to figure out “who is to blame?” and “who is to fix it?”

I don’t have the answer.  But, I do have some ideas and I believe that building a nation of more great workplaces is a part of the solution. 

Many of the Best Companies to Work For more generously share the fruits of their success with the people who helped produce it – their employees.  Through profit sharing plans, ESOP arrangements, and ESPP plans, great workplaces distribute a greater portion of their profits to their stakeholders.  These companies are more likely to have employee pay up in the 75th percentile, while at a handful of these companies, executive pay hovers near the 25th.  Fully funded benefit plans and other wellness and assistance plans for employees (and oftentimes their dependents) means these working families have more income at their disposal to stimulate the economy. 

Good for the people lucky enough to work at these companies, right?  Well, it may be good for everybody. 

Consider that these companies and their employees make tremendous charitable contributions in their local communities.  Even more, they sport programs that allow employees to donate their time as volunteers while on the company dime.  Often, they open their doors to less advantaged students in the area for tours, internships, or other development programs.  Great workplaces can be vital assets in the communities where they operate and their reach certainly extends beyond those directly on the payroll.

So what’s in it for companies?  I remember a CEO from a FORTUNE 100 Best Company joking that he invested so much in his people because he’d rather pay less in taxes!  But it’s more than that.  When a workplace extends consideration to employees and recognizes the contribution they make as “stakeholders,” employees become as important as shareholders.  After all, it is the stakeholders who will drive innovation and success by delivering exceptional customer service, exceptional products, and new ideas.  Employees propel the success of a business and when they stay for a long time, express their pride in the brand, and bring their best ideas to what a company does, products can be enhanced, new markets can be identified, and the real drivers of growth are in place.  The employer attracts and retains the right people for their business and recognizes an investment in those people as an investment in innovation, marketing, and overall success. 

I know this is an oversimplification and will not be expecting an invite to a Congressional taskforce anytime soon.  A nation of great workplaces may not close the income gap, but the pieces of the pie will be more evenly distributed and America can remain home to the world’s most innovative and successful businesses.

Leslie Caccamese is an Interim Program Director at Great Place to Work® Institute.