Success Strategies - April - 2019

Do People Stay for Pay?

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What causes people to stay with an employer? This has been studied for decades and it’s been proven again and again that their paycheck is important, but it’s definitely not the most important item.

I’ve shoveled dirt and gravel; unloaded boxcars; repossessed log trucks; collected past-due bills; counseled destitute people in the ghetto; stood guard in the cold and rain; pushed cars uphill in the snow on foot; washed dishes for hours; hauled lumber, rocks, and heavy supplies on construction sites; and even dragged a rotary push mower around my neighborhood to get lawncare jobs when I was a kid. In almost every instance, if I hadn’t been paid, I probably wouldn’t have done the job. But pay wasn’t the most important element.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow authored a Hierarchy of Needs to explain what motivates people. He said our first concern is survival, and only after satisfying that need do we become concerned about our continuing safety. Once we feel safe then we become aware of our need for others, a need to belong.

When we fit in with others, we realize the need to be valuable: the esteem need… the satisfaction of a job well done. Then we reach the need to develop and express our own potential: self-actualization. In other words, if you want to keep people on your team, you need to look at more than just their paycheck.

Pay addresses our safety and survival need, so not enough pay and people go where they can get enough. But when someone leaves because they “didn’t feel the pay was fair,” well, that’s another issue entirely. That has to do with whether they felt respected and valued as an employee.

I once had an employee who accused me of unfair pay. I learned that she was comparing herself to a worker in another firm who had been generating a great deal more revenue while doing work that was mostly the same. But the other worker was producing more for her employer. When we examined the ratio of revenue to pay, we found that I was paying a higher percentage for the work than the other firm. I was just receiving less from her labors.

We collaborated to find ways that she could become more productive without necessarily working harder, and soon thereafter, I was able to increase her pay. She stayed with me for many years, not because of the pay, but because the work was satisfying, her employer respected and valued her, and the work environment was made as pleasing as possible.

It’s been said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave employers. Think about yourself. How many times have you left a job because you didn’t like the way you were being managed? I’ve had many employers over the years but only a few that I appreciated enough to stay with for the long term.

Managers are mentors. When I was a warehouseman in my twenties, my boss was a man everyone called Red. He knew I was going into the Army soon and basic training was going to be hard. So he gave me jobs that were more physically demanding to “get me in shape for boot camp.” That might seem mean or unfair to many, but I trusted Red and appreciated why he was doing it. Consequently, I was in better shape when I got to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for training.

Joe was my general agent and manager at an insurance agency. He put me in charge of orphan accounts — insurance policies sold by agents who were no longer with the company. He explained his reason for the assignment was my skill in managing relationships and he wanted the policyholders to remain faithful to the company. It was his way of developing one of my strengths while serving the clients. Joe is still my close and dear friend, 40 years later.

I don’t recall how much I was paid at those jobs, but I clearly recall how I felt toward my employers. I also recall leaving a job I loved because my employer didn’t value my work.

Coworkers are responsible to each other to be good “business family” members. We often spend more time with our coworkers than with our family. So we have a responsibility to each other to be the best “family” that we can be while on the job. They say you can’t choose your relatives but you can choose you coworkers. That’s true and we often do.

We may not have chosen them when we took the job, but we choose whether to stay with them once we’re on the job.

What we need from coworkers is cooperation, encouragement, and empowerment. Everyone’s work ends up as the beginning of someone else’s work. When you complete a rebuild, the installer depends on your results. When you install a transmission, the customer depends on your installation. When you complete a job order, the manager depends on the accuracy of your records. See what I mean? We’re all connected.

Encouragement is the act of instilling courage. In other words, if the other person doesn’t feel more confident or courageous, then you didn’t encourage them. It isn’t just saying, “You can do it!” It’s showing belief in each other’s abilities and offering words or gestures to express our faith in their potential to handle the task. It’s also providing guidance, information, or techniques to empower the person to do an even better job.

Working conditions are another big factor in employment longevity. This takes two forms: physical and regulatory. The shop itself, the location, employee parking, the temperature control, the tools, the layout, the signage, the sounds (including radio stations), and the cleanliness and order are all part of the physical condition. These matter a lot and we should control what we can to make it appealing for all.

The regulatory side of working conditions means the rules and agreements by which we work. The work hours, the duties and chores schedule, the policies regarding damage and loss, the time for breaks or lunch, policies for problem solving, and communication and how it’s handled.

Every month, GEARS Magazine features the best shops in the business and describes specifically how they handle and manage many common issues. It’s important to learn from these best practices and make them the standard by which we lift our entire industry to higher levels.

Finally, relationships are a powerful key to our job satisfaction. Number one is the employer/employee relationship. Coworker communication is another vital factor and we all need reminding that we’re responsible to each other to be a good coworker.

For the boss, correcting people in private and complimenting them in front of others is a good start. Also, handing someone a paycheck with a grateful heart and a smile makes the pay even better than just putting the check in their box. You and I are work family and we need to value la familia so that they’ll value us.

Payday is every day when you consider all the forms of value we receive from our work.

Jim Cathcart is a longtime friend of ATRA and contributor to GEARS. He travels the world teaching people how to succeed. Read his articles and view his free videos on, and on YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Contact Jim’s office for speaking engagements at, Phone 1-805-777-3477.