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Low Salaries - 9 November 2010

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a massive African country with a struggling economy relying heavily on mining to survive. Most gold miners, though, aren’t paid for their work. At the end of each day, they’re given a random bucket of sand. If it contains traces of gold, it’s theirs to keep. If it doesn’t, that’s too bad. On most days, they earn nothing.

In an interview with The UK’s Telegraph newspaper, one of the miners, Mateso Gokpa, said that a good day is when he makes $30. “For me, this is a good job,” he added. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Working in a toxic environment with no protection and almost non-existent pay is regarded as “a good job”. Here’s why.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a poverty-stricken war-torn nation with their most recent fighting over the past two decades resulting in over 5.4 million deaths – the deadliest conflict since World War II. It is also the second-poorest country on the planet, with more than 80 per cent of people living on less than $1 a day.

So, in comparison with the other Congolese, Mateso Gokpa is right. This is a good job. He may be exploited in ways that are abhorrent in the western world, but when compared with the majority of his country, he’s really very lucky.

A similar principle applies in privileged countries like ours. For employees to feel they’ve got it good, they need to believe they’re better off working for you than anywhere else. The rule of thumb is this: offer your employees 20 per cent more than your competitors. But don’t be disheartened in thinking this 20 per cent needs to be made up of money. It doesn’t.

It just means that if you’re already offering salaries that are below the market average, you need to work harder to offer greater intrinsic benefits to achieve the 20 per cent differential. I’ve met hundreds of people – seriously, hundreds – who happily work in underpaid jobs because what they lack in finances they make up for with abundance in the following.

  • Relationships: Close-knit teams where they feel they belong.
  • Safety: Better ergonomics and less hazardous workspaces.
  • Balance: Greater flexibility with when and where they work.
  • Stimulation: Intellectual challenges that may be tough, complex, or risky.
  • Stability: Workplaces characterised by predictability than by endless restructures.
  • Care: The ways in which they’re treated when they’re ill or down.
  • Enrichment: Meaningful jobs aligned to their strengths and talents.
  • Influence: The chance to be consulted or involved in decisions.
  • Opportunities: The possibility of being exposed to new responsibilities.
  • Autonomy: Environments free of constrictive micromanagement.
  • Community: A company with a positive social and environmental impact.
  • Development: Plenty of training - and more importantly - coaching.
  • Management: Bosses who see their employees’ goals as vital as their own.

The easiest reaction is to just assume there’s not much more that can be done to keep people when your organisation pays below par. But really, that’s not true. There are so many nuggets of gold within your management bucket; more than you probably realise.

 

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