When a Successful Business Is One That Can Pay Employees a Decent Wage

At the New York Times, reporters Steven Greenhouse and Stephanie Strom look at businesses that pay their employees well over minimum wage, including In-N-Out burger, which starts employees off at $10.50 an hour, and Boloco, a burrito chain with 22 restaurants in New England:

John Pepper, Boloco’s co-founder, said the strategy for his Boston-based company evolved after it initially adopted a low-wage approach.

“In the company’s early years,” he said, “our goal, like much of the industry, was to pay as little as you can get away with and have people still show up and be reasonably productive.”

But while watching employees mop floors and work late into the night, he realized that for his company to be as great as he hoped, it needed to treat its workers better.

“We were talking about building a culture in which we want our team members to take care of our customers,” Mr. Pepper said. “But we asked, ‘What’s in it for them?’ Honestly, very little.”

So in 2002, when the minimum wage was $5.15 an hour, Boloco raised its minimum pay to $8. It also began subsidizing commuting costs, providing English classes to immigrant employees and contributing up to 4 percent of an employee’s pay toward a 401(k).

“If we really wanted our people to care about our culture and care about our customers, we had to show that we cared about them,” Mr. Pepper said. “If we’re talking about building a business that’s successful, but our employees can’t go home and pay their bills, to me that success is a farce.”

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Photo: Church Street Marketplace