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3 Insights into Supporting Low-Income Employees

by  Kris Boesch  |  Leadership Development
3 Insights into Supporting Low-Income Employees

I used to run a moving company and many of my crewmembers came from a low-income background.

Back in 2003 I read Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. This book was immensely helpful in shedding light on some of the foundational mindset differences between economic classes.

Though it’s been 14 years, here are three insights I still remember and share with those managers and leaders who have employees who either are currently low-income or who come from a low-income background:

Problem-solving

Those that have grown up in poverty have incredible problem-solving capacity. They know how to be resourceful and how to “figure it out.” You don’t have to worry about “progress over perfectionism.” When you’re trying to make ends meet day to day, there’s no time for perfectionism. On the flipside, attention to detail may be lacking. Sometimes there would be a disconnect between the implications of actions taken today on tomorrow. Planning the steps, it would take to achieve a future outcome was often not in their skillset.

My learning: leverage their problem-solving strengths and resourcefulness while spending additional time training on attention to detail, implications thinking and planning.

Relationships

Reciprocal relationships are worth more than money. When you don’t have much money, relationships are your safety net. You lean on your neighbor to give you a ride when your car breaks down. You ask your sister to watch your kid when the babysitter fails to show up. If your paycheck is tomorrow and you need twenty dollars to feed the family today, you ask a friend. This savings account of favors can only be counted on, though, if you can be counted on when someone turns to you for help.

My learning: I finally understood why Mark would choose to be late to give his neighbor a ride when his job was in jeopardy for tardiness. As far as Mark was concerned, if he got fired, there were plenty of other low-wage jobs to choose from – while there weren’t nearly as many neighbors who could fix his car.

Stress Relief

Stress relief is prioritized. The stress of trying to make ends meet on a low wage is relentless and often overwhelming. Any reprieve is welcomed. Rather than saving for a non-existent, unknown future, tips and bonuses were spent on stress relief for today.

My learning: Rather than judging their choices, I was empathetic.

On my docket is to go back and re-read Payne’s book. I highly recommend you pick it up and see what else you can glean to support your team.

What would you add to this discussion? Have you been on the employee end or the employer end?

About The Author

Articles By kris-boesch
Kris Boesch is the CEO and Founder of Choose People. Choose People launched the summer of 2010. Prior to Choose People, Kris was the CEO of Exodus Moving & Storage. When Kris came to Exodus the culture was toxic and the company was financially struggling. She didn’t have money to throw at the employees to make them happy and moving wasn’t a “sexy” job with great pay and benefits.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Jane Anderson  |  19 May 2017  |  Reply

I really like your article, Kris, from it’s very basic content and how it applies to everyone. I’m especially drawn to the part about relationships. We all have varying degrees of compassion, understanding, empathy, need, and flexibility that encompass our relationships. I can see how valuable reciprocal relationships are. I like to think that, even though reciprocal is good, there are many times when we should do things for others without thought of how we might be paid back.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  19 May 2017  |  Reply

Thank you for sharing your insights, Kris. You remind me of the privileges I have that I take for granted. I think it would do me some good to check out that book.

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