Zeynep Ton has some radical ideas about jobs, and companies are starting to pay attention.
An adjunct professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Ton believes that giving retail workers more responsibility and paying them higher wages leads to not only happier employees—it often leads to higher profits.
In her book, The Good Jobs Strategy, Ton lays out how companies can use “human-centered operations” to create good jobs for employees, provide high-quality service and low prices to customers, and increase profits. Recently, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera spoke with Ton about why her strategy makes good sense for businesses and for the country.
Ton began researching supply chain management in the retail industry more than a decade ago, and made some surprising discoveries. At many companies, what initially appeared to be an inventory management problem—products stuck in back rooms instead of being sold—was actually related to labor practices. Employees at the troubled companies were under-trained, poorly paid, and had unpredictable schedules, leading to low morale and high employee turnover.
On the flip side, Ton identified some highly successful retail businesses. One example? US convenience store chain QuickTrip, an $11B company that operates 722 stores in 11 states. The company offers competitive wages, a generous benefit package, and all employees are cross-trained to perform different jobs. All store managers are promoted from within. The result? Lower operation costs and an employee turnover rate well below the national average.
While Ton admits that implementing a good-jobs strategy at existing companies is neither quick nor easy, it’s worth it in the long run. “The assumed trade-off between low prices and good jobs is a fallacy,” says Ton.