The Living Wage matters to everyone

By Kathryn Kendall, Chief People Officer

In April 2016, Benefex became a Living Wage Employer, and to this day, I would still chalk it up as one of the proudest days of my career. To know that we took such a significant step towards improving the day-to-day lives of our hard-working team meant such a lot to me as an HR professional and as a colleague. The tagline of the Living Wage Foundation is “for the real cost of living”. And that’s the crux of it; reality. Yes, we could suggest that, technically, someone may just about survive on £7.05/hour (the current Minimum Wage for under 25s), but should we as employers be encouraging people to ‘just about survive’, or to really live? And in certain higher-earning industries, should employers be concerned with the Real Living Wage at all if it’s not going to make a direct difference to our employees?

Unsurprisingly, yes. It doesn’t matter if we don’t have employees who earn the current Minimum or National Living Wage; there is more to being accredited than just improving our own house. We may not know anyone who is suffering from cancer, but that doesn’t mean we don’t support Cancer Research, does it? It’s a movement we should all believe in and take part in because it’s the right thing to do.

Your reputation precedes you
Your workforce may be entirely made up of people who earn markedly more than the Real Living Wage, but this doesn’t mean that becoming accredited won’t positively affect you. According to the Living Wage Foundation, 86% of accredited organisations say it has improved the reputation of the business. In a world where we are fighting for the best talent out there, where reviews of our companies are plastered all over Glassdoor, and our up-and-coming young employees are more interested in social responsibility than any previous generation, our organisations’ reputations are more valuable than ever, and could make or break our standing as an employer of choice within our respective industries. 64% of Living Wage Employers say it has helped differentiate themselves from others in their industry; can any of us say that we don’t want to stand out against our competitors when it comes to recruiting the brightest and best?

It’s also worth bearing in mind that we work for organisations which may well need to recruit gig workers, contractors, or temporary workers – and their wellbeing is also our responsibility, however short their tenure with us may be. Reputation aside, it is simply the right thing to ensure that every single person who comes through our doors is paid fairly for the work they carry out.

It makes good business sense
A good reputation leads to good relationships between your organisation and your people. There is also no escape from the fact that being paid fairly and having fewer money worries at home significantly improves our concentration and motivation at work. We need to stop talking about work/life balance and concentrate instead on true work/life integration. One can positively (or negatively) affect the other, and there is no denying that our feelings towards our employer and our work absolutely impacts how we act in our personal lives, too. Since becoming accredited, 75% of organisations say it has increased motivation and retention rates for employees, and 58% say it improved relations between managers and their staff. Can any of us afford to take the hit on our EVP if we don’t go ahead with this change?

Whether you believe that becoming an accredited Living Wage Employer will directly affect your employees or not, your reputation for Corporate Social Responsibility could suffer without this accolade. Over 3,500 employers in the UK now pay the Real Living Wage, because it is the right thing to do. There are undoubtedly other employers within your industry who are accredited, so why would a candidate choose your organisation over one which takes a real, authentic and serious view of their social responsibility?

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The “B” word and sociological implications
As employers, we are still in a Brexit limbo. We don’t know, for sure, what’s going to happen to our industries and our organisations once the B-word takes its toll. What we do know is that those agile organisations which can adapt and retain their best people will be the ones who pull through, whatever happens. Those businesses which have been contributing to the wealth of their people, have good social reputations, and have positively affected the UK’s social and economic infrastructure – however big their contribution may have been – stand themselves in good stead for the uncertainties of the future. Do the foundational work now, before it’s “too little, too late.”

Final thoughts
Yes, there are many reputational and economic reasons as to why your organisation could and should aim to become an accredited Living Wage Employer, but the most important reason to join the Real Living Wage movement is that it is simply the right thing to do. In doing so, you may not directly affect a single one of your permanent, full-time employees, but you are showing your support for those people who are really struggling to make ends meet on the Minimum Wage, or National Living Wage. You’re showing your support for the notion that everyone deserves a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work; surely that’s a message that every single business can get behind.