Save the Middle Class and Fight Income Inequality

by | Oct 2, 2023 | Challenge Yourself, Do the right thing, Leadership, The Ownership Mindset

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How do you save the middle class and fight income inequality as a business leader? In the past few years of “Great Resignation” and workforce shortages, one of the biggest sayings we’ve heard from business leaders is “no one wants to work.” Well, why should they?

The middle class is shrinking and we should work hard to save the middle class. For too many years, having a job hasn’t been a good enough deal: lots of working people haven’t seen enough reward for their work. At too many companies, most of the financial gains – largely in the form of appreciating stock prices – have gone to the highest earners and the wealthiest people who own the largest shares of the companies.

Work is supposed to make people’s lives better. A rising tide is supposed to lift all boats. A full-time job should help people enjoy a stable life and build wealth for the future, not just scrape by paycheck to paycheck.

This kind of wealth inequality is not just bad for employees, it’s bad for society. When it starts to feel like CEOs and startup founders are not just richer than the rest of us, but “existing on a totally different planet, on a totally different plane of reality” than the rest of America, this leads to widespread resentment, worker discontent, social division, political unrest, and – at worst – despair.

No wonder the middle class is shrinking. No wonder so many people feel like America doesn’t care about them. No wonder “no one wants to work.” However, I don’t believe that no one wants to work. Most people want work to be different.

It’s time for business leaders to re-evaluate their mindset on what work really delivers for the people we employ. Income inequality and the shrinking middle class are complex and far-reaching societal issues that won’t be solved overnight. However, leaders can make a real difference in their employees’ lives through more equitable compensation and benefits.

Let’s look at a few ideas for how your company can create a more equitable society – while driving better results for your business:

  • Enable Employee Ownership: At my company, StoneAge, we have a strong culture of employee ownership – and it’s not just pretty words on a mission statement. We back it up with a proactive, generous Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) that has helped our team build real wealth and support their families’ futures. Over a 25-year period, our employees purchased over 40% of the company. The ESOP is a great plan for us, but it’s not the only option. There are several different equity compensation models that your company can use. For more details, check out the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) at nceo.org.
  • Support Employee Wealth-generation: Along with actual ownership of the company in the form of stock, more businesses need to support their employees in generating wealth and managing their finances successfully, with benefits like free financial planning and robust health insurance so people don’t get hit by big out-of-pocket medical bills. Good businesses shouldn’t want their employees to live paycheck-to-paycheck or to suffer from financial stress. If your employees aren’t building wealth or seeing real improvements in their lives while working for your company, they’re going to be less likely to give their best effort and bring their best ideas to work. And you’re going to be at risk to lose them to other employers with better opportunities.
  • Encourage Work-life Balance and Personal Growth: At StoneAge, we provide robust benefits to help people thrive on a personal as well as financial level – with flexible schedules, great health insurance, abundant Paid Time Off, and other support to make sure they get what they need out of life as well as their careers. It’s important to make sure your people can support their families and have a spirit of wellness, wholeness, and personal growth in their lives outside of work. When people have time to decompress, rest and recover, they’ll come back to work with fresh ideas and revitalized energy that will deliver a big ROI to your business.

I love my company, I love my team, and I love my job! But these feelings shouldn’t be reserved just for CEOs or high-earners; I want everyone to love their job and love their employer. Work should feel like such a great deal, that you can’t believe you’re getting away with it. Jobs need to be more than a paycheck; they need to really elevate people’s standard of living and help people build wealth for the future. Companies need to support their people in comprehensive ways that let people know that you care, that you have their back, and that you want them to be part of your future for the long term.

If your biggest problem as an employer is that “no one wants to work,” I respectfully suggest that the problem is you. It’s time to re-evaluate how employees can gain a larger share of the wealth that their labor creates. Work needs to be a better deal for everyone. Instead of “jobs taking over your life,” with too little to show for the time you put in, good jobs should support, energize, and inspire your life. That’s what “ownership” means to me, and I hope it can be a new standard for employers all over America.

For more insights on how to make work a better deal for your people – while improving productivity and retention – check out my new book, “The Ownership Mindset: A Handbook for Transforming Your Life and Leadership.” Let’s save the middle class together.

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