This study aims to explore whether employer action may contribute towards reducing in-work poverty. Essentially, the study examines the extent to which small firm owners accept as being among their core responsibilities the support of the working poor both from an ethical and financial perspective. It further explores the impact of employee-friendly policies to support the working poor on the organizational performance of small enterprises.
A qualitative approach was adopted consisting of 60 responses from 30 small firm owners and 30 employees. More specifically, the study draws on the empirical data collected through face-to-face semi-structured interviews with the firm owners of 30 low-paying enterprises operating in Greece and 30 employees working in those firms.
The findings reveal that employer measures to reduce in-work poverty such as systematic training, travel allowance, provision of free meals and retail vouchers, bonus schemes and other indirect financial rewards do enhance overall employee well-being, which, in turn, makes employees more engaged with their work and motivate them to “go the extra mile” for their employer. As a result, organizations appear to enjoy several benefits including less absenteeism and staff turnover, reduced errors in production and increased productivity.
The present analysis argues that a narrow focus by policymakers on both direct and indirect governmental measures (e.g. an increase of the minimum wage, childcare and housing support) to reduce in work-poverty could be problematic as there are employer instruments that could also have a direct and indirect impact on employee income that could be useful when thinking about how in-work poverty can best be addressed. The empirical work showed that the above-mentioned measures have the potential to bring various organizational benefits including increased staff loyalty, less absenteeism, improved customer service and increased productivity. Such findings indicate that there is a strong business case for employers to combat in-work poverty and provide “better” jobs to individuals.
The emphasis of research around in-work poverty has been placed predominantly on welfare state measures to support the working poor, whereas the contribution of employers has been ignored. The present study fills this knowledge gap by leading to a better understanding of whether there is a business case for employers to fight in-work poverty.
The author would like to thank deeply the following academics from the Centre of Employment Relations, Innovation and Change (CERIC) at the University of Leeds, who helped significantly to complete the empirical part of this project: Prof. Mark Stuart, Prof. Christopher Forde, Dr Ioulia Bessa and Dr Jo Ingold.
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