A Matter of Dignity

By Carol Harnett/Benefits Columnist

As a columnist, every once in a while, a theme for your editorial calendar presents itself to you. Which is what happened to me recently.

A good friend decided to commit to a long-term, long-distance relationship by giving up her job and moving to her boyfriend's location. She coupled this move with a pledge to change her career, which required extensive travel and long workdays.

Given that this friend was armed with work experience rich in highly desirable transferable skills, everyone assumed she would be snapped up in a matter of weeks.

I'll spare you the details but, as HR leaders, you probably know this was not her fate.

Six months ago, she agreed to give one of her desired employers a chance by working in a "temp-to-perm" position. Even though the compensation was well below her experience, she thought it was a fair way to test out her new career path and for her prospective employer to understand what she brought to the table.

After she received rave reviews, an offer was made. Though the compensation package was at the bottom of the range for the position, the manager softened the blow by indicating she could use this job to get the position she deserved.

She should have walked away, but accepted for one reason: Her boyfriend is a serial entrepreneur and hadn't set up benefits for his latest venture, and they wanted to avoid the public exchange. So she said "Yes" to the wonderful benefits package the company was also offering.

Her explanation is what caught my attention: "The hiring process was humiliating, but I received dignity through the employee-benefits offer."

Dignity in employee benefits: I can think of no better theme to center my column around. The concept of a dignified benefits package is interesting to explore because an increasing number of employers are trying to reduce expenses by cutting back on their offerings.

But hope sometimes can come from unexpected places -- in this case, the restaurant industry.

Twitter came alive on Jan. 2 with an unexpected post from Bobby Fry, one of the owners of Bar Marco in Pittsburgh: "In 2015, Bar Marco will not be accepting gratuity starting in April. All on salary + healthcare and shares. Now hiring . . . ."

In an industry in which, according to Mother Jones magazine, "more than 40 percent of restaurant workers live below twice the poverty line," that's quite a position.

Fry insists it's a good business move. All 20 of the restaurant's full-time employees agreed to a compensation and benefits package that includes a $35,000 base salary, full health benefits, 40 to 44 hours maximum per week, 10 vacation days and 500 shares in the business.

If a customer feels inclined to leave a tip, the restaurant will donate the money to a charity it established -- Food Revolution Pittsburgh Cooking Club.

Fry sums up Bar Marco's philosophy this way: "Dining is a cultural experience, not just an act of consumption."

And now, working at Bar Marco will be a dignified employee-benefits experience as well.

Carol Harnett, an expert in the field of employee benefits, can be emailed via http://about.me/carolharnett.

Mar 9, 2015
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