Consumers can help the economy not by just choosing to buy goods, but also by being selective in where they buy goods. Zeynep Ton, Adjunct Associate Professor of Operations Management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, urged the more than 650 attendees of TedxCambridge, to shop, dine, and patronize businesses that employ what Ton calls the “good jobs strategy.”
Ton argued that bad jobs—such as many low-paying positions in retail—contribute to a bad economy. “The problem is not that there aren’t enough jobs; the problem is that too many jobs are simply bad jobs,” said Ton.
Retail jobs, according to Ton, are not just bad because they offer low wages and chaotic schedules, but because they make the workers feel meaningless. One retailer worker told Ton, “We are throwaways who are a dime a dozen…just human robots, really.”
Conventional wisdom says that retailers must pay low wages and offer bad jobs in order to keep prices low. Ton’s good jobs strategy goes against this by presenting a case for investing in retail employees, and, in turn, receiving a strong return on that investment. It calls for retailers to make decisions that may seem counterintuitive.
Retailers that use the good jobs strategy:
- Offer fewer products to the consumer, allowing employees to be more familiar with the products available
- Standardize tasks but also empower employees to make decisions that benefit customers
- Cross-train employees so they can perform multiple jobs, offering flexibility where and when needed
- Give employees the time needed to do their job, and provide time for spontaneous improvement
This strategy is not just an academic ideal; Ton presented a glimpse of her research, which shows how this strategy has enabled retailers—who have adopted this approach—such as Costco, Mercadona SA, Trader Joe’s, and QuikTrip to both provide good jobs and to earn profits doing so. It is, however, a complex strategy that requires long-term thinking. Nonetheless, it’s workable, sustainable, and everyone wins.
“Bad jobs are not going away,” said Ton. “We have to get more companies to offer good jobs. Every one of us is a customer, and we can vote with our feet. Shop and dine at places that offer good jobs—be an advocate for the good jobs strategy.”
Ton further details her theory in her forthcoming book, The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs & Boost Profits.