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First Person

Upsizing

In her new book, ‘The Good Jobs Strategy,’ MIT Sloan professor Zeynep Ton says companies can improve their bottom line by doing the seemingly unthinkable: treating their employees better.

Evgenia Eliseeva

My research on retail operations started in 1999. I found that stores that had a lot of employee turnover or very poor training had more problems, lost sales, and had lower profits. I started connecting the dots with these operational problems and the social problems of people having bad jobs.

The good jobs strategy has two main components. The first is to offer good jobs, which is more than just paying higher salaries. It’s also investing in workers in terms of training and providing more stable employee schedules and real opportunities for success and growth. The second part of the strategy is the key part — to ensure a great return on the investment in those employees. The companies that I studied do that by making their employees as productive as possible and ensuring that their employees play a huge role in driving profits. Companies don’t do this just to be altruistic; they do it because it’s the most sustainable way to generate great returns for their investors. But it is a long-term strategy.

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I have been seeing this philosophy that labor is just a cost to be minimized in a wide range of settings. That’s how a lot of businesses seem to operate, and it’s unfortunate.

Companies can absolutely make money by offering bad jobs. They can even make money by offering bad customer service, as long as they keep their prices low. But there are also companies that succeed by offering good jobs. I hope to inspire more entrepreneurs and managers and leaders to [take this route]. The good jobs strategy is one too few companies are following right now. And maybe it’s too idealistic to say, but if customers demand companies [do this], just like we did with organic foods, if we shop with our wallets, that might make a difference as well.  

— As told to Rachel Deahl (Interview has been edited and condensed.)

FOR MORE The Good Jobs Strategy comes out January 14.

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