Unconscious bias about economic class often surfaces in the workplace. Your brain is on autopilot, based on how you grew up. Mindsets, habits, patterns, opportunities, and experiences are all shaped by the environment in which we experience our lives. Survival, achievement, and connections are also important. Can you live without a credit card and checking account? You have employees who do. Can you move in one day? You have employees who are masters at it. Do you understand the difference between the principal, interest, and escrow payments on your mortgage statement? The more we have experienced, the more versatile we are and the more we can contribute in the workplace.

Our entry-level, lower-wage workers (who often are living in survival mode) experience higher levels of personal instability, which leads to absenteeism, health problems, violations of workplace expectations, and communication conflict. Does this sound like one of your issues? Employees living in the tyranny of the moment focus on meeting their daily survival needs while management is thinking about tomorrow, planning, and focusing on achievement. The two mindsets collide at work, creating conflict.

How can employers support employees who live in economic instability?

First, understand the environment in which you grew up and the environment from which your coworkers come. By doing this, better relationships can evolve, which results in less turmoil.

Second, take a look at the policies, procedures, and benefits of the business, and analyze which of them need revised to better accommodate employees living in instability. You are not lowering expectations in the workplace; instead, you are creating new pathways for business success. A good example is health insurance. You offer health insurance, but the deductible is so high that most of your entry-level employees can’t afford to use it. If employees have lived in daily instability for generations, they may not know how health insurance works. Here are two ideas you might consider: 1) a class provided by a coworker, someone similar to themselves, on how health insurance works; and 2) depositing money during the first fiscal month of a year into employees’ flexible spending accounts so they can afford to use the health insurance benefit. This is a direct financial incentive.   

Third, create relationships of mutual respect with your entry-level, lower-wage employees. Ask about their families, listen to their stories, and share lunch together. Once employees know they are respected, they will have your back. Since these employees make decisions based on relationships and survival, this is a key component in driving retention.

These three ideas simply scratch the surface of what your business can to avoid workforce instability. It starts with pre-hires and moves on with promoting employees from within. Use these opportunities to grow your brand, improve morale and productivity, and watch your profitability increase.