We'd all make a lot of money if we didn't have to pay our employees, wouldn't we? Here's a short quiz. Employees are:

a) trustworthy, loyal, conscientious, dedicated, motivated etc., or

b) lazy, worthless, good-for-nothing, thieving, conniving, shiftless etc.

Employer attitudes about the workforce tend to fall between these extremes, hopefully more toward (a) than (b). Loose, exciting, dynamic companies, such as the ones comprising the New Economy, will be much closer to the positive attitude. Businesses with lots of labor strife have learned to live with a union, even though management suspects that (b) was right all along. Don't go to work for this kind of company. As a craft studio owner, you should idolize your workers; they aren't employees: they're craftpersons in their own right. After all, if you could hire monkeys or install robot arms to produce your craft widgets you probably wouldn't be in the contemporary handcraft industry in the first place. Your craft widgets aren't produced in cookie cutter fashion. If they are, then you're a fraud: where's the design, where's the eye, where's the talent?

I'll let you in on a little secret: treat your workers with dignity and respect, and compensate them more than they could reasonably expect to make by working for others. You can have the best craft widget designs in the world. You can have the best tools and materials available. Your marketing program can be the slickest anyone has ever seen. Your banker can be throwing money at you to get your business off the ground. Your office staff can be so efficient that you personally never have to come to work. But, if you don't have a good work force, you don't have anything. Without a social compact between you and the folks who do the actual work that makes sense to all concerned, the best you can hope for is lackadaisical production and indifferent quality. Try to run a business on that basis!

Am I being too harsh? I don't think so. And here's another little secret: money itself is not the be all and end all (the warm, fuzzy beneficial effects of a raise last no more than six weeks, they tell me). Motivation arises from leadership and fairness. Leadership in that you as the owner / designer / craftperson must be willing and able to jump into the process and get things done as good or better than any employee, and fairness in the sense that everyone must believe that all are being treated equally. It's okay in Joe Blow's mind that he's only making ten bucks an hour. Just don't go out and buy a Lexus or let him know you bumped your intern, Susie Creamcheese, to $15 for the heck of it.

Of course money motivates workers. The more they make, the better off they are. But at some point another dollar an hour raise just doesn't have the effect it used to. So let's take a quick look at some other dimensions of compensation. Second only to pay is getting a paid vacation. Everyone wants, needs and thinks they deserve paid time off. We don't get enough of it in this country (the Europeans are used to taking a month or more off each year!). After that might come personal days. Are they sick days, mental health days, holidays or what? Are they paid or not? Their actual makeup is a part of your social compact, and the answers depend on where you are on the profitability curve with your business.

Further down the list are health benefits. We all want them, but they tend to be very expensive. Who is covered and who pays are the over-riding concerns. Craft studios tend to be staffed by younger workers, many of whom are single. If you asked a bunch of twenty-something singles whether they would prefer a fifty-cent raise or a free HMO card, most would opt for the cash. Even if your workforce is older and married, it's still complicated. Employees don't get sick, their children get sick. What's the sense in having health coverage for your worker, if she ends up taking time off when her kid is sick, and the doctor bills spend her down to a poverty level? Looking carefully at the makeup of your workforce is important when judging this aspect of the compensation package. In the right circumstances a paid health plan covering whole families can reinforce the social compact and send such a strong signal to your workers that you won't have to worry about raises for a very long time. Nor will you experience any employee turnover.

This is not the venue to discuss other aspects such as profit sharing, retirement plans, etc. Suffice it to say that human resource departments are truly inventive when it comes to a cafeteria approach to pay packages. But we are in the crafts industry, and a decent wage and a basic benefits package will bring us head and shoulders above most of our peers. Just remember a few words: dignity, respect, and fairness. These help demonstrate a real concern for the well-being of others, and a happy (or at least contented) workforce accrues many benefits to you. Don't put yourself in the position of the ranch foreman who ended up saying, "Hiring you was like losing two good men."

By the way, there is a final word on employees, and it relates to those of you with a family run craft business. In the late 1970's I met a couple who were ceramists. Their stuff was gorgeous. Their vessels flared out to delicate, petal-shaped rims like a flower. Absolutely stunning work. I asked the guy how many employees he had. He told me that they ended up having to let go all of their shop help. There were too many mistakes being made; no one else seemed to have the proper hand and eye coordination, so that the work made by the paid labor looked clunky in comparison. He said that they were down to only two employees: a combination cook and cleaning woman, and a combination handyman, errand runner and gardener. By not having to maintain their household themselves, they freed up a huge amount of time to spend productively in their studio creating their vessels. It worked for them!


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e-mail us:   john@jiverson.com