Do People Expect Too Much From Minimum Wage Workers?

Missy Crystal

Do you hold minimum wage workers to a higher standard than other employees?

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Treat minimum wage workers with respect and kindnessPhoto by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Restaurants can’t find enough workers in my area, so they close early if staff from other locations can’t help. That statement may not surprise you, as the labor shortage extends far beyond my region. There are hiring problems across the country right now, and a large chunk of these issues involve restaurants, retail gigs, and other low-wage jobs.

Many people criticize pandemic benefits, claiming that extended unemployment made Americans unwilling to work. Others blame COVID quarantines and fatalities, insisting that the virus has wiped out our workforce. There are also folks who believe Millennials and Zoomers lack ambition, so they’re using the pandemic as an excuse for unemployment. True or not, these beliefs often evolve into a debate about raising pay rates for minimum wage workers.

The debates are rarely constructive. Whenever someone requests a higher minimum wage, people angrily respond with comments like, “You want $15 an hour, but you can’t even remember to leave onions off my burger.” That may be true, but you make mistakes at your job too. This is true even if you have a cushy office job where you’re surrounded by college-educated coworkers.

Minimum wage employees often work in understaffed, high-pressure environments. Customers don’t care if you’re shorthanded that day; they keep coming anyway and then yell at you for taking too long. You may be able to push back a deadline at an office job, but you can’t tell fast-food guests to come back later if half your closing crew calls in sick.

Next time you’re tempted to bash minimum wage workers, remember these 3 things:

Productivity problems result in significant income loss for businesses

Many office workers spend their workday doing…well, anything but work. In fact, nearly 4 out of 10 Gen Z workers confess they’d consider quitting their jobs if Facebook was banned. Before you complain that this generation is just lazy, keep in mind that 16% of workers who are 25 to 65 years old would do the same.

But social media isn’t the only culprit when it comes to productivity problems in the workplace. Research shows that the average employee spends just 2 hours and 53 minutes working during an 8-hour shift. The remainder of the workday is spent socializing, snacking, shopping, and surfing the internet. A whopping 60% of online purchases are made during work, and business owners lose a combined total of $759 billion each year due to employees wasting so much of their workdays online.

These statistics blow my mind because I didn’t even get a break during most of my shifts at McDonald’s. We didn’t have anyone to cover me in the grill, where I often made burgers alone for hours at a time. Sometimes we were so short-handed that I’d take all the orders from the front line and drive thru customers, then rush to the grill to make them myself. The workday looks different for low-paid workers, especially those in the retail or restaurant industries.

When I worked at Target, customers would follow me to the bathroom with questions or scream in frustration when I turned off my register’s light. I’ll never forget the lady who made me cry on Black Friday because her shoes rang up the wrong price. Checkout lines stretched to the back of the store, but she went off on me for nearly 30 minutes before a manager was able to help. I was making $7.50 an hour.

At the grocery store, sometimes my coworkers and I would push carts inside before our shifts. Managers warned us to stop, but it was hard to resist when the parking lot was packed. We could either work for free or have customers cuss us out because the indoor cart corrals were empty. During the hectic holiday season, a lady ignored me when I asked “Is plastic okay?,” then threatened to have me fired for putting her bread in the wrong bag. I was 16 years old earning minimum wage.

Workplace theft is common

Have you ever stolen something from your job? The answer is likely yes, whether you cleaned out the cash register or swiped a few office supplies. Research shows that a whopping 3 out of 4 employees admit they’ve stolen from a current or previous employer. Additionally, 60% of workers confess they’d steal from their jobs if there was no chance of getting caught.

Most of these thefts don’t happen at fast food restaurants or your local gas station. Data indicates that workers in finance, healthcare, and insurance are more likely to steal than those in other industries. Regardless of your industry, workplace thefts cost employers more than $50 billion a year. A whopping 1 in 3 business owners end up filing for bankruptcy due to theft-related losses, yet people are furious when workers want minimum wage raised.

The FBI reports that only 30% of workers say they’d never steal from their employers. Employees who commit theft or fraud do so for different reasons, but only 10% claim they’re likely to steal no matter what. The remaining workers are often motivated to steal because employers treat them badly or don’t pay them fair wages.

Absenteeism is a common problem

Employees miss a lot of work, and I’m not talking about the ones with minimum-wage jobs. To be specific, health care workers often miss more days of work than employees in other industries. Yes, many folks would agree that medical workers are overworked and deserve time off from their jobs, but that’s a conversation for another article.

Additional data reveals that employees who work in tech, education, or the legal field have absenteeism rates that rival the health care sector. Nearly 60% of workers in the technology field say they’re experiencing burnout. More than 75% of teachers say they’re frequently stressed at work. Approximately 6 out of 10 lawyers are unhappy with their careers.

The difference between these workers and minimum-wage employees is how they’re treated when they miss a day. Minimum-wage workers are often dubbed lazy if they call in sick, and bosses are quick to threaten termination. I didn’t miss a day of work for years when I was a fast food manager. I hate admitting this because I feel guilty now, but I even went to work with strep throat and the flu. Many of my coworkers did the same; our boss expected it.

Also, absenteeism may be more common in industries where workers get sick days or paid vacation. I had none of that at my fast food job, so if I stayed home, I didn’t get paid. Think about that next time you see an employee coughing and sneezing at the grocery store or your favorite restaurant.

We all make mistakes at work

Minimum wage workers have become society’s scapegoats. It’s easy to criticize their choices when you don’t understand how hard most poverty-level employees actually work. Why do we demand perfection from anyone who wants a living wage? Let’s see how many mistakes you make when you work a 10-hour shift with no breaks and spend your day getting criticized by bosses, customers, and the rest of the world.

A living wage shouldn’t require a perfect job performance. Everyone has room for improvement in their career, including you. Remember that next time you vent about the low-paid employee making your burger.

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Full-time mom, student, and writer. I cover everything from parenting and personal finance to relationships and health.

O Fallon, MO
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