In her early 2014 book The Good Jobs Strategy, MIT business professor Zeynep Ton made what was then a counterintuitive case for paying retail workers more and giving them greater responsibility over their work—happy, productive employees often translates into higher profits, she argued. In the year and a half since the book’s publication, her ideas have gained traction. Even Walmart, once a target of Ton’s criticism, has raised wages for many of its lowest-paid workers. Companies now hire “workplace happiness gurus.” Still, Ton isn’t satisfied with what she’s seeing.
I recently spoke with her about the changing business landscape and what she sees as the successes and the shortcomings of these efforts. This interview had been edited for length and clarity.
Saki Knafo: In April, Walmart gave many of its workers a raise, and they’re already reporting a lower workforce turnover rate. This seems to be a strategy taken right from your playbook. Is that how you see it?
Zeynep Ton: Based on what they say, they are moving in the right direction. They are increasing the minimum wages of their employees and also thinking about their scheduling practices, which is something the media didn’t pay as much attention to. The scheduling of employees is a huge problem in these industries. So I think these are all steps in the right direction, but they are by no means enough. They are not enough for employees, they are not enough for investors, and they are not enough for customers.