Category Archives: Life at Work

Meet Siobhan Wilcox, Author and Stress Management Coach

Siobhan Wilcox rapelling down the the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego (Image courtesy of San Diego Union Tribune

Siobhan Wilcox rappelling down the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego (Image courtesy of San Diego Union Tribune)

Siobhan Wilcox describes herself as an author, speaker, stress management and spiritual life coach, founder of the Thrive Now Blueprint, and special needs mom. She is also kind, insightful, funny, dedicated and brave. In August, 2012, she rappelled 375 feet down the side of the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego, CA to raise money for Kids Included Together (KIT), a group that helps “organizations engage youth with and without disabilities.”

Photo of siobhan WIlcox

Siobhan, when she is not rappelling down a building.

I am honored to know Siobhan. In her coaching, she exhibits what I call rigorous compassion. In other words, calling me on my nonsense with candor, compassion and humor.  She has faced many challenges in her life and brings that experience to her work – guiding, coaching and questioning to help clients find their way and empowering them to take action.

In November 2014, she published her first book, Thrive Now Blueprint: Self-care & Success for Parents of Special Need Children. Her dedication to helping families with special needs infuses every page of the book. She offers information and suggestions for self-care and stress management that are helpful for everyone, not just parents.

To learn more about Siobhon, visit her website: www.Siobhandwilcox.com

To contact her: e-mail Siobhan@siobhanwilcox.com

Thrive Now Blueprint: Self-Care & Success Strategies for Parents of Special Needs Children

Identify Your Values

Tree with sign showing direction of lewss and more dificult decisions.

Note: This is the second of three articles on identifying and living your values at work to support your well-being. Click here to read the first article: Your Values at Work.

Identify Your Values
Before you can use your values to support your well-being at work, you must clarify what you value and how important each value is to you. Here is a simple four-step process to help you recognize your values at work. Answer the following questions:

  • What is important to me about my life and work? List 5 – 7 values?
  • How do I define each value?
  • Why is each value important to me?
  • Is this value important in my work? Rank each value on a scale of 1 – 10 (1 = least important and 10: most important).

Example

Value: Challenging Work

Definition: A work task that is stimulating, interesting, and thought-provoking or forces me out of my comfort zone or tests my knowledge skills and abilities

Why is this Important? I am easily bored with routine. I need to learn and feel like I am improving existing skills or learning new ones

Affirm Your Values
List your top three (3) work-related values below and answer the following questions:

  1. Does this value make me feel good about myself?
  2. Am I willing and comfortable in telling people I respect about you value?
  3. Am I willing to stand by this value even if I am in the minority or it makes me unpopular

You may find it helpful to think of situations where your values might be challenged. For example, if integrity is one of your top three values, would you lie to an angry client instead of admitting  that you made a mistake? This may seem overly simplistic; but, these are the type of values based problems you face at work every day.

Consider this…

When it comes time to make that decision,  all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are.

~ Michelle Obama

Identify a time when you made a decision based on your values. How do you feel about it – then and now?

Next: Live You Values – Walk the Talk

 

Being Joyful

Photo of a happy dog representing joy

My dog is “joy on four paws.”

My Joyful Experience
Late on a recent autumn afternoon, I was in the car running errands. As I approached the neighborhood middle school I saw a group of girls on the sidewalk, all wearing soccer uniforms. Even from a distance, I could see that they were excited; they were jumping and dancing around, big smiles on their faces. I could hear their shouts and laughter as I approached. They were also waving at every passing care. As I passed them I waved back and honked the car horn.

The middle school sits on a corner where traffic signals control the intersection. As I waited for the traffic light to change, I saw three girls break off from the group and run toward my car. I lowered the window and shouted to them, “Sid you win your game?”

“Yes,” they yelled back, which led to another bout of jumping, dancing and laughter.

“Girls rule and you rock,” I replied, prompting high fives and more cheers.

The traffic signal changed to green; the driver behind me tapped his horn; and I had to drive on.

I am so thankful to these young soccer players for sharing their joy with me. It made my day. Not only is joy contagious, it expands when you share it. Now, every time I pass the middle school I think of those wonderful joyful girls and I smile.

The Nature of Joy
The girls were certainly happy. but they were also full of joy. Happiness is a personal experience but joy is a shared experience. They could not have won the game if everyone on the team didn’t do their best. It was the shared experience of working together to win the game that turned a happy experience into a joyful one.

According to George E. Vaillant, M.D., psychiatrist and author of the book Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith (2008), happiness is giggling at a Tom and Jerry cartoon, Joy is laughing from the gut, and we often weep with joy. Happiness displaces pain. Joy encompasses pain.

Although best known for his controversial book On the Origin of Species, naturalist Charles Darwin published several other books, including The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). In this book, he identified human emotions, both positive and negative, and described how people express these emotions. He identified these physical indicators of joy:

  • Muscle trembling
  • Purposeless moving
  • Laughing
  • Clapping hands
  • Jumping about
  • Chuckling/giggling
  • Stamping feet
  • Muscles around the eyes contracting
  • Upper lip raising

In other words, exactly the movements and facial expressions of the middle school girls.

Nearly 100 years later, University of California, Berkeley psychology professor Paul Ekman validated Darwin’s findings and showed that these and other physical signs of emotion are universal. Regardless of people’s national or racial origins or where in the world they live, they display same physical symptoms of joy.[1]

Sharing Joy
Have you ever listened carefully or read the lyrics of the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth SymphonyOde to Joy. The first three lines are sung as a solo by a baritone:

Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us raise our voices in more
Pleasing and more joyful sounds!

The words were originally written by the German poet, Fredrick von Schiller; but, it took Beethoven’s musical genius to help us “get it” in the truest sense of the words. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was a connection between Schiller, Beethoven and, to this day, every audience that hears it. Notice that throughout the poem, Schiller used plural nouns like we and us and not singular nouns like I or me. In other words, joy is about being connected to one another.

Summary of Happiness and Joy

Happiness…

  • Is temporary
  • Is self-centered (such as, success)
  • Resides in the limbic system of the brain, which controls functions like emotion, behavior, motivation and long-term memory
  • Is eating cookies

Joy…

  • Lingers
  • Comes from connections with others (such as, tears of joy over the rescue of a lost child)
  • Resides in the left pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is involved in complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision-making, and social behavior
  • Is sharing cookies with a friend.

Consider this…

Joy is increased by spreading it to others. ~ Robert Murray McCheyne

What will you do this week to spread joy to others?

References

[1] Ekman, P., Sorenson, E. R., Friesen, W.V., “Pan Cultural Elements of Facial Display of Emotion”, Science, New Series, Vol 164, 3875, April 4, 1969, 86 –88.

Developing Self-realization

 

Help wanted inwuire within sign with arrows poiting to heart and mind of on human figure representing the sources of self-realization for well-being

Self-realization is often called self-actualization by psychologists and self-fulfillment by philosophers and spiritual thinkers. Regardless of the term you use, the concept is the same. Self-realization is the process of maximizing what is inherently part of your nature. Just as a mustard seed will naturally become a tree, or a puppy to become a dog, so you have the power to develop your “natural” capabilities and to use them to develop more skills. It is an ongoing process and not a goal. It is both a freedom and a choice. You have the freedom to choose which of your innate capabilities you will fulfill.

Self-realization means that you have a future you can envision and desires you can realize. In seeking self-realization, ask yourself:

  • How can I make the best of myself?
  • What are my innate capabilities and how can I development them?
  • What desires do I want to achieve?
  • How do my capabilities support my aspirations?

Your desires depend on your capabilities. I love music. I took both piano and guitar lessons. Unfortunately I have no musical talent and pursuing a career in music would be extremely frustrating and likely to end in failure. Similarly, I love to paint, especially watercolors. But, my eyes don’t work together properly, so I have problems with depth perception. This limits my ability to create realistic images. So, I compensate by focusing on abstract expressionist painting, where depth perception is not so important.

Rather that abandon my aspirations, I found ways to build my passions into my life given the constraints of my innate capabilities, but still finding happiness and fulfillment in these areas of my life. I listen to music constantly, fulfilling my musical desires and I paint for myself, my family and friends in my unique abstract way, which brings me joy.

Self-realization is a Journey
Self-realization is not a straight line. It is a process – a journey of discovery, with wrong turn, distractions, failures and success. Urban legend claims that Thomas Edison failed anywhere from 700 to 10,000 times to invent a better light bulb. According to Walter S. Madison, a longtime associate of Edison, when he commented to Edison about his lack of results, the inventor replied, Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work. (1) This is the process of self-realization, trial and error fueled by persistence. But the number of trial and error cycles you go through can be minimized through mindful preparation.

Ponder this
Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. ~Thomas A. Edison  

What are you considering giving up, that if you try just one more time may lead you to success?

 Next: Self Realization at work

Reference

  1. Dyer, F. L. and Martain, T.C. Edison: His Life and Inventions, 1910

Human figure image courtesy of Door to Self-esteem

 

 

Problem-solving with Perspective

Quote: A penny will hide the biggest star in the Universe if you hold it close enough to your eye.~Samuel Grafton and image of the north star partly covered by a penny

When a problem comes up in the course of the workday, what is our typical reaction? Is it, I don’t know what to do, or I know what is wrong, or I’ll just fix it? Many times, we know exactly how to fix a problem, but what if the problem is new, complex or one, we haven’t seen before?  We tend to function in a context of: We know what’s wrong. Let’s just fix it.But, do we really know what’s wrong or is it just our personal perception of the problem? Understanding other people’s perspectives and the reasoning behind it can help us define the situation and see the problem clearly.

Need for Perspective
Each of our co-workers, customers and managers has their own view or perspective of the world that is filtered by the their life experiences. Even identical twins look at the world from different perspectives. Finding out what other people think about a situation is an essential part of effective problem-solving, particularly with new, complex or highly visible problems.  When deciding what input you need about a problem, consider the following:

  • Who might be able to contribute to my thinking?
  • Who might be seeing something that I do not?
  • Who will need to implement the decision that is made and how might their view affect the planned solution?
  • What functions are not represented in my thinking?
  • Who is new on our team and what is that person’s point of view? Sometimes, that person may see things we miss or take for granted.

Ask Questions
What is the best way to learn the perspective of others? Ask questions! Not only will it give you a different perspective on the problem; it will build stronger relationship with those you ask. Remember, as much as we like to think, “I know it all,” we really don’t. Our co-workers may have additional insight about the problem and clients.

When seeking a person’s perspective, remember that there are not right or wrong answers. Even the “facts” of a situation depend on their knowledge and experience. Here are some tips for asking questions to elicit the perspective of others.

  • Ask different types of questions: factual, interpretation (how or why), and evaluation (opinion, belief or point of view).
  • Ask open-ended, rather than yes/no questions.
  • Check your assumptions and those of the person with whom you are speaking.
  • Listen carefully and ask clarifying questions.

Remember to ask the Five W and One H questions reporters use for basic information gathering:

  1. What happened?
  2. Who was involved?
  3. Where did it take place?
  4. When did it take place?
  5. Why did it happen?
  6. How did it happen?

A Final Thought

Asking the right questions (and listening carefully to the answers) can help you think more clearly, take   accountability for your actions, and accomplish your goals more easily…”

Merilee Goldberg, Ph.D

References

Goldberg, M., (1997) The Art of the Question: A Guide to Short Term Question-centered Therapy, New York: Wiley

This article was originally published on Linked In Pulse June 10, 2014.

The Lesson of the 100th Monkey – Small Acts of Transformation at Work

Koshima MonkeysThe 100th Monkey
Scientists have been studying the Macaca fuscata (better known as the macaque), a wild monkey species native to Japan, for many years. On the island of Koshima, the scientists left sweet potatoes on the sand along the beach for the monkeys. This allowed them to observe the macaques more closely. The monkeys liked the taste of the sweet potatoes; but, did not like the sand that dusted the potatoes. A 19-month old female, the scientists named Imo, discovered that she could remove the sand by washing the potatoes in water nearby. Soon, her mother was washing her potatoes. Shortly thereafter, her playmates and their mothers learned to wash their potatoes. Within three years, all the younger monkeys and their mothers were washing their sweet potatoes, but not the older monkeys. Then, something remarkable happened – suddenly all the Koshima monkeys were washing their potatoes.  

The story of The Hundredth Monkey was first told by Lyall Watson in his book Lifetide (1979). It has become popular as a strategy for social and organizational change and its central idea is that when enough individuals in a group adopt a new idea or behavior, an ideological breakthrough occurs that allows this new awareness to be communicated directly from mind to mind without the connection of external experience. Then all individuals in the population spontaneously adopt it. “It may be that when enough of us hold something to be true, it becomes true for everyone.” (1)

In the original published research, there was no mention of a critical threshold number of monkeys. So, rather than an example of spontaneous transmission of ideas, the story of the Koshima macaques is an example of a change in the basic operating assumptions of the group (also called a paradigm shift or a transformation), where a new idea or behavior gradually spreads throughout a group such as a team, department, or organization. It is also an example of how a simple behavior change can lead to extensive culture change.

(The 100th Monkey: A Story of Social Change was written by Key Keys Jr. and first published in his book The Hundredth Monkey in 1982. I summarized the story for this blog.)

Transforming the Workplace
According to the Social Transformation Project in Oakland, CA, Transformation is a profound, fundamental change, altering the very nature of something. Transformational change is both radical and sustainable. Something that is transformed can never go back to exactly what it was before.” (2)

When I use the word transformation, I am not referring to gigantic corporate change projects that cause you to roll your eyes or cringe. I am referring to small incremental acts that start with individual workers – like you and me. Small quiet acts of kindness towards our co-workers, managers, clients and vendors can change the environment of the workplace. How we behave, how we do our work – basically how we live our lives – has the power to influence and eventually change the behavior of others. Organizational development specialists and psychologists call it “modeling desired behavior.” Rather than telling others how they should behave; we demonstrate the desired behavior in an authentic, respectful way without explanations or expectations of the other person.

Ideas for Small Acts of Transformation
Small acts of transformation are free. They cost us nothing but a little thought, time and kindness. They spread from person to person, like the common cold. You smile and say hello to me. I smile and say hello to the next person and on, and on it goes. Here are some suggestions for small transformational acts:

  • Share information with your co-workers and managers.
  • Invite a co-worker to take a break with you or have lunch together.
  • Acknowledge your mistakes, apologize and explain how you will correct the situation.
  • Keep your word – when you say you will do something, do it.
  • Refrain from gossiping.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • When speaking with others, use “we” rather than “I.”
  • Refrain from judging – give others the benefit of the doubt.
  • Ask a co-worker to teach you something new or show you how to improve a task.
  • Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Offer to help a co-worker.
  • Ask co-workers about their families, pets, hobbies, etc. and show genuine interest in their responses.

This is the lesson of the 100th monkey – with kindness and patience, we can change our workplaces for the better. Do you have an idea for a small act of transformation? Share it with us in the form below.

 

References

1. Watson, Lyall, Lifetide, New York: NY: Simon and Schuster, 1979

2. Gass, Robert, “What is Transformation?” Social Transformation Project, http://www.stproject.org/resources/publications/what-is-transformation/ , retrieved April 4, 2014

 

 

No Muss, No Fuss Problem-Solving

Solve this Problem Image Courtesy of Microsoft Office

Solve this Problem
Image Courtesy of Microsoft Office

The bad news is that problems are a part of everyday life and work problems are no exception. Those who can solve problems quickly and effectively with no muss, and no fuss are a manager’s pride and joy and co-workers’ new best friends.

The good news is that anyone can learn to be an effective problem solver. All it takes is a simple problem-solving methodology, the ability to remain objective and calm, along with the patience to practice.

S-BAR (Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation) is a simple problem-solving technique. It is easy to learn, implement, and use. It also takes the “emotion” out of problem-solving because there is no place for finger pointing. S-BAR is fact-based problem-solving. In 1979, NASA developed the S-BAR communications model for problem-solving as a tool for the Crew Resource Management (CRM) program (also known as TeamSTEPPS in health care). NASA developed CRM and S-BAR as a way to reduce human errors leading to the majority of aviation accidents. In written communication, it is known as S-BAR(C). The (C) stands for communicate. 

You may not work in a high-risk field like the military, aviation, health care, or nuclear energy. Even so, you still need good problem-solving skills and S-BAR(C) is a simple tool that is easy to implement and use.

The essential element of S-BAR is open, objective communication that takes the emotion out of the situation because it uses a Dragnet approach – “just the facts.” In addition, S-BAR sets a standard for the information required to solve a problem effectively.

S = Situation: Briefly describe the current situation, giving a clear concise summary of the situation and issue(s). Identify what needs to be decided.

B = Background: Briefly describe “how we got to this point,” including pertinent history without pointing fingers or placing blame.

A = Assessment: Summarize your view of the topic, alternatives assessed; key questions; and the proposed scope of the decision – who/what will be affected.

R = Recommendation: What solution are you recommending? What actions are you requesting? How will you implement the solution? How will you monitor the solution’s effectiveness?

(C) = Communication: How will the decision be communicated and to whom – among administrative areas, all those affected by the decision, all interested parties, etc.?

You, your co-workers and manager will find that S-BAR is simple and easy to use.  Decision makers like it because it is clear and concise and gives them the information they need to make decisions. If supporting details are needed, use the S-BAR(C) for written communication and attach the supporting documents to it.

A Final Thought

Author Wayne Dyer offers some words of wisdom on problem-solving:

“Don’t “pole-vault over mouse truds” – by the time you’ve discussed the many options available to you, the problem itself could have been long behind you had you simply disposed of those rodent droppings with a simple tissue and dumped them into the garbage!” 

In other words, keep it simple and S-BAR is the “simple tissue” (tool) you use for solving all types of problems – both simple and complex.

Intentional Well-being at Work: From Chaos to Calm on the Job

From Chaos to Calm (Images courtesy of Microsoft Office)

From Chaos to Calm
(Images courtesy of Microsoft Office)

Does this sound familiar?

  • You work an average of 8.8 hours per day or more.
  • You rarely take breaks when working.
  • You frequently take work home.
  • “Employees have been doing more with less — and for less — for over half a decade, and that reality doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.” Towers Watson, 2012

It’s business as usual!

  •  Your job is in a constant state of change with increasing demands and pressures.
  • Management says, “Work smarter, not harder,” “Do more with less,” and “It’s not personal; it’s business.”
  • Employee cynicism and mistrust are so common; researchers have given the problem a name –The Dilbert Syndrome.

Intentional Well-being at Work: From Chaos to Calm on the Job is about:

  •  Maintaining and enhancing your well-being on the job
  • Finding peace and meaning at work;
  • Making the most of the time you spend at work to help yourself, your family, co-workers, friends, employer and community.  

The Intentional Well-being at Work Project

This project focuses on what you can control or influence and yes, there are things you can control on the job. Take a few minutes to complete the on-line survey and/or respond to a few work-related questions using the links below:

Questions or comments? Please use the contact form below.

Thank you,
Diane C., MA HRIR

 

Workplace Culture and How It Can Help You

 

Office Despair (Photo courtesy of MS Office, used with permission)

Office Despair
(Photo courtesy of MS Office, used with permission)

“That’s not the way we do things here,” echoes throughout offices, factories and stores around the world. It signals that workers identify with and want to protect the culture of their workplace.  When people work together regularly, even just two or three, they develop a culture that is as important as the work and may be a driver of or an obstacle to the work. Those who ignore the powerful force of workplace culture do so at their own peril.

What is culture in the workplace?
Culture involves a system of behaviors, beliefs, attitudes and values. It develops over time and is passed on from one generation of workers to the next. It is a reflection of what is valued. For example, the Google workplace culture is based on Ten Things We Know to Be True. These drive the company and shape its culture. (1)

Why is it important?
If you are like many workers, you spend more time at work than you do with your family and friends; so, you want it to be meaningful, enjoyable and productive. Frequently, these factors are as important, if not more important than the salary you are paid. (2)

Workplace culture drives employee loyalty. It is easier to attract and retain the best employees when an organization has a dynamic, thriving culture where employees feel valued and enjoy their work. Employee perceptions of the workplace also influence the public reputation of the organization. Companies like SAS and Google frequently top the lists of best places to work. Although they offer excellent pay and benefits, the main reason for their ranking is the relationship between the firm and its workers.

Leadership and Culture
Leadership is a major driver of workplace culture. In some organizations, workers are told little about how their work fits into the overall scheme of things. Teams tend to work in isolated silos and there is little cooperation across teams. (3) When a strong positive culture is present, leaders and workers share the same goals, and employees understand their roles and are engaged in the work. The business typically reaches its strategic and financial objectives.

Many leaders underestimate the role of workplace culture. Management consultant Peter Drucker, said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and the best strategic plans will wither and die in the face of organizational culture.

Other Cultural Factors
Language and communication styles are cultural signals that help you understand the environment. In some organizations, it is acceptable for an employee to hold an impromptu hallway meeting with co-workers to discuss a work issue, while in other organizations, all meetings must be scheduled. In addition, each workplace has its own jargon that sets it apart from other companies and also separates departments in a company. For example, computer engineers talk about cloud computing and icons while human resources representatives talk about coordination of benefits (COB).

In addition, dress code; workspace allocation – who gets a cubicle and who gets an office; the presence of union agreements; along with state and federal labor laws help shape the culture.

Your Well-being and Organizational Culture
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, well-being is “the state of being or doing well in life and by understanding your organization’s culture, you can support and even enhance your well-being at work. Use the following suggestions to learn more about your workplace culture and use it to support your well-being at work.

  • Opt for face-to-face or web-based conferencing software for discussions or meetings rather than telephone calls or e-mails. Body language says a lot about the culture and power hierarchy at work. Notice how and under what conditions others make eye contact. As others speak and listen, notice their facial expressions, gestures, posture and movements. These are signs of what they are thinking or feeling.
  • Don’t take your smartphone to meetings. According to a recent study conducted by Washington, Okono, and Cardon (2013) at the University of Southern California, the majority of people surveyed reported that they considered using smartphones in a meeting as disrespectful. It showed the person was not listening and was at the “beck and call” of others. In other words, the person had no power. The study covered the various types of phone use including answering calls, reading messages, texting and surfing the internet. (4)
  • Take time to get to know your co-workers. A chat at the coffee stand or the copy machine can help you build bridges that lead to trust and cooperation.
  • Do not hoard information – share it. People don’t like to be surprised, especially your boss. There are those at work, who use information as power or currency. However, they may not be respected or even well liked.
  • Ask questions. If you are not sure of the appropriate response in a specific situation, ask questions to clarify it. “Will you say a little more about that?” “What can you tell me about XYZ?”
  • Be willing to laugh at yourself. It shows that you can “see the forest and not just the trees”. Self-deprecating humor reduces stress and builds bonds with your co-workers.
  • Get involved. Offer to help your co-workers, volunteer to serve on committees, or company-sponsored charitable or community activities.

References 

  1. Google Corporate Philosophy: Ten Things We Know to be True http://www.google.com/intl/en/corporate/tenthings.html
  2.  Rynes, S. L., Gerhart, B., and Minette, M L., “The Importance of Pay in Employee Motivation,” Human Resources Management Journal,  Winter, 2004pp. 381 – 394http://www.utm.edu/staff/mikem/documents/Payasamotivator.pdf
  3. Money Instructor: What is Work-Place Culture and Why Do I Care? http://www.moneyinstructor.com/art/workculture.asp
  4. Washington, M. C., Okono, E. A.. and Cardon, P.W. “Perceptions of Civility for Mobile Phone Use in Formal and Informal Meetings,” Business Communications Quarterly,October 24, 2013

In case you are interested…

Minimum Wage or Living Wage: What’s the Difference?

 

Wages Photo courtesy of www.all-free-download.com, used with permission.

Wages
Photo courtesy of www.all-free-download.com, used with permission.

If you follow the national news, you know about the debate between the employees  of large retail stores and fast-food restaurants and the companies about the minimum wage and the living wage.  Many of these businesses pay the minimum wage per hour set by federal or state laws. Workers are asking for an hourly pay rate closer to the living wage. This article does not take sides in the debate. Its purpose is to inform you, my gentle readers, about the issues, allowing you to make up your own mind about the issue.

Simply stated, the minimum wage is the lowest pay rate mandated by federal, state or local law, while the living wage is a social justice concept that provides a rate of pay tied to the local cost of living or the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Both types of wages are an effort to insure that workers receive a base pay rate. This is a concept that is as old as the Bible.  In Deuteronomy 24:14, we are told, “do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy” and Timothy tells us “do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy” (1 Timothy 24:14). Both the minimum wage and living wage are designed to help workers with limited education, job skills or work experience support themselves.

Minimum Wage Law
The minimum wage law was implemented in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The initial minimum pay rate was $0.25 per hour, and it reached $0.40 per hour in 1945. The minimum wage has been raised by Congress 29 times since 1938. Many states have laws that set a high minimum wage. For example, as of January 1, 2013, the minimum wage in Alaska was $7.75, Florida – $7.79,Michigan – $7.40, Ohio – $7.85 and Oregon – $8.95 per hour. Cities and counties may also have their own minimum wage laws. In San Francisco City and County, the minimum wage was $10.55 in 2013 while the state minimum wage was $8.00 per hour.

So how do workers know which wage applies based on where they live? The law that provides the most benefit to the worker is the one that applies. Therefore, minimum-wage workers in Alaska would be paid the state minimum wage of $7.75 rather than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour while workers in San Francisco would be paid $10.55 per hour rather than the California minimum wage of $8.00 an hour. In states where there is no minimum wage law or the minimum wage is lower than the federal minimum wage; the federal rate is the mandatory base pay.

In some states, people who work for wages plus tips, such as restaurant workers and bar tenders have a lower minimum wage than the state or federally mandated wage. For example, bar tenders in Michigan earn a minimum wage of $2.65 per hour plus tips.

Read More About It: If you want to know what you state minimum wage rate is, please visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division web site. It shows rates as of January, 2013.

Living Wage
The living wage concept was introduced by Pope Leo XIII, in an encyclical (a public letter) published in 1891. He declared that the living wage was a protection against poverty. Since that time, the living wage has been supported by labor, religious and social service organizations.  The concept is that those who work full time should not have to live in poverty. A worker earning a living wage has the income necessary to pay for basic needs, such as housing, food, clothing, and transportation and would not need government assistance such as Medicaid or Food Stamps. The living wage is also designed to reward hard work and reduce the number of working poor.

Since 1994, the concept of a living wage has been incorporated in state and local laws in 140 locations throughout the United States, including the state of Maryland and the cities of Boston, St. Louis and Los Angeles. When it is a law, it is usually higher than both the federal and state minimum wages. In Boston, the 2013 living wage rate was $13.76, while the Massachusetts state minimum wage was $8.00 per hour.

In many areas, companies that work with city or county government agencies must pay the local living wage. In some areas, ordinances may even mandate a stipend to cover health care costs. In Los Angeles County, companies doing business with government agencies must pay their full-time workers the local living wage of $9.64 per hour plus $2.20 per hour for health care.

Read More About It: Thanks the Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT), you can look up the living wage for the area in which you live using the MIT Living Wage Calculator .

Consumer Price Index
The living wage is tied to the Consumer Price Index. The CPI is a “measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services” maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CPI tracks price changes in food, transportation, housing, education, health care, recreation and other goods and services.

Read More About It: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers information about the CPI on its website – Consumer Price Index Frequently Asked Questions.

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