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The Biggest Raise I Ever Received

March 5, 2013

It’s not what you think.

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A dollar. $1.00 per hour was by far the largest raise I’ve ever received. Probably doesn’t seem like much. But, looks can be deceiving.

The year was 1983. I worked as a delivery boy for a local furniture store, Arden’s Appliance. We sold washers, dryers, Lay-Z-Boy recliners, and Laser Disc players. I was 18 and fresh out of high school. It was a temporary job since I was planning to leave on a mission for the Mormon church after I turned 19.

I enjoyed the work. I worked with my friend Rick and we both had the same attitude about work. . .get it done as quickly and as well as you can. Arden’s promised free delivery, and more than once people who came in and bought a new washer and dryer found us parked in their driveway by the time they got home.

I made $2.50/hour. I was excited about that since minimum wage was $2.30. I took home a hefty $100 each week before taxes. As the date of my mission drew nearer, I gave the owners notice and we decided on a final day a couple of weeks in the future. I also had a conversation with Arden’s wife, who’s name escapes me after all these years.

“Ah. . .I was wondering if I could talk to you about a raise?”

“But, you’re leaving in 10 days. Why ask about a raise now?

“Well, see when you apply for a job, they ask you what your starting and ending wage was at your previous job. I figure if you could give me a raise on my final paycheck, it will help me when I apply for my next job. They don’t have to know it was only for a week.”

“I see. I’ll talk it over with Arden.”

And that was it.

The next week and a half went by without any more on the subject. My final paycheck was in an envelope. They handed it to me, shook my hand and wished me well.

My heart was beating as I walked to my car. I really wanted to open that envelope, but I also wanted to look mature. (Very important to an 18 year old.) I did manage to wait until I reached the car.

I was expecting 10%. I let myself imagine an extra $10. The number was bigger than that. MUCH bigger. I checked the gross payment line and saw $140. I was hoping for 10% and instead I’d gotten four times that.

Think what that would mean to you and your paycheck. Have you ever gotten a 40% raise? I hope so, but I’ve never got anywhere close to that.

Microsoft was very generous and 10%-15% wasn’t unheard of. Working for a non-profit anything about 1% was considered good.

So, what’s the lesson here?

We need to look at little things. We don’t have to spend a lot of money to impress our employees. In fact, often money is not even the most important compensation.

When I worked for RESMARK we had a policy where we would ask new hires what they liked to drink. (Fortunately none said alcohol, or I would have had to modify my plan.) Surprisingly most wanted water. And not even bottled water. They wanted a water cooler.

We had one employee though who was addicted to diet Coke. He drank A LOT.

One day, Russell, my office manager came to me.

“I don’t get it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You said that you have a reason for every decision you make in the office, right?”

“Right.”

“Then, I don’t understand why money is tight and yet you buy as much soda as people want to drink. Dave drinks A LOT of diet Coke.”

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“Look, I don’t provide soda and drinks because I’m a nice guy. It’s purely business.”

I could see that Russell wasn’t convinced.

“Let’s suppose that Dave drinks $100 worth of diet Coke every month.”

“Well, that would be 15 – 20 cans per day.”

“Yeah, but let’s just suppose he did. Dave makes $80,000 per year. And he’s on salary. That means that he makes the equivalent of $40 / hour. If I can keep him working an extra 15 minutes per day because he doesn’t have to walk down to the Maverick on the corner, that’s an extra 4 hours per month that he’s working. That’s about $160 dollars worth of additional work I get from him per month and all it costs me is $100.”

I could see the light start to go on for Russell.

“Okay, I think I get it.”

“One more point. I could give Dave that $100 and he’d be pretty happy. But, it’s about 2% of his salary. He’d barely notice it. And he has direct deposit, so he’d quickly forget about it. But, with this plan, every time he walks to the refrigerator and gets another diet Coke he’s reminded of how nice it is to work here. . . we give him free diet Coke!”

The lesson is that you don’t have to do extravagant gestures to make an impression. For your company it might not be free diet Coke. But, whatever it is needs to be done with an eye toward the employees. And it doesn’t even matter if you tell them your plan. I shared with Dave the exact reason I was providing free diet Coke. He understood, but since he was getting his free drinks, he didn’t see it as manipulative. He remembers it to this day. And even 35 years later, I remember the biggest raise I ever received.

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