What's Your Responsibility to Employees?

Matt Haugan · June 28, 2014

I wanted to give a few thoughts regarding the question about our responsibility to our employees. I started out in a full service lab when I was 19, making a tad over minimum wage, 6 something if I remember correctly. Was 6 something hard to live on? Yes. I was recently married with a baby girl on the way. Did I hang a sign around my neck in protest to my employer to give me an undeserved raise? No. I worked hard, and I learned as fast as I could.. Each day was a challenge to see how much faster and better I could do the model work than the day before, and when I finished the model work I sat next to the waxer, watched, and learned... patiently. After a few months I was waxing up copings that the boss was happy with, soon after that I was waxing full contour (poorly, and slowly but the boss was happy with my ambition). Not long after I started (10 months or so) I received my first raise, not to $15 an hour that McDonald's employees demand, but it was a raise nonetheless. I didn't start making $15 an hour until somewhere around 23 or 24 years old, that was only 6 years ago. I continued this for 11 years, moving down the east coast and half way back again working at a handful of labs. Some labs paid better than others, some had different philosophies, some treated their employees differently than others, but either way I worked hard and continued to climb up the ladder. Along the way my wife and I had another baby boy, I worked whatever hours I could and as soon as I would get home she would be off to work at any one of her part time jobs and I was left as a single dad at night. At 26 I opened my own lab with a good friend (I'm now 30).

Is a dental lab McDonald's? No, but its a business all the same, and every business works off of the same basic principals. The statistics stated about McDonald's may be true, but are rather misleading to one who does not fully understand how a business operates. Is the starting wage low yes. But many earning that wage are not earning it for long as the facts lead you to believe, they cycle through many many people. Some are promoted, some move on to other jobs then more are hired and start at the bottom. McDonald's sells hamburgers, and if one wants to make selling hamburgers their career than shouldn't they attempt to climb the hamburger selling ladder? McDonald's gives many opportunities to its employees to do so, they even have their own Hamburger University for their future and current managers. Most employees will start at the bottom, they aren't stuck there for eternity, they can climb the McDonald's ladder rather quickly no different than I did, but it takes some work ethic and ambition. My best friend in high school worked at McDonald's and in less than a year he was promoted to a supervisors position. A few years after he opened his own pizza place. Should the minimum wage be increased? Maybe, but demanding $15/hour is beyond absurd and unsustainable for many companies. The outcome will certainly be outrageous prices for hamburgers which will result in much lower sales volume, resulting in many fewer jobs. We'll see how Seattle's experiment holds up in the next few years. I could make a few predictions.

Is paying a living wage a moral mandate? That's a loaded question. What is a living wage? Because our expectations seem to be rising. Many people in our country would call things they didn't have only 5 years ago "necessity" today. I bought my first "smart phone" last week, something that I'm certain many bottom of the ladder McDonald's employees have. Couldn't I afford one? Yes I could but I didn't see it as priority, so the extra money it takes to buy and operate a smart phone went to other things higher on the priority list. I have no employees yet. I could use one but sure couldn't afford one. So much more than just the "wage" goes into an employee's salary, like insurance, employee tax, vacation and sick time, etc. When and if the time comes I believe I will have to pay well and will gladly for the right person(s). Any fresh from school or "off the street" technician would necessarily start rather low, at least until evaluated for a few months. The more promise and ambition shown the more they will earn, that's how you climb the ladder.

Taking care of your employees should no doubt be somewhere on the top of the employers list in my opinion. But there has to be some accountability on the part of the employee as well, if you don't like your income situation then do something about it, that's what is so great about a free market! The easiest bandwagon to climb on is the one that is pointing the finger at someone else, we ought to spend a little more time evaluating ourselves.