Think back to the last time you stood waiting for a slow elevator. Did you find yourself hitting the up or down button again? Or maybe again and again? You think that elevator came any sooner?
Patience may be a virtue, but few of us have much of it when life appears to be moving faster and faster every day. The truth is, however, the pace of life has always been accelerating, throughout all of civilization’s history. Every tool invented, whether chiseled from stone, forged from steel, or laser-engraved in silicon – absolutely every single invention worth anything at all – was invented to do one thing: to save time.
Time is the single most significant limitation imposed universally on all human life, so when we save time, we create genuine economic value.
Time is money, and real time is real money. Whether it’s accessing your bank account, summoning a car, ordering a pizza, or swiping right to hook up – the value we place on instantaneous, real-time action can hardly be overstated.
And, in the same way that saving time creates real economic value, value can also be used to create more time, can’t it? By taking a taxi instead of the bus, for instance, or by hiring someone else to cut your lawn, you can use your money to buy a little more time for yourself.
Unless you’re a lower-paid worker, that is. In which case you will rarely be in the position of buying more time for yourself. Instead, you will almost always find yourself selling time, not buying it. You’ll be happy to trade your time for just a bit more money, perhaps by working another shift, or by taking a second job, or by fixing your own car. If you’re a lower-paid worker, your financial wellbeing depends on whatever time you’re able to sell to others.
For most of us, the relationship between time and money may be obvious, but it’s not something to obsess over. Lower paid workers, however, are much more intimately familiar with the value and uses of time, because they have to be. More than 60% of working Americans have less than $500 in savings, which means that the vast majority of hourly workers have literally no financial flexibility, no resilience. With so little in savings to buffer them, they’re much more vulnerable to the untimely hiccups of ordinary life. Their finances are not just stretched, but brittle; even a minor financial timing problem can shatter a lower-paid worker’s fragile financial wellbeing.
If you’re a member of the first group of people, and you can afford to spend a little money to buy yourself a few hours of free time occasionally, then for you, “financial wellness” likely involves choosing to work for a company offering a good retirement plan – a plan that will let you retire (or at least partially retire) sooner rather than later.
However, if you’re in the second group of people, meaning you’re constantly on the lookout for ways to exchange a few hours of your day or night for a bit of extra money, then “financial wellness” means something else altogether. Rather than worrying about retirement, your financial concerns will be much more immediate. The concern that keeps you awake at night will be something like how to buy your kids’ back-to-school supplies this week, while payroll doesn’t happen until next week!
So, if you are an employer, and you’re wondering how to keep your employees happy and engaged, then you need to keep in mind the differences between these two types of workers. And think seriously about how to care for your lower income employees every bit as carefully as you already care for the rest of your workforce.