Published in 2023, The Case for Good Jobs is operational management professor Zeynep Ton's second book following The Good Jobs Strategy (2014). In its 200 pages, The Case for Good Jobs uses Awareness, Courage and Implementation sections to signpost how managers transition from a low-performing workforce with low-quality jobs to a world in which executives effectively position their frontline workforce for success. Repeatedly, customer happinesses trumps pure cost analysis, with process improvement being a key operational lever for Ton.

Published in the wake of several years of acute low staffing since Covid-19's outbreak, Ton's timely study addresses a problem not unique to the U.S. economy. From healthcare facilities to call centres, fulfilment centres, big retail and factories, large employers continue to be puzzled by what economic measures should be put in place to stabilize and future-proof their businesses.

Throughout the book, the MIT Sloan School of Management professor articulates the argument and also the process for introducing operational employments which result in better jobs. Four operational principles are reinforced from The Good Jobs Strategy:

  • Focus and simplify
  • Standardise and empower
  • Cross-train
  • Operate with slack

In Mark Graban - Lean Blog Podcast #477, Ton highlights the inbound enquiries after publishing the 2014 book - case studies that help color The Case for Good Jobs. Ton's consultancy firm Good Jobs Institute is now working with over 20 companies, each determined to make a systems change to give frontline staff the best chance of delivering outcomes for customers. Beyond retail supply chains, now restaurants, care homes and even pest control companies are benefiting - as it turns out, many sectors can benefit from steering away from 100% utilisation and "smoothing" workloads.

The importance of good jobs is backed with data. One of Ton's students spent time working part-time in a new store in New York, tracking 82.75 hours of work in which 15% of time was spent idle. 8% of time was spent wasted on useless tasks, "for example, when the manager purposefully knocked over towels for her and her colleagues to refold." Research from 1998 mentions a doomed specialty retailer who had a stockout rate of 18% and a shrink rate of 1.6%. Inventory accuracy was also off by 30% of SKUs.

Ton candidly approaches the problem directly. In the book's opening, the offering of a seasonal ski pass to low-income employees is scolded - it did not solve the problem of low pay or a 607:1 earnings ratios between execs and entry-level staff. Contrary to popular discourse in workforce development, Ton also argues that upskilling doesn't solve all problems - better pay, schedules and operations design are part of suite of levers to better position employees for success.

Other highlights

  • Low pay hurts performance on the job (p.44). PayPal employees at soup kitchen until company President Dan Schulman noticed (p.34).
  • Walmart entered good jobs fray under CEO Greg Foran (p.69). Continued under John Furner since 2019.
  • Between 1985 and 2022, Costco's revenues grew at 12% compounded rates, with profits at 13% (share price 17% compounded). James Sinegal was leader.
  • Mark Bertolini of Aetna: direct annual cost of voluntary employee turnover was $27 million (twice what it would cost to raise pay)

Rick Wartzman's Still Broke is another book to check into. Also listen to #228 Mark Graban - an earlier interview with Zeynep Ton.