For most of my life, I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t leave a tip for the housekeeper in the hotels in which I stayed. My wife always did, but I somehow didn’t pay attention. Only recently did I wake up to just how little these folks earn, and how exhausting their jobs typically are.
Any person who puts in an honest day’s work ought to be paid a living wage. The average pay for a housekeeper runs $7 to $9 an hour, according to Glassdoor.
That’s not a living wage. Even working 40 hours a week, the average housekeeper’s annual income falls below the federal poverty line $23,850 for a family of four. The same is true for millions of retail and food service workers and others in a range of low-end jobs.
I’ve written before about the evidence that paying employees better (and treating them better) translates into lower turnover, better service for customers and higher profits. Still, most employers have been woefully slow to make this connection.
Those of us who are paid better have an opportunity to help redress this unfairness, even as it is something companies ought to be doing themselves. This is not about charity. It’s about compensating people more fairly for the work they do and the services they provide.
Small gestures can make a cumulative big difference. Take an average housekeeper who earns $9 an hour before taxes. If 10 guests each left that housekeeper a $5 tip, her earnings (and it is usually a woman) would increase by more than 50 percent, or significantly above the poverty line for full-time work.
The same is true in any number of situations we all encounter. Think about buying a meal at a fast food restaurant. Imagine that you regularly left a tip of 50 cents or $1, and 100 other customers did the same each day.
Even splitting that total of $50 to $100 between two or three workers at a given restaurant would significantly increase each of their incomes.
You can have the same effect by increasing, even modestly, the size of the tip you give to your cab driver, parking attendant or delivery person.
I am not suggesting that you leave a significant tip if you’ve received poor service. In my experience, however, most people want to do a good job even when they’re underpaid. What I am suggesting is leaving a larger tip than you do now if you’ve received good service, and a significantly larger sum when you receive extraordinary service.
The other day, a ticket agent at an airport went out of her way to get me on a flight at the last minute. I tried to push a tip into her hand. “You don’t need to do that,” she said, “I was just doing my job.”
“No,” I replied, “you went well beyond, and I really appreciate it.” What I wanted to say was, “Even if you were just doing your job, you aren’t paid enough for it.” I did manage to get her to accept my tip, and I could tell she was deeply grateful.
By tipping more, it’s true that you are effectively subsidizing the employer who pays too little. But all things considered, I would rather reward an underpaid person who provides a service to me than worry that by doing so I’m letting an employer off the hook.
Even if you tip more in an effort to get better service or to show off – meaning you do the right behavior for the wrong reasons – it’s still the right behavior. And it still makes other people’s lives better.
What’s most gratifying, I’ve found, is to simply give for no other reason than because it feels good to give, and it’s the right thing to do. If you can afford to pay a little more money for a service from someone who isn’t being paid enough, that’s a great gift. If you can also share your genuine appreciation for that person, it’s an even bigger gift.
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