As regular News & Views readers may recall, our blog of 1 April reported on a petition signed by hundreds of authors – and thousands of members of the public – urging Waterstones to pay their customer-facing staff a minimum of £9 per hour nationwide and £10.55 in London, in line with the Real Living Wage (RLW).
However, a news item at The Guardian  has revealed that bookseller April Newton, who started the petition, and four colleagues from branches around the UK who helped her deliver it to bosses, have all decided to quit.
Newton told the publication: “I absolutely loved working in a bookshop. If the pay, working environment and prospects for career progression had been good, I would have stayed and tried to make a career out of bookselling or in the publishing industry.”
However, Waterstones’ move to purchase the large US bookstore chain Barnes & Noble for $683 million proved to be the final straw. “The acquisition … felt like a particularly hard blow,” Newton said, “as it suggests that the money is there [but] the company just doesn’t want to spend it on its staff.”
Newton and her four allies told The Guardian that the chain’s pay policy had eclipsed the passion, dedication and subject-matter knowledge that enabled them to serve their customers.
All of which stands in stark contrast to the approach of Scottish clothing manufacturer Molke, which announced at the end of July that it had become a Living Wage employer. As a maker of what it calls ‘ethical underwear’ designed around principles of body positivity, Molke produces garments in many more sizes than other firms in its industry, requiring input from staff with specialist knowhow.
Co-founder Ros Marshall told The Scotsman: “Paying the RLW … has business benefits as well as it helps us to recruit and retain the best staff, reduce absenteeism, and encourage higher productivity, all of which contributes to our progressive business model.” 
Does this show that the RLW is becoming a critical tool in leaders’ quest for high-quality talent?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “An organisation can’t claim to be ethical if it has huge pay disparities between staff at different levels, or is paying people below the RLW. If you have to reward people in a way that is less than fair for the quality of work provided, then not only is the basic business model flawed – there’s also a lack of integrity about the decision making around pay policy.”
Cooper notes: “However much one may enjoy a job, and derive satisfaction from particular aspects of the work – such as helping customers, or even the type of goods or services the firm provides – low pay will eventually spawn dissatisfaction. That was underlined very clearly in workplace psychologist Frederick Herzberg’s theories of motivation – specifically, his thoughts on ‘hygiene factors’ associated with employment.  In the end, the most satisfying conditions won’t compensate for the sense of dissatisfaction that will arise among employees who have concluded that they are being taken advantage of.”
She adds: “With all that in mind, of course you are not going to land great talent if you are not paying your people fairly – and if your workforce is experiencing the decisions of senior management as in any way lacking in integrity.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resource on integrity