In May, a business owner in Washington declared that he was guaranteeing all of his employees a minimum salary of $70,000. Why that number? Well, it seems that there really is a point at which more money won’t buy more happiness. That number (in average) is $70-$75,000.
So Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, decided to give all of his employees, at a minimum, that “happiness” salary. He slashed his own salary, dug into the company’s saved profits, and set up a plan to make it happen.
There was backlash. Clients left because they were afraid of higher future costs. Other local companies thought it was going to make them look stingy. More clients signed up, but they won’t be profitable for Gravity Payments for 12-18 months. In the meantime, Gravity has had to hire additional employees to handle the new clients, all at the new, higher salary.
What I found most interesting was that two of the company’s most-valued employees quit, “spurred in part by their view that it was unfair to double the pay of some new hires while the longest-service staff members got small or no raises.” (New York Times, 7/31/15)
Wow! A Bible story come to life! In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells the story of workers hired to work in the vineyard. At the end of the day, the workers who worked only an hour received the same pay as those who had worked all day. And those who had worked all day felt cheated. The vineyard owner responded: ‘Listen, friend I have not cheated you. After all, you agreed to do a day's work for one silver coin. 14 Now take your pay and go home. I want to give this man who was hired last as much as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous?’” And Jesus concluded, “So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.” (Good News Translation)
I felt sorry for the employees at Gravity who quit. Couldn’t they just be happy for their co-workers who won’t have to struggle with daily life anymore? As long as they were being fairly compensated, did it really matter what others in the company were being paid?
But to many it does matter. We have learned to measure our worth and happiness in financial terms. Happiness is more money, a bigger car, and bigger house. MY happiness is contingent on doing better than you. Success is happiness.
As the Stewardship team has discussed this year’s theme “Enough,” we were struck by a verse from Proverbs 30:8: “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the food that I need.” We were caught by the difference between need and want. We don’t want too little, we don’t need too much. We just need enough.
Those with too little worry about where the next meal or utility payment will come from. Those with too much may worry about the people they owe money to, or focus on the next thing to buy. Those with enough are able to experience the blessing and joy that comes from giving freely to things that matter.
As we head into 2016, can we be happy with the knowledge that with God’s grace we will have enough, and that what we have beyond that can be shared with those who have less? Can we be generous with what we have beyond what we need?
- Ann Warner