A story of taking care of one another
I firmly believe that when people feel taken care of, they will take care of those around them—and I have just the story to prove it.
One morning several years ago, I woke up and found myself in a situation that no business owner ever wants to find themselves in: I couldn’t make payroll.
It was right after the holidays and we were seriously behind on our invoice collections. We should’ve had an emergency fund for this very reason, but at the time I did not. As I looked at our bank account, a gut-wrenching feeling came over me. I knew there was no way I could make this payroll on time.
This was a first for me. We had cut it close in the past (like, really close), but miraculously it had always worked out. I was beginning to understand the importance of cash flow, but clearly, I still hadn’t mastered it. This time, not even our line of credit could help us. I didn’t know what to do.
I knew that in a couple weeks, we’d be able to collect the money owed to us from our large commercial clients, and we’d have enough in our account to pay everyone—and then some. But I couldn’t imagine telling our team members they’d have to wait until then to get paid. The majority of people we hire at Student Maid are college students. Pushing a paycheck back a couple weeks could mean not having any money at all. Most of our team members have told us they live paycheck to paycheck, and the money they make at Student Maid pays not only for their classes and their rent, but also for their everyday essentials like food and gas.
I felt like the worst leader ever. I couldn’t let our people miss a payday.
After some brainstorming, I came up with an idea that could work, but it would still require a major sacrifice: I’d ask our leadership team to hold off on getting their paychecks, and I’d hold off on getting mine as well. If we could all wait a couple weeks, there would be enough in the account to pay each one of our team members on time.
I knew this solution wasn’t the best—our leadership team had bills to pay too—but because we work full-time, we were more likely to be in a better financial position than anyone else in the company. I reasoned that it was better for us to suffer a little than have our team members suffer a lot. Knowing it would still be a major sacrifice for them, I thought of a way to make it a win-win: I would pay the leadership team a little extra on their next checks as a thank you for delaying their pay.
I called an emergency meeting with the leaders in my company. When I broke the news that we didn’t have enough money in our account, I thought they’d be devastated, but they immediately went into problem-solving mode. They too wanted to make sure our team members got paid on time. I presented my potential solution, expecting they might be upset about the possibility of holding their pay, but it was quite the opposite: Before I could even finish my sentence, one said, “I’m in. I’ll hold my pay. And I don’t want a bonus.”
The others began to chime in, too, saying, “So will I,” and, “Sure, I’ll push mine back, too.” Only one person said she couldn’t, and it was solely because she couldn’t afford to. She really wanted to help, but she was facing major financial challenges of her own. As soon as she opened up to us, one member of the leadership team said she wanted her bonus to go to her—to the person who was struggling.
Before the meeting, I had been a nervous wreck, not knowing how we would pay the people in our company. But in less than an hour, we had a solution, our team members would be taken care of, and the leadership team had also taken care of one of our leaders who couldn’t afford to help. Our team members were paid right on time, and they never even felt the slightest hiccup. Incredible, right?
When people feel taken care of, they take care of those around them. Period.
Hope this story inspires you as much as it inspires me. When push comes to shove, will the people on your team take care of one another?