And according to Zeynep Ton, a professor of management at MIT's Sloan School of Management, the approach actually improves the bottom line. "When companies invest in their people, operations improve as a result," said Ton, who is writing a book called The Good Jobs Strategy: How The Smartest Companies Invest In Employees To Lower Costs and Boost Profits, due out in January. "If workers get proper training in multiple areas, have the ability to take ownership of their work and are not overworked, customer service improves and the business can prosper."
So which are the best employers in the worst industries? We scoured the web. Our list below is based on picks from Ton and The Hitachi Foundation, the Washington D.C.-based research foundation focused on improving conditions for low-wage Americans.
- About: Costco is the largest wholesale club operator in the US with some 64 million cardholders.
- Sector: Retail/Wholesale
- Staff Size: 174,000 employees in 590 membership warehouse stores.
- Starting Salary: Stockers and cashiers make on average between $11.84 to $12.61 an hour. The average starting salary for a full-time employee is $45,000 a year.
- Average sector salary: $25,310
- What sets it apart?: According to Ton, Costco's trick is to specialize on a select number of products, as opposed to trying to offer everything, like its rivals do. As a result, workers are "masters" of the inventory at Costco, which gives them a greater ability to make their own decisions in the workplace.
2. Genesis Health Care
- About: The network of long-term nursing and rehabilitation therapy providers has 1,500 satellites in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
- Sector: Long-term health care
- Staff Size: Roughly 80,000 workers in 45 states.
- Starting Salary: Physical therapists regularly make $75,000 a year, with other professionals like nurses earning $25 an hour. Genesis stands out for its mobility; geriatric nursing assistants can expect to see regular wage gains of $1.25/hour, "which doesn't sound like much, but is honestly quite good for the industry," Hitachi program officer Tom Strong said via e-mail.
- Average sector salary: $24,010
- What sets it apart?: Genesis stands out for its professional development programs. All certified nursing assistants are given 10 weekly eight-hour training sessions. The topics range from advanced anatomy and physiology to training in communications on how to help elder patients and their families cope.
3. In-N-Out Burger
- About: In-N-Out only offers four items on its menus -- hamburgers, cheeseburgers, the Double-Double (two patties and two slices of cheese), and french fries. There are about 280 In-N-Out franchises, most of which are located in California.
- Sector: Fast Food
- Staff Size: 18,000 workers.
- Starting Salary: Crew members make an average salary of $10.53 an hour, with assistant managers earning an average salary of $51,000.
- Average sector salary: $20,910
- What sets it apart? Low turnover. In-N-Out workers tend to stay at the company. Managers have an average of 14 years experience, and earn between $100,000 to $150,000 a year. In-N-Out also offers first-class trips to Hawaii and Europe for managers who meet yearly goals, according to the Orange County Register.
- About: QuikTrip Corp. operates more than 600 gasoline/convenience stores in 10 states, mostly in the central U.S.
- Sector: Retail/Convenience Store
- Staff Size: Roughly 9,600 employees.
- Starting Salary: An entry-level clerk earns an average of $8.66 an hour, but most store managers are promoted from within and are paid relatively well. The overall salary average for all staff is $32,966.
- Average sector salary: $25,310
- What sets it apart?: Quiktrip has robust training programs for workers -- even low-level employees receive two weeks of training. Employees also like working here -- staff turnover is 22 percent, the lowest in the industry. "Quiktrip stands out because it simply invests so much in its workers," according to Ton.
5. Trader Joe's
- About: Trader Joe's has more than 365 stores in more than 30 states, and offers upscale grocery fare such as health foods, organic produce and nutritional supplements. According to Ton, Trader Joe's is able to succeed because it "offers less" in terms of variety, which provides workers an authority in their workplace. Indeed, roughly 80 percent of its products are actually produced by the company, according to Fortune. Trader Joe's also stands out in the supermarket sector for its emphasis on cross-training its employees in a number of tasks, according to Ton.
- Sector: Retail/Supermarket
- Average sector salary: $26,110
- Staff Size: 10,000 employees
- Starting Salary: $40,000 to $60,000. Managers also have the potential to earn six-figure salaries.
- What sets it apart?: Trader Joe's contributes an additional 15.4 percent of your gross income each year to your retirement account. Workers also get a 10 percent discount on all items in company stores.
*Salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the website Glassdoor.