Competitive total rewards packages are a key battleground in the scramble for talent today. Yet many organizations still rely on outdated approaches when communicating rewards through the hiring process, focusing too much on compensation while neglecting benefits. This is becoming more difficult as salary budgets continue to stagnate: Recent salary surveys suggest that cash wages in the US are unlikely to grow much faster in the coming year than they have in 2018, despite a strong economy and a tight labor market.
While compensation is consistently a top driver of candidate attraction anywhere in the world, we know that candidates are also attracted to tangible benefits like health insurance and paid leave, as well as intangible benefits like flexible scheduling and remote work options. Even as wage growth falls short of expectations, we have seen major US employers investing more in benefits like paid family and sick leave, health insurance, and education benefits like tuition assistance and help with paying off student loans.
To better understand how employers can use their benefit offerings as talent attractors, Gartner’s Total Rewards team worked with data from our talent market intelligence portal TalentNeuron, looking for a connection between how organizations pitch their benefits in job postings and how quickly they are able to fill posted roles. Organizations that don’t leverage their benefits offerings in this way, we found, may be missing out on an opportunity to meaningfully boost their appeal to candidates.
The latest data from the Labor Department shows that the percentage of private sector employees in the US offered health insurance through their employer rose from 67 percent in 2017 to 69 percent this year, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month. This figure had dwindled from 71 percent in 2010, when the department began conducting this survey, and this latest uptick represents the first year-over-year increase since 2012.
The Labor Department report showed that 86 percent of full-time private sector employees were offered health benefits, along with 21 percent of part-timers. Union members were significantly more likely to be offered these benefits (94 percent) than non-union employees (66 percent). Of those private sector employees offered medical benefits, 72 percent chose to take advantage of them.
Smaller employers, who are not required to offer health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, had driven most of the decline over the past eight years: Among organizations with fewer than 50 people, 51 percent offered health insurance to their employees in 2018 compared to 55 percent in 2010. Large businesses, with over 500 workers, have been more consistent in offering these benefits, with the percentage of large employers providing health insurance hovering near 90 percent since 2010.
The ACA mandates that organizations with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees offer at least a minimum standard of health benefits to employees working 30 or more hours a week, or pay a penalty of $2,000 per employee. Most large businesses already offered medical benefits before the ACA took effect and continued to do so, but some mid-sized employers have chosen to pay the penalty instead, as the cost of covering their employees would be greater, Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research and Education Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, told the Journal.
In a recent column at BloombergView, Michael Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, asserted that US businesses, particularly manufacturers, protest too much about the skills gap. Their inability to source skilled employees could be solved, he argued, if they were simply willing to pay higher wages for the talent they need:
Wage growth is picking up, but it is lower than what many economists expect in light of overall economic conditions, and it is not soaring for specific industries.
Simply put, if businesses can’t find workers — or can’t find workers with the right skills — they should raise their wage offers. Basic supply-and-demand logic suggests that doing so will broaden the pool of workers interested in the job, and will make the job more desirable to applicants. In addition, raising wage offerings would likely draw in some of the millions of Americans who report they want a job but are out of the labor force. So unless wage growth picks up, the warnings about labor shortages will fall flat.
Strain is not the first economist to argue that the skills gap is a simple supply-and-demand problem that could be solved by raising the price of labor, or that the problem is on the demand side (not enough attractive jobs) as well as the supply side (not enough skilled workers). Stagnant wage growth may be a factor in US employers’ labor market woes, but in focusing exclusively on wages rather than training and hiring barriers, Strain’s claim oversimplifies the challenge employers are facing. Years of research consistently tell us that while competitive compensation is a large component of what attracts candidates to jobs, there’s no simple formula by which you can convince any given candidate to take a job simply by offering a high enough salary.
It’s easy to point to “basic supply-and-demand logic” to criticize manufacturing companies when you don’t actually understand their experiences in local labor markets, but who says manufacturers aren’t trying to raise wages already anyway? A 2015 study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte showed that 80 percent of manufacturing companies were already willing to pay more than market rates to reduce the skills gap—especially for more skilled labor, such as machinists, craft workers, and industrial engineers. Yet according to our own research at CEB, now Gartner, only 23 percent of heads of HR in the manufacturing industry believe they can close critical skills gaps over the next 12 months.
Vermont Governor Phil Scott on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will grant individuals working remotely for an out-of-state organization up to $10,000 to move there, as part of a suite of initiatives to improve the environment for digital work in the Green Mountain State and attract more residents.
The grant program, slated to begin next year, will be open to any full-time employee of a business domiciled outside Vermont who primarily works remotely from home or a coworking space, and will offer such workers up to $5,000 per year up to a total of $10,000 over the life of the program. These funds can be used to cover a range of expenses associated with moving to Vermont and setting up a remote work presence there, including relocation costs, computer software and hardware, broadband Internet access, and membership in a coworking space. The bill provides enough funding to cover as many as hundreds of these grants over the coming years, depending on the size of each grant, which would represent a significant number of new residents for a state with just under 624,000 people.
The law also instructs several state agencies to identify infrastructure improvements to better enable workers and businesses to establish a remote presence in Vermont, and to encourage the growth of coworking spaces, remote work hubs, maker spaces, and similar innovative work spaces. The state will also examine the potential for developing public-private digital work sites that will be available to both state employees and remote workers in the private sector. Finally, the law instructs agencies to submit recommendations for ensuring that broadband access is available in the downtown areas of Vermont’s municipalities to support these types of remote work venues.
In the latest sign of the tight US labor market giving candidates the upper hand, many construction contractors in the US are now offering cash signing bonuses to skilled craft workers to sweeten the value proposition for joining their team, Jim Parsons reported at the Engineering News-Record this month:
“Signing bonuses are not new, but they are becoming more prevalent,” says Jeff Robinson, president of compensation consulting firm PAS Inc. Unlike the common practice of providing what he calls “mobilization pay” to compensate for relocation costs, contractors now are offering one-time bonuses ranging from a few hundred dollars to upwards of $1,500 per worker.
According to Robinson, a foreman might be offered as much as $3,000, although there may be an expectation that the person will bring other workers along to join the employer’s workforce. “The advantage of a bonus is that it’s a one-time payment that doesn’t affect base pay,” he says, adding that the incentives usually include a 60- to 90-day employment requirement before they can be collected.
The 2017 survey of workforce shortages by the Associated General Contractors of America reported that nearly a quarter of contractors used bonuses for craft personnel because of difficulty filling positions. The trend appears particularly strong in areas where labor demand is extremely high.
Construction is often thought of as a low-skill occupation where one’s qualifications depend more on strength and stamina than knowledge and experience, but in fact it employs a range of skills, while contractors, like most employers, prefer to hire experienced workers if they can, especially for delicate construction tasks that require high levels of skill and craftsmanship. Construction workers are in high demand as commercial and residential building is booming in many parts of the US, and so these workers are becoming harder to find and more expensive to hire.
The investment bank Morgan Stanley recently announced a set of new policies for its junior associates, offering higher base pay and a faster track to promotion, while also underscoring its work-life balance policies, Preeti Varathan reported at Quartz last week:
According to its memo, Morgan Stanley is raising base pay for associates in investment banking and capital markets by 20% to 25%. It is also speeding up its promotion timeline for high-performing analysts—the entry-level position below associate—from three years to two. The memo also reiterated the bank’s current vacation and hours policies: two mandatory one-week vacations every year and limited staffing on Fridays and weekends.
Wall Street has long had a reputation for debilitating hours, consecutive all-nighters, and frequent weekend work. But even the most competitive firms are now grappling with a new generation’s insistence on rapid promotions and better work-life balance. “The ability to recruit, develop, and retain top talent by offering attractive career opportunities is a key priority,” the memo noted.
Indeed, at a time when the labor market is tight and employers in all industries are having to compete harder for talent, it’s unsurprising to see another large employer make investments in its most junior employees. The financial sector, however, has also been grappling for several years now with a particularly difficult employer brand problem. More than ever before, prospective employees now question whether the lucrative rewards of investment banking’s traditional high-stress, high-pay model are worth the costs to their quality of life.
Walmart is piloting a new dress code in some of its US stores that will give employees more options for what they can wear to work, Bloomberg’s Matthew Boyle reported on Thursday:
Employees … will now be allowed to wear shirts of any solid color, rather than just blue or white, according to an employee manual obtained by Bloomberg News. Blue jeans are also permitted — as long as they’re solid blue — whereas previously only khaki-colored or black denim pants were allowed. Visible facial tattoos are forbidden for those hired after April 14, the manual said. …
Some Walmart workers embraced the dress code changes, with one saying on an employee message board: “I would love this! I hope it comes to my store.” Others were skeptical that it would get past the testing phase, which began in fewer than two dozen stores this month.
Walmart last adjusted its dress code in 2015, when it gave its US employees permission to wear black or khaki-colored denim pants and let workers with more physically-intensive jobs wear t-shirts to work instead of collared shirts. That change came after a new dress code the company adopted the previous year—requiring white or navy collared shirts, khaki or black pants, close-toed shoes, and a new design of the big-box store’s branded blue uniform vest—was poorly received by employees, Hayley Peterson adds at Business Insider.