Though the United States is one of just a handful of countries around the world that does not require organizations to grant their employees paid parental leave by law, recent years have seen more US states pursue mandates of their own, while a growing number of large, nationwide employers have voluntarily adopted more robust policies for working mothers and, increasingly, fathers and caregivers as well.
These trends have been driven by the public conversation and advocacy around parental leave, by a growing body of research showing the various benefits of parental leave to working families, and also by business considerations, as organizations struggle to attract and retain workers (particularly women) in a tight and competitive labor market. The latest research into what employees and candidates value, including Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor, shows that flexibility and work-life balance are becoming more and more important to the workforce. As millennials grow up and start families, this massive generational cohort is voicing a clear expectation that employers will support them—both moms and dads—in balancing career and family obligations.
Several developments have taken place in this area over the past month that employers should be aware of, as they illustrate the accelerating pace at which paid leave benefits are transforming from nice-to-have features to essential—and in a growing number of jurisdictions, mandatory—components of the employee value proposition.
The number of people in the US who relocated for a new job last year declined to 3.5 million from 3.8 million in 2015, the Wall Street Journal‘s Rachel Feintzeig and Lauren Weber reported on Sunday, citing census data. Even as the US population has grown, the number of relocations has been on a downward trend overall since the government began tracking this data in 1999. A new analysis from Challenger, Gray & Christmas looks back even further and concludes that the percentage of job seekers willing to move for new jobs has fallen dramatically since the late 1980s: Between 1986 (when Challenger began collecting data) and 1990, the average annual relocation rate was 35.2 percent, compared to just 11.3 percent on average between 2007 and 2017.
Various factors can discourage candidates from taking jobs that require them to move, experts tell Feintzeig and Weber at the Journal. One major variable is housing costs: If candidates can’t afford to live in the high-cost cities where jobs are abundant, they won’t take those jobs. The high rents and other costs of living in powerhouse cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles can make it difficult for Americans from less expensive parts of the country to move there, even for comparatively lucrative work. When real estate values are low, on the other hand, candidates may be reluctant to move if they own a home they can’t sell; this is why, when General Electric moved its headquarters from Fairfield, Connecticut to downtown Boston in 2016, the company offered to buy relocating employees’ houses if they were unable to sell them.
Beyond housing considerations, workers may be unwilling to move because they don’t want to disrupt the lives of their spouses or children. Dual-income families may hesitate to relocate when one partner gets a job offer in another city, if that means the other partner will have to quit a good job in their current location. Such a move often means temporarily losing household income earned by the second partner and might also depress their future earnings.
The high cost and limited availability of child care is one of the major burdens facing working families today, particularly in the US, but also in the UK and other countries: Parents are spending a sizable chunk of their incomes on child care, making career decisions based on these costs, and sacrificing earnings by pursuing flexible schedules or part-time work in order to make more time to spend with their children.
Unable to afford full-time child care, many mothers (and it’s almost always mothers) are forced to work part-time or drop out of the workforce entirely to take care of their children, especially when they have more than one. Because responsibility for child care still falls predominantly on women, this factor contributes heavily to the gender pay gap.
In the US, a historically tight labor market is driving employers to reckon with this problem, now that they are feeling it more acutely than ever, Jennifer Levitz reports at the Wall Street Journal. Levitz hears from employers around the country that are increasingly concerned about retaining female employees amid a dearth of child care options and have begun to look for ways to expand these options for their employees, including lobbying state governments for legislative solutions. Some coworking spaces have also experimented with child care programs as a benefit for their members.
The gold standard of child care benefits are on-site facilities, such as Patagonia famously offers at its Ventura, California headquarters and its Reno, Nevada distribution center. While these services are expensive to implement, Patagonia maintains that this investment nearly pays for itself between tax incentives, better retention, and lower turnover. From an employee perspective, on-site daycare is the family benefit most preferred by employees all over the globe, according to our research at CEB, now Gartner. This is particularly true in the US, where employees are twice as likely as in other markets to say they would prefer on-site daycare over a 5 percent increase in pay.
More and more employers in the US are adding fertility benefits to their rewards packages in an effort to attract and retain employees who are interested in starting families. The latest organization to do so is State Street, which has added fertility and more generous adoption assistance to its benefits package in a deliberate effort to be more inclusive of LGBT employees in particular, Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News:
The financial services firm consulted its employees in an effort to make a meaningful expansion to its benefits package, which now includes four weeks of fully paid leave for employees who are primary caregivers to a child born via surrogacy; $20,000 in reimbursement for fertility-related expenses beyond the firm’s medical plans, such as surrogacy; and $20,000 in reimbursement for adoption assistance (up from its previous reimbursement of $5,000). The company says the benefits can be used once per calendar year and employees are allowed up to $40,000 in lifetime financial support for these benefits combined.
State Street is by no means alone in embracing fertility benefits as a talent attractor: A Willis Towers Watson survey conducted in January found that 66 percent of US employers expect to offer these benefits by next year, compared to 55 percent in 2017. These programs are also becoming more inclusive of LGBT employees who are looking to start families: 65 percent of employers who offer fertility benefits currently provide coverage to same-sex couples, but 81 percent are expected to by 2019. Employers told Willis Towers Watson that their main motivations for providing fertility benefits were to support diversity and inclusion, to help attract and retain top talent, to be recognized as a “best place to work,” and to foster a more woman-friendly workplace.
The US Department of Homeland Security issued a proposed regulatory change on Thursday that would take away the right of spouses of H-1B guest workers who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status to work legally while awaiting their green cards, the Wall Street Journal reports.
In 2015, the Obama administration introduced a program allowing these holders of H-4 visas (the visa granted to spouses of workers on H-1Bs so that they can live together in the United States) to obtain legal authorization to work. In a notice of intent to propose a rule next year, the department says it is proposing “to remove from its regulations certain H-4 spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants as a class of aliens eligible for employment authorization.”
The notice cites the executive order President Donald Trump issued in April, titled “Buy American, Hire American,” which called on the departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State to crack down on the abuse of guest worker visa programs like the H-1B and H-4, and to amend procedures for allocating H-1B visas that award them based on merit rather than through a lottery.
Opponents of the Obama administration’s rule letting H-4 spouses work contend that it was an act of executive overreach (and are challenging it in court on that basis); the Trump administration “appears to be signaling that it intends to overturn it rather than defend it,” the Journal reports. Critics also say the previous administration did not do enough to ensure that H-4B holders did not displace American workers.
If your group health insurance plan covers your employees’ spouses, why shouldn’t your wellness program do the same? At Employee Benefit News last week, Karen Moseley reviewed some research showing the benefits of including spouses in employee well-being initiatives:
By allowing spouses to take part in well-being programs, they may drive better participation from employees. Data from the HERO Scorecard support that idea. For example:
- 28% of employees participated in lifestyle coaching if a spouse was involved, compared to 14% with no spousal involvement.
- 88% of employers reported improvements in health risk with spousal involvement, compared to 81% without.
- 70% reported positive impact on medical trend with spousal involvement, compared to 64% without. …
The benefits of including spouses in wellness efforts are not strictly financial. A 2016 Harvard Business Review survey found that 70% of participants in employee well-being programs felt the program was an indication their employers supported them. Extending wellness support to family members only strengthens that connection. Improving a spouse’s well-being might even make an employee more productive.
Our research at CEB (now Gartner) further reinforces the importance of employees’ spouses to encourage healthy behaviors. We find that spouses and partners are the biggest motivator for wellness activities such as exercise and healthy eating, and have more influence on employees’ health behaviors than doctors, nurses, or other health providers.
Millennials are significantly more likely than previous generations to be in marriages where both partners work full-time, career counselor Phyllis Brust points out at SHRM, and for employers, that means it is more important than ever to get a candidate’s spouse on board when persuading them to relocate for work. Dual career services within the HR or talent acquisition function facilitate the transition for these couples by helping spouses find and apply for jobs either within the organization or nearby, in addition to building local networks and learning about the community:
Additional services may be offered for partners who are not seeking positions or cannot work, such as information about volunteer opportunities and educational programs. Some specialists assist with finding language classes, obtaining work authorization, locating schools and other community-based resources, participating in social events, getting housing assistance, and researching special interests (hobbies, for example). These may be done one-on-one and in workshops.
Dual-career assistance can be very individualized and hands on. Professionals “conduct an intake assessing skills and experience, asking partners their passion, reviewing the resume and other documents, and doing a lot of digging to arrange networking meetings,” said Moira Grosbard, the principal of Network Careers Inc. in Minneapolis, whose clients include 3M and General Mills.