Workforce Dynamics Part 2

Last month we began the Workforce Dynamics series with two major workforce trends, workforce fluidity and Generation Y. This month we will take a look at two additional trends. Employee perks and the significant role they play in capturing and retaining talent in a competitive job market and a Workforce Dynamic that has grabbed media headlines, older workers and the vital resource they represent in our economy.

In the Spring of 2008 YPP will bring business owners, CEO’s and top level managers together to further analyze and explore Workforce Dynamics and provide participants with practical tools to better understand and capitalize on these challenges and opportunities.

Employee Perks

There was a time when we thought of employee perks in the context of the rarified atmosphere of the Fortune 500 executive suite. To borrow a line from an old Dylan tune, times they are a-changing. In today’s competition to hire and keep top talent virtually every employer regardless of size is expected to offer some level of perks.

Of course the spectrum is broad. At the top of the “Perks Peak” you have companies like Google where the sheer number and variety of perks are legendary. In an attempt to get an idea of how high Google has set the bar I googled “Google employee perks” and got 29,300 hits. No question there is a hyper-media buzz here but if you look deeper you will find some important lessons and employment trend information.

Our goal is to help employers better understand and effectively utilize employee perks as a recruiting and retention tool in the real world. The traditional purpose of perks is to make employees feel appreciated and increase their motivation to perform for the company. This remains the fundamental purpose although some companies, like Google, have made perks integral to the corporate culture as a means of building a work environment that blurs the lines between personal time and work time.

As an employer you need to look beyond the old standards of health benefits and pension plans. While these remain critical to most employees the increased competition for talent, especially for small businesses, means finding creative ways to reward your valuable workforce without breaking the bank.

The good news is most employees, when asked about the perks that matter most, are realistic in their expectations. One of the most significant trends is an increasing desire to achieve work/life balance. For instance some bonus time off after a big push to complete a demanding project would be a valued perk for many employees.

It is important that at least some of the perks you offer be rewards to recognize individuals rather that just the group. For instance buying lunch for everyone is appreciated but isn’t necessarily a personal enough reward. Look at more creative options, such as letting employees work from home and skip the commute on certain days, a couple of family days to use when kids or aging parents have demands without eating into regular vacation time, flexible hours (within applicable wage & hour guidelines) if the standard 8 to 5 is more habit than necessity in your industry are just a few work/life balance perks that can pay off big in employee job satisfaction. On a lighter note some companies have instituted bring your dog to work days, employee car washes, health club memberships, group or individual outings to the movies or other entertainment venues.

The culture of your business, the make-up of your workforce and your specific industry will all be factors to consider in establishing employee perks. As an employer a fresh look at employee perks may give you a big payoff in loyalty and job performance and help cut down on the high cost of recruiting and training in a competitive market.

Older Workers

The Baby Boomers have made history from the beginning, first flooding schools, next making the 1960’s a legendary decade of social and political change and later becoming the majority of the American workforce. The Boomer generation broadly encompasses people born between 1946 and 1964, roughly 76 million people. As this generation reaches retirement age it will mean a drastic shift in workforce demographics. In 1950 there were approximately 7 workers for every elderly person in the United States but by 2030 it is estimated there will be only 3.

Like many significant trends this one will present challenges and opportunities. The biggest challenge will be redefining the workplace and developing strategies to integrate older workers into the workforce as a means of expanding the pool of available workers and limiting the impact of what has been described as the single biggest brain drain to ever to hit the American economy.

Jeri Sedlar, the Senior Advisor to The Conference Board on mature workforce issues make it clear that this is a serious issue in a report on America’s aging workforce. “…organizations that fail to understand the complexities or recognize the opportunities associated with an aging workforce may risk their ability to stay competitive. As more companies feel the pain of knowledge losses caused by retirements in key businesses or functions, those not planning ahead or leveraging their mature workforce will be scrambling.”

The good news is that many baby boomers are willing and able to continue working and do not see age 65 as an automatic signal to stop working completely. Their reasons for wanting to continue participating workforce are often financial but many also just are too healthy and active to see themselves as retired in the traditional sense. What this means for employers is finding creative ways to utilize older workers as a valuable resource and develop jobs that will afford older workers scheduling flexibility, new learning challenges and the opportunity to continue making meaningful contributions. Companies that plan for this drastic shift in the workforce demographics will have a strategic advantage over competitors caught unaware and unprepared.

New business opportunities will also emerge as the aging population continues to need goods and services that address their specific needs. Once again the Boomers will be trend setters and challenge the status quo as they redefine retirement.

YPP looks forward to our Workforce Dynamics Seminar scheduled for Spring 2008 where we will work with business owners, CEOs and top level managers to map workforce trends and explore the important questions and strategies needed to stay competitive. As these trends ripple through the labor force it is critical that employers be prepared not just to cope with new challenges but seize the opportunity to capitalize on emerging opportunities.

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