Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the US unemployment rate had fallen to a record-breaking 3.6%, a number not seen since 1969.
To put that in context, the last time the job market was this tight was the year that thousands of music fans gathered in the muddy fields at Yasgar’s farm in Woodstock, Neil Armstrong stepped into history as the first man on the moon, and Nixon was elected president. That seems like an awfully long time ago, doesn’t it?
For most HR and benefits pros working today, this territory is about as foreign as bell bottoms and go-go boots.
Over the last 20 years, the unemployment rate has mostly hovered between 5 and 10 percent, including two periods of recession. It’s been the norm for open requisitions to result in dozens of applications, if not more. Candidate pipelines were overflowing, and HR’s challenge was to find the right candidate from a large pool. There wasn’t a lot of competition for resources. It was a buyer’s market, which was sort of groovy for employers.
The situation has been changing slowly since around 2010, and we now often find ourselves with more job openings than viable candidates, and pressures are higher than ever to attract and retain talent.
The good news is, unlike back in 1969, you don’t need a rocket scientist to meet your objectives. Getting and keeping employees may not be easy, but it certainly isn’t as complex as putting someone on the moon. It just requires a bit of grit, creativity and a few important insights.
- Insight #1. Benefits matter. Employees are embracing the importance of benefits as a part of their compensation. In fact, most would be likely to take a job with better benefits and less pay, and more than a third say the breadth of their employer’s benefits offering drives their loyalty. They don’t just want any benefits, they want ones that are right for them.
- Insight #2. More can sometimes be better. Employees prefer choice when it comes to their benefits. While 53% would recommend an employer offering 1 to 5 benefits, 66% would do so when the employer offers 11 or more benefits. This segues with employees’ desire to be able to customize their benefits, something that’s important to 72% of the workforce.
- Insight #3. With choice comes responsibility. While employees really dig lots of choices, it’s not always easy for them to make benefits decisions. They find the enrollment process challenging, and they would like more support in comparing and choosing benefits. The more robust your benefits program, the more important it is to offer employees easy-to-use tools to support effective decision-making enabling them to connect the dots to choose the right benefits for them.
- Insight #4. Voluntary benefits are the icing on the cake. Employees are looking for benefits that meet their needs, and they are keen to have access to non-traditional options. Most people under 50 wouldn’t consider an employer that didn’t offer voluntary. This is important because younger employees are the ones most likely to be willing to switch jobs. And, since they are currently the largest segment of the workforce, the risk with turnover may be significant.
Benefits are quickly stacking up to be employers’ competitive edge, and those organizations with a well-conceived program that offers options, flexibility and the ability to personalize, while providing appropriate decision guidance — just might have the advantage in the war for talent. The goal is to offer employees the right options at the right time. The key? Voluntary benefits.
Luckily, with voluntary, there’s no need to install secret listening devices or tap anyone’s phones — all that’s required is a fresh perspective and some professional guidance to help you review your options in the market and create a plan for action.
Voluntary benefits complement your traditional offerings and provide employees the opportunity to create truly personalized programs that meet their needs, especially when you offer benefits decision guidance. (We refer to this concept as right benefits, right place, right time.) A robust voluntary suite demonstrates you understand that not all employees have the same benefits needs or appetites, and it helps employees make appropriate benefits decisions, matching coverage to their age, condition and risk adversity.
It’s clear that today’s employees not only appreciate expanded benefits, they expect them and judge current and prospective employers on what’s available.
Back in 1969, when faced with a tight labor market, our HR and benefits forebears didn’t have the options we have now. Heck, they barely had color TV. But, times have changed. In 50 years, we’ve taken a giant leap for benefits, and today we can truly offer employees the options they want and need whether they are flower children, astronauts or anything in between.
In order to offer the right benefits at the right place and at the right time, you have to have an agile benefits administration partner. To learn more about choosing the right solution for you, check out our guide below.