Win the War for Talent

Focus on employee well-being

August 17, 2021

The war for talent is nothing new. What is new is what it takes to win it.

Once, higher salaries and wages plus bonuses may have been enough to attract and keep key employees. Additionally, while amenities such as game rooms or catered lunches might have given companies an edge at one time, these things have either become passé or are now simply considered table stakes.

2020 changed the game. The pandemic changed how many of us did business, how we survived day to day and how we viewed “work.” Many employees have now found themselves benefitting from a “sellers’ market.”

What it takes these days to attract and retain employees is the ability to provide them with an overall sense of well-being — one that goes beyond typical “wellness” programs and free gym memberships.

First, we need to broaden the definition of well-being

For years, companies have been offering employees wellness programs with varying degrees of success. And, although it’s certainly important to help ensure that employees are healthy as possible, it’s only part of the overall equation.

Balancing work and life
According to a survey by the Department of Labor in 2019, full-time employed persons averaged 8.5 hours of work time on weekdays and 5.5 hours on weekend days and holidays. 

At the same time, 85% of women and 71% of men spent some time doing household activities, such as housework, cooking, lawn care or paying bills. That hardly qualifies as “balance.”

In 2019, the World Health Organization categorized “burnout” as an occupational phenomenon that results from chronic workplace stress. That points to more and more employees opting to leave their place of employment, whether to change jobs or leave the workforce altogether.

Simply preaching “work/life balance” is not the answer. Avoiding burnout requires treating employees holistically as a person rather than as a cog in the wheel.

Developing financial well-being
Even before the pandemic, employees were stressed about their financial situations. COVID-19 has only made it worse. According to a PriceWaterhouse survey, 72% of Millennials and 68% of Gen Z are currently experiencing more financial stress due to the pandemic. Employees are finding it difficult to get their heads above water. They’re often living paycheck to paycheck, trying to pay bills, mortgages or rent, medical bills, student loans, groceries, gas, upkeep on cars and so much more.

If you can provide practical tools that help with discounts, access to banking services without fees, smart savings and budgeting training, free financial advice and access to more earning opportunities through additional shifts plus help paying off student debt and more, that can be a substantial demonstration of how much you value employees and their well-being. 

Creating and participating in community
According to a survey by the HR Research Institute in partnership with Everfi, Inc., companies that lack a positive sense of community are more likely to see high turnover rates, low employee morale and possibly unhealthy gossip, personal bullying and power struggles. 

Conversely, if a company adheres to a strong mission — one that embraces working on behalf of the community — employees feel they are working towards a greater goal. This becomes an internal inspiration for them and a primary motivator to stay with the company because they are aligned with its values.

Promoting mental health
Research published by the Department of Health and Human Services shows that nearly 86% of employees treated for depression reported improved work performance. Other studies discovered that treatment of depression has been shown to reduce absenteeism and pre-absenteeism by 40% to 60%. 

A 2019 survey of more than 1,500 employees nationwide by MindShare Partners, Qualtrics xm and SAP, revealed that more than a third of the respondents said they had left a job due at least in part to mental health. Fifty-nine percent of those respondents said mental health was the primary reason.

And according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, rates of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are twice as high in adults with serious mental illness.

Helping with providing care
The Harvard Business School recently reported that 73% of employees in the U.S. are caring for a child, parent or friend. That means most employees are burdened with competing priorities — family, work and now providing care.

Only 24% of employers surveyed believed employee caregiving influenced work performance. But 80% of surveyed employees stated that caregiving had an effect on their productivity at work and interfered with their ability to do their best work.

The survey also found that caregiving can affect employee retention. Thirty-two percent said they had left a job due to caregiving responsibilities. And the survey also found that those employees are more likely to miss work, arrive late or leave early, which affects productivity as well as the employee’s overall career.

Providing necessary paid time-off
This is always a difficult benefit to balance. Most companies offer a general PTO “bank” that employees can use for a variety of reasons. This can not only benefit those employees with specific needs, such as caring for an adult or a child; it can also keep all employees from succumbing to burnout.

The dilemmas that arise are providing enough PTO where it’s truly necessary and making sure employees take advantage of what is offered. Far too much PTO is left on the table, unused.

Whatever you decide to do regarding PTO, make sure it’s carefully considered, written down and then communicated well to employees.

Voluntary benefits
The interest in voluntary benefits has grown steadily and shows no signs of abating. They are also an excellent method for creating a holistic approach to benefits packages that help address the specific needs of your various employee groups. According to a variety of surveys, the most popular voluntary benefits include:

  • Financial planning
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Backup child care options
  • Elder care options
  • Identity theft protection
  • Hospital indemnity
  • Pet insurance
  • Critical illness insurance
  • Group legal protection

Whatever you choose to offer, be aware that employees are paying more and more attention to which voluntary benefits are available to them. They have become a primary criteria for choosing whether to stay or move on to another company.

Creating a healthy culture is about actions, not just words

Employees look to you to have mission statements that include words such as “healthy” and “well-being.” They want to know that the organization cares about their “whole selves,” not simply as productive worker bees who show up on time and don’t leave until they’re done. That’s why a broader, deeper definition of well-being is so important. And it’s why it needs to be an essential part of your corporate culture.

It’s a matter of putting people first — and then communicating it effectively. That alone can create an environment where employment with you is something people compete to get. 

You also need to remember that those people you’re putting first don’t constitute a monolithic workforce. You need to respect and address the different needs of each employee group.

Multiple employee audiences require multiple approaches

Your workforce is still comprised of possibly five different generations — Traditional, Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (millennials) and now Generation Z. As we’ve described before, each of these groups has specific, specialized needs. This can range from boomers needing more retirement help to Gen Y needing help paying off student loans to Generation Z looking to buy their first home.

But the differences don’t stop there. Within each of those, you still need to be aware that there will be gender, LGBTQ+, and racial differences. There are also potentially differences based on a newly fragmented workforce — some on-site, some working remotely and some doing both.

Failing to see your employees as individuals with quite specific needs can drive them to a competitor or out of the workforce altogether.

Remember, if you don’t provide employees what they need, somebody else will

Your competition may already be in the process of doing exactly what we’ve been talking about here. Smart organizations are staying on top of what’s happening in the workforce, and they realize it really is no longer a “buyers’” market; the employees have more flexibility and freedom to make decisions that work best for them.

That’s why you need to think outside of every possible box. Start by asking employees what they need; perhaps give them some choices but always let them add their own. Let your employees know that you’re reframing well-being and working hard to make that meaningful and beneficial for every group.

How Marsh McLennan Agency can help

Reframing “well-being” can be a difficult, delicate experience. MMA has the expertise and experience to help you rethink your approach, redefine and reshape your culture, communicate with your employee groups and stay ahead of the curve to help you win the war for talent. To learn more, contact your local Marsh McLennan Agency representative.