Diverse labour force demands diverse options

One-size-fits-all approach to total rewards won’t work
By Manny Campione and Laura Williams
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/20/2006

As the availability of employees, especially skilled and experienced workers, decreases, employers find themselves faced with a dilemma: How do they offer the compensation and benefits necessary to attract and retain talent without breaking the budget?

The answer rests on knowing what kind of employees are needed to meet business objectives and knowing what these employees are looking for out of the employment deal.

Odds are that an organization needs to attract and retain a variety of workers who may be very diverse in terms of age, culture and lifestyle. A one-size-fits-all approach to total rewards is not going to appeal to this wide range of employees. Simply throwing money or health benefits at employees won’t work.

More companies going flex

When it comes to employee benefits, the key to satisfying the various needs of the diverse workforce lies in providing flexible alternatives. In a recent survey by HR consultancy Hewitt,

Attracting and Retaining the New Workforce 2006

, 38 per cent of the 232 participating Canadian organizations currently offer flexible benefits, but 64 per cent expect to do so by 2009.

“Flexible benefit plans appear to be getting more popular due to the predictability (in terms of cost) for the employer, as well as the flexibility for the employee. The flexible benefit option seems to be a win-win,” said one survey participant.

However, Canadian employers realize that providing flexible benefits is only one way to engage a diverse workforce. Survey participants also identified flexible work arrangements as key to attracting and retaining the new workforce.

Eighty-four per cent currently offer some or all of their employees flex hours — the ability to choose start and stop times for the workday within established limits. By 2009, 90 per cent of employers will do so. Over the next three years, more employees will have the ability to work from home on a part-time basis (from 60 per cent currently to 71 per cent by 2009) and even full-time (from 34 per cent to 41 per cent). Phased retirement programs are expected to more than double in prevalence (from 26 per cent to 55 per cent) in that period.

Other benefits will be geared to accommodating life outside of work without affecting workforce productivity. These include:

Healthy work arrangements: Employers appear ready to move from prevention to taking a more active role in encouraging wellness. There will be considerable growth in the prevalence of wellness accounts, where employees are reimbursed for wellness-related expenses of their own choosing.

Assistance with non-work tasks: Canadian employers are gearing their efforts to support baby boomers. Benefits such as elder-care support and retirement education/counselling, often as part of an employee assistance program, are expected to experience considerable growth in prevalence over the next few years.

Opportunities for self-development: There will be an increase in employer assistance for tuition for job-related courses and continuing education. This benefit is of particular interest to employees just entering the workforce.

Community-oriented work arrangements: Employers will offer more opportunities for some or all workers to take unpaid time off for community and charitable activities.

Communication is key

It is particularly important to ensure workers understand and appreciate the value of the total rewards package. It would be unfortunate to lose a key employee to a rival organization simply because it offers a higher salary when she already has more vacation, a better retirement savings plan and superior training and development opportunities. Explaining the value of all an employer provides enables employees to see the real value of the total compensation they receive.

Manny Campione is a consultant in Hewitt Associates’ Toronto office. He can be reached at emanuele.campione@hewitt.com. Laura Williams is a senior benefits consultant with Hewitt in Vancouver. She can be reached at laura.williams@hewitt.com.

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