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Caregiving Crisis – Employers Beware

Iowa is fortunate to have many jobs available for applicants, but unfortunately, there are not enough bodies to fill those positions. According to a 2017 Wall Street Journal article, Iowa, and 11 other Midwestern states have experienced a net outflow of 1.3 million people between 2010 and July 2017. In fact, if every unemployed person in 12 Midwestern states was placed into an open job, there would still be 180,000+ unfilled positions. The Iowa Workforce Development recently announced the number of unemployed Iowans in December (2018) is 40,600, an historic low of 2.4 percent. Iowa has THE lowest unemployment rate in the U.S.  (The U.S. unemployment rate in December moved up to 3.9 percent.)

To combat low unemployment, Iowa along with other states have developed plenty of free programs to train low-skilled workers for higher-skilled positions. For the second consecutive year, Iowa was named by Site Selection magazine as the Midwest’s top state for workforce training and development.  Another 2018 Wall Street Journal article indicated that Iowa’s extremely low unemployment rate has drawn “thousands of workers off the sidelines…with the share of Iowa adults working or seeking work at 67.9 percent in February (2018), nearly five percentage points more than the national average.” Rural Iowa employers have it more challenging, as the pool of local talent is just not there to fill positions.

Caregiver Responsibilities at Home

Now comes yet another challenge, but not just for Iowa employers. A new national survey by a pair of Harvard Business School researchers found that employers are likely to underestimate the struggle their employees have when balancing their professional and caregiving responsibilities. Caregiver responsibilities include providing for children and elderly parents. In fact, about three-quarters of U.S. employees face caregiving responsibilities, of which, 32 percent have left their job because they were unable to balance work and family duties. If employers fail to provide support for caregiving responsibilities, they will pay the hidden costs of presenteeism, absenteeism, turnover and rehiring.

This study was based on surveys of both employers and employees. A key finding was that despite more than 80 percent of employees saying their responsibilities at home kept them from doing their best at work, only 24 percent of employers believed that caregiving was affecting their employees’ performance. This enormous divide is troubling, yet it can also help nudge employers to understand what they can do to retain employees, especially during a very tight labor market.

Other study highlights include:

  • Younger employees, ages 26 to 35, were more likely to leave a job because of caregiving responsibilities.
  • Hard-to-replace higher-paid employees and those in managerial or executive positions were also most likely to quit.
  • More men than women said they left a job because of family needs.
  • As the nation ages, caregiving responsibilities are expected to grow. The Census Bureau projects that for every 100 working-age Americans, aged 18 to 64, there will be 72 people outside that range by 2030, an increase from 59 in 2010.
  • With an increasing share of jobs expected to require a college degree or beyond, the loss of many women could exacerbate labor shortages in the future.

This study caught my interest because, for the first time since we began in our employer benefits study in 1999, we will ask a series of work-life and convenience questions in our 20th Iowa Employer Benefits Study©. Among asking many work-life benefit questions, we will learn about the prevalence of the following caregiver benefits offered by Iowa employers, such as:

  • Personal days
  • Sabbatical leave
  • Adoption leave
  • Foster child leave
  • Leave to attend a child’s activities
  • Maternity leave
  • Paternity leave
  • Child-care subsidies
  • Elder-care subsidies
  • On-site or near-site child and/or elder care
  • And more…

As we learned from surveying both Iowa employers and their employees in our 2007 Iowa Employment Values Study©, there can be a great disconnect between what employees’ desire at the workplace versus what their employers think is important to employees. The aging of the Iowa workforce, in addition to the challenges faced by young families can cause caregiver ‘tension’ that adversely impacts both employees and the unsuspecting employer. To address these challenges, Iowa employers must search for new ways to further accommodate the changing workforce environment pressures that are vital to employee well-being and, consequently, their productivity.

Sometime this summer, our 2019 survey will reveal new results about the prevalence of caregiver programs offered by Iowa employers. Such benefits, I suspect, will vary greatly by industry and by employer-size categories.

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Engaging Your Employees

Employee EngagementMotivating employees to go that ‘extra’ mile can be extremely difficult for any organization. Arguments can be made on whether the ‘carrot and stick’ approach will result in the necessary motivation desired.

For years, organizations have strived to more fully engage their employees to create an environment where workers emotionally connect to their employer. After all, engaged employees are known to provide critical contributions to organizational performance and success through consistent brand delivery, exceptional customer service, innovation, and day-to-day commitment to product and process excellence –  all greatly affecting the organization’s bottom line.

Understanding what is most important to employees within the workplace is often overlooked. Being able to intentionally manage this is absolutely crucial. At engagement’s core is the fundamental notion that most employees want to make a difference by contributing within their workplace. Most employees bring a wealth of skills, such as personal experience, knowledge, agility, creativity, discipline and two large intangibles – passion and motivation.

Employees choose to use or withhold their skills based on whether their organization allows them to exercise such skills and desires at work. For example, allowing employees the opportunity to provide input on a given project can be powerful, in addition to handing them challenging work that will allow for continuous learning opportunities. Listening closely to what they have to say and involving others to obtain better solutions will allow employees the room to grow professionally.

A good book on employee engagement is “Closing the Engagement Gap,” by Julie Gebauer and Don Lowman, both from the consulting firm, Towers Perrin. Until recently, this book collected dust on my bookshelf for over four years before being rediscovered. Much like an aging bottle of wine, the contents appear to be timeless and, well, satisfying.

The authors suggest five ways to actively engage employees, which are summarized below:

  1. Know Them – Make a sincere effort to get to know employees by using personal touch approaches, such as scheduling small, casual Q&A sessions. Encourage candid conversations with employees, making sure that they routinely grasp the overall direction of the organization to ensure that the message, values and priorities are sinking in.
  2. Grow Them – Establish a flexible, training curriculum that provides opportunities for personalized growth experiences via a mix of learning activities.
  3. Inspire Them – Establish venues to share organizational, team and employee successes with the entire workforce on a regular basis. Foster pride throughout the workforce. Articulate the organization’s products or services and how they impact the overall good for others.
  4. Involve Them – Equip every boss with the ability to show employees how their day-to-day responsibilities ultimately contribute to product quality, customer experiences, the organization’s brand and the overall profitability.
  5. Reward Them – Encourage employees to recognize the contributions of their colleagues. Publicly reward performance and valued behaviors. Understand what employee’s value most, and design benefits and compensation packages that balance those values.

Finally, much like we learned from our 2007 Iowa Employment Values Study, it’s really about the sincere relationships we develop with others, and relating in a genuine way that allows each employee to know they are respected and valued. This gives them a sense of purpose and meaning with their work. An employee’s sense of well-being will go a long way in the engagement process at any organization.

This is good, vintage stuff – just like that glass of aged wine!

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Working in Pajamas

TelecommutingI enjoy “Idea Watch: Defend Your Research” in the monthly Harvard Business Review (HBR). There is usually thought-provoking discussion on various topics that may seem counterintuitive to many. Nonetheless, it does force one to ‘think outside the box’ when, on the surface, it may not seem practical.

The recent January-February HBR article,  “To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work From Home,” addresses one of these topics. On many different levels we can argue the pros and cons for allowing telecommuting. A typical ‘con’ is that employees will be less productive due to the distractions of home life, such as family members demanding attention, a mounting laundry pile that can no longer wait, the dog needs a walk, a favorite television show that was recorded earlier is too enticing, etc. Under such circumstances, how could anyone possibly get anything done at home in their pajamas? After all, who would hold them accountable in getting the necessary work completed?

Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, seems to have at least a partial answer to this very logical argument. Bloom and a graduate student, James Liang, who is cofounder of a Chinese travel website, decided to perform a study to learn how productive their employees were when telecommuting. The employees in the call center were allowed to volunteer working from home for a nine-month period, while all others would remain working from the company office.

The results: Employees at home were not only happier but also MORE productive – and less likely to quit.

It appears employees at home were more productive due to two major reasons:

  • Having a quieter environment to process phone calls.
  • Working more hours than those who work at the office.

According to Bloom, “The more robotic the work, the greater the benefits (for staying at home), we think.” The article does suggest that there is great value in having the employee work at home one to two days a week and spend the other time in the office. Not everyone is disciplined enough to work at home, given the many distractions they may confront throughout the working hours.

Knowing the composition of the workforce will also determine whether or not telecommuting will work. Employees who are older and have established social lives (parents, grandparents, married employees) may not feel they need to have the social contact found within an office environment.*

From a personal and professional standpoint, this makes sense to me. For some strange reason, I feel more motivated, creative, and yes, more productive when I am working on mundane stuff – at home!

I’m still not sure, however, about the pajamas!

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*According to results from the 2009 Iowa Employer Benefits Study, over nine percent of Iowa employers indicated they offer telecommuting for full-time employees. In addition, the top three workplace values reported by employees, based on results from the 2007 Iowa Employment Values Study, were: Respect, Achievement and Work-Life Balance. All three may possibly relate to telecommuniting in tangential ways.