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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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Top 15 Non-Insurance Benefits Employees Desire

Top 15 Non-Insurance Benefits Desired by EmployeesThe Iowa Healthiest State Initiative’s (HSI) vision is to become the healthiest state in the nation. In 2017, based on separate national indexes that provide different measures, Iowa is ranked #15 by the America Health’s Rankings®, and #21 by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®. The pursuit of this vision is both difficult and no doubt never-ending, but well worth the effort.

According to benefits provider, Unum, who recently surveyed 1,227 working adults in the U.S., the most coveted employee benefits is time spent away from the office. When presenting survey participants with 15 perks that are non-insurance and retirement related, participants were asked to choose their top five options. Ranked by popularity, the results are:

  1. Paid Family Leave* – 58%
  2. Flexible/remote work options* – 55%
  3. Professional development* – 39%
  4. Sabbatical leave* – 38%
  5. Gym membership or onsite fitness center* – 36%
  6. Student loan repayment – 35%
  7. Onsite healthy snacks* – 28%
  8. ID theft prevention – 28%
  9. Financial planning resources – 27%
  10. Fitness goals incentives* – 18%
  11. Public transit assistance – 16%
  12. Pet insurance – 15%
  13. Pet friendly offices – 15%
  14. Health coaching* – 14%
  15. Dedicated volunteer hours* – 12%

Many of the above benefits that employees appear to value, particularly those with an asterisk (*) beside them, fit nicely with the mission as outlined by HSI:

Improving the physical, social and emotional well-being of Iowans.

As the labor market continues to tighten in Iowa and around the country, employers are constantly looking for meaningful ways to attract (and retain) qualified employees. Accordingly, I’m planning to include some of these miscellaneous (but highly-valued benefits) in the 2019 Iowa Employer Benefits Study©.  Specifically, we wish to poll employers on whether they offer various paid and unpaid leave benefits, work/life benefits, wellness and other general perks. Largely dependent on the robustness of any given employment marketplace, the availability of employee benefits tend to be more localized.

Additionally, HSI’s mission and goals fit nicely with the workplace culture that Iowa employers must continue to assess. If employers are expecting to attract and retain healthy and productive employees, there is no time like the present to begin aligning the interests and desires of their employees with the overall benefits package they provide.

The culture of any organization is very often reflective of the benefits and compensation provided to its employees. Appropriately aligning this desired culture with workplace benefits will continue to distinguish forward-thinking employers.

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The Iowa Employer Benefit Study© – An Iowa ‘Natural Resource’?

This week, Data Point Research (DPR), the research organization that I have partnered with for over 20 years, will send out the first invitations to Iowa employers to participate in this years’ Iowa Employer Benefits Study©. I’m looking forward to learning what this year’s findings will reveal to us – especially after taking a one-year sabbatical in 2017.

This study has become a two-decade ‘project’ for DPR and myself. In 1999, the first year of this study, I contacted Andrew Williams, president of DPR, to learn how we could conduct a randomized survey that would provide the necessary methodologies to reflect results of the entire employer community in Iowa. Taking this approach, we felt, was the safest and most efficient method to survey enough Iowa employers WITHOUT having to survey them all. DPR has proven to be a trusted partner to extract the benefits information. And, from this work, Iowa employers have come to depend on our annual results to benchmark their benefits with other similar employers.

Benchmarking our survey results continues to serve as a top tool used by leadership in Iowa organizations. It supports informed decision-making when identifying cost-effective employee benefits. Benchmarking helps:

  • Human Resource and finance leaders make benefit choices with confidence, and track progress over time based on using empirical evidence, rather than ‘gut feel’ or opinion.
  • Provide clear evidence of opportunities for employers to improve on cost-effective employee benefits, given the size and industry in which employers operate.
  • Place employers ahead of the pack on trends that develop in the Iowa marketplace.

The industries we track for employers are varied. Depending on the number of survey responses, the industries may include:

  • Overall – All industries combined
  • Finance, Insurance and Real Estate
  • Government and Public Education
  • Healthcare and Social Services
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail
  • Other Services
  • For-Profit only
  • Not-For-Profit
  • Government Only – Bargained
  • Non-Public – Bargained
  • Public Schools – Bargained
  • Trucking

We also distinguish results by employer-size (based on number of employees), because, after all, size does matter a great deal when it comes to breadth and scope of employee benefits.

The Iowa Study has been particularly relevant to Sue Bennett, compensation and benefits manager at Kirkwood Community College. Sue recently commented:

The Iowa Employer Benefits Study© has been extremely valuable over the years in reviewing the competitiveness of our employee benefits package. Other benefits studies provide data on a nationwide basis, but having data specific to Iowa is more useful. The most beneficial aspect of the survey is the ability to extract data based on industry type and size.

I have always believed in the importance of having empirical evidence to share with benefits consultants and their employer clients. Most recently, I received another ‘testimonial’ from John Monaghan, partner at PDCM Insurance, a Waterloo benefits consulting organization. Over the past decade, John has loyally applied our study results with his clients by using our benchmarking data to successfully guide them through the benefits decision-making strategies he employs.

If you are a benefits consultant or Human Resource professional, the Iowa Employer Benefits Study© should be considered one of Iowa’s best natural resources. For over 10 years, my clients have used the data in the study to develop benefit programs without guesswork. So often, benefit decisions that cost millions of dollars are made with a gut feel. This study provides the data to take the guesswork out and make sure every invested dollar counts. It provides the information to build a True benefits strategy.

John finished his comments with this:

My clients have made the adjustments to better attract and retain employees through the data provided by this study.

I am truly humbled by Sue and John’s comments. To me, ‘natural resources’ are items that people can use which come from the natural environment, such as oil, natural gas, other minerals, soil, forests and timber, etc.

When people, who are unfamiliar with my work, ask what I “do for a living,” I will sometimes jokingly tell them that I am both an “archaeologist and inventor.” They will then quizzically look at me and ask, “How so?” My response is simply, “I’m similar to an archaeologist because I dig for items that are not readily available for the public to find, and I’m like an inventor, because once this treasure has been found and exposed, I convert it into something usable for others.”

A natural resource for Iowa? I’m unsure about that, but my gloves are now back on my hands and I have begun the digging process to unearth the next treasures buried below the surface. Stay tuned as to what we may find!

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