Has retention become employers’ biggest concern?

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Get 15,000 HR professionals in a room together and you might be surprised to find out what their biggest concern is.

It isn’t about how to address rising healthcare costs — which for years has been the No. 1 pain point. It isn’t a talent shortage, or keeping up with the latest technologies. It isn’t about ongoing health reform legislation — despite the latest Senate bill just dropping. And it isn’t even about the growing demographic of millennial workers — a generation with which many said they struggled to connect.

Instead, as I found in chatting with benefits and HR professionals during the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in New Orleans, the biggest concern is recruiting top-notch employees, then figuring out how to get them to stick around.

And it became pretty obvious what the solution was as the SHRM conference went on.

Recruiting and retaining employees was the reason that one-third of employers said they beefed up their benefit packages this year, according to SHRM’s newly released annual benefits survey. And while health and wellness offerings are still important — 22% of organizations said they increased health benefits and 24% said they increased wellness perks — those are hardly enough reason for employees to stay true to their employer.

More and more, workers are demanding perks that help improve their quality of life. And employers are finally taking note.

Benefits on the rise, according to SHRM, include flexibility, financial advice, telecommuting and lactation rooms. And smart employers, of course, are going even further. Southwest Airlines offers one-on-one financial counseling, American Express has a work-life balance program for its employees, and Akamai Technologies offers a liberal telework program called Akamai Anywhere that allows workers to apply to do their jobs entirely off site.

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing retailer, offers an onsite childcare center — among other family-friendly perks — and a Patagonia executive wondered during the SHRM conference why other employers don’t.

“It’s astonishing — and a little embarrassing — that our country’s business leaders provide paid leave to just 13% of workers and just a fraction provide onsite childcare,” Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s vice president of public engagement, said during one session. “It costs us a lot to provide [onsite childcare] but we get so much return on employee retention and engagement.”

Overall, the concern for employers is becoming less about, “how am I going to solve my company’s problems?” and more about “how am I going to help my employees solve their problems?”

From balancing budgets to balancing work-life balance, there’s no doubt workers are looking for assistance. And soon, I predict, they’ll be demanding it.

When it comes to the talent war, employees are now in the driver’s seat. So employers, are you going along for the ride?

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Employee retention Benefit management Benefit strategies Voluntary benefits Employee engagement Benefit communication Employee communications