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Why Investing in a Workforce is Important

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The relationship between employers and employees has come a long way in the last century. And the increased competition between companies to attract and retain top talent has been one of most prevalent factors driving this change. Employers have made the turn from being known as the slave driver only caring about results, to the position of an encouraging leader seeking to keep employees and their families happy by providing more than just a place of employment. In 1992 benefits only made up for 3 percent of the total payroll cost for companies the United States, compared to the 42 percent it comprises now (Encyclopedia.com, 2009).

This is in part due to the Wagner Act passed in 1935, that allowed employees to organize into unions. This gave workers a greater voice as they were now able to unite and in turn forced companies to make the necessary changes by improving the treatment and compensation of their work force. In the business world, there are many benefits required by the United States Constitution. These include: social security, unemployment insurance, Workers Compensation, and family and medical leave all of which are mandatory for companies with more than 50 full time employees (SBA.Gov, 2016).

Today’s employers are going beyond the required by giving employees much more than just fair compensation. Some of these modern benefits include free meals provided by the company, allowing pets at work, giving ample time for families expecting children and much more.

The idea of providing employees with meals during work started with investment banks in the 1980’s. The idea at the time was to reward those who stayed late by allowing them to order in a meal on the company’s dime (Gross, 2016). This idea is now a benefit many applicants look for when choosing a career and companies have adapted to suit their needs.

Google, the American tech giant, has one of the highest employee retention and satisfaction rates of any fortune 500 company and for good reason. The multi conglomerate offers its employees a very generous salary and then pairs it with some of the most unusual benefits ever heard of. The employees, known as Googlers, favorite benefit is the free never ending gourmet food and snacks which they have access to anytime of the day. These meals are prepared by on-campus chefs and they include a healthy breakfast, lunch, and to those that work late, a wholesome dinner (D’Onfro, 2015).

The main reason businesses have started providing meals is to decrease the stress that comes with having to leave the office just to spend money on food, and then return to find they lost the brilliant idea they had before lunch. By providing these meals employees can stay focused, eat free healthy food, and spend their breaks catching fresh air all while developing new ideas. Research has shown that these little decreases in employee stress lead to a productive and happy workplace.

One of the most unusual benefits offered by Google, is to allow Googlers to bring their pets to work. This seems like it could be a distraction but on the contrary, improved employee moral significantly. According to a former Google employee “Though managing a dog between meetings can sometimes be challenging, having her with me meant that every few hours I needed to get outside and take a break which helped me manage my energy” (D’Onfro, 2015). The employee goes on to explain that having his dog at work aided in developing relationships with his managers and co-workers, who would stop by during free time to pet the office pup. This is just another example of how companies receive numerous benefits by just allowing a little bit of freedom and self-expression.

Clearly Google is one of the best companies an employee could hope to work for and one of the biggest reasons isn’t even technically a given benefit. Googlers have the pleasure of working alongside some of best and brightest minds of the 21st century. The company strives to provide an environment of learning and comradery by hiring motivated talent who strive to perform the best work possible while still having a good time. When you put all of that into one workplace it cultivates an entire model for success. “Never in my life have I met so many people with a Wikipedia page than in the last year!” a quote from an anonymous Googler describing what coming into work is like for him (D’Onfro, 2015)

Pregnant females are allowed by law to take up to 12 weeks after giving birth to recover and spend time with their infant child. This may seem like adequate time but research has shown that it is crucial for a new born to remain with a permeant caregiver for at least six months after birth to develop properly. Google takes employee family life very seriously and has upped the bar significantly when it comes to new parental leave. Mothers are given 18 weeks of fully paid leave and fathers receive six weeks, while continuing to receive full benefits during their time off (D’Onfro, 2015).

Google is not the only company to put their employee’s families first, Facebook, the social media mogul, allows four months of paid leave for mothers and fathers to spend time with their new born. As well as reimburse parents for day care, adoption fees, and up to $4000 in cash after their child is born (Carmela, 2016). Facebook understands that having a new child can be extremely stressful and wants to help in every way that they can. Not only is a new baby a huge time consumer it can be a significant drain on employee finances. Diapers are not getting any cheaper and Facebook realizes that these added stressors will only decrease from employee productivity.

Forcing parents to abandon their new children would only cause resentment between managers and staff and eventually lead to distracted work performance as the parents would think of their families instead of focusing on the task at hand. Not only is Facebook increasing employee morale and tightening the bond with their workers, they are also improving work productivity and efficiency. Capriati’s Sandwich Shop understands that life and emergencies outside of work arise; especially when it comes to children. Therefore, they allow their employees to attend their children’s activities and even leave work to handle emergency situations with no questions asked (Carmela, 2016).

In the parks and recreation department turnover is a major problem as employees use typically only stay just long enough to find a higher paying job. Because of the recent economic downturn cities are being forced to cut budgets and parks and rec is usually the first to feel the financial drain. Meaning that offering a higher salary is simply not an option to retain top talent but what these departments can do is increase low-cost benefits offered to employees. By restructuring work schedules, they could allow employees with children more time to spend at home while still getting their work finished.

Another unusual benefit that has grown in popularity because of its tremendous results, is to provide employees with fitness centers, nutritional plans, yoga classes, free massages and even acupuncture. The idea behind this benefit is that a healthy employee is one that will take fewer sick days and require less health insurance coverage as fewer doctor visits are required. This type of benefit started to appear in the early 80’s as companies started clubs and gave out special t-shirts to those that participated in company health events. This seemed like an efficient way to bring employees together and increase comradery but consequently it resulted in the opposite. The employees who needed the programs the most were alienated from the rest of the group and health and office morale declined.

To combat this ostracism employers have developed incentive programs that give out cash and other incentives to employees that achieve their fitness goals. Integris Health, Oklahoma’s largest health care provider developed an incentive plan that would reward employees who met established goals like: weight loss, lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and no tobacco use. The reward was to decrease health care premiums paid by employees and resulted in a 15 percent reduction is total diabetes, weight, and cholesterol levels. Those who met their goals received incentives of up to $250 and those who did not were given the option to enter “assistance programs” like Weight Watchers at Work (Anderson, Kleiner, 2015). The health plan was a success because a healthier staff requires less insurance in turn allowing employees to pay smaller premiums and eventually enabled the company to choose a cheaper coverage plan.

Cash is not the only incentive for employees to participate in health programs. Many companies have developed plans to reimburse employees for their purchases of gym memberships, nutritional programs, and exercise equipment. Segal Co. a Manhattan based consultation firm offers employees up to $300 for any purchases that leads to a healthier lifestyle. Purchases include running shoes, supplemental vitamins, and a membership to any gym of their choosing. As health care cost continue to rise companies will continue to seek new ways to motivate employees to become healthier by offering innovative incentives that lead to reduced company cost. Vytra Healthcare offers 29 different ways to earn ‘health points” that are redeemable for over 50 sports and other health related items. Vytra’s marketing team expects to see a 10 percent decrease in health care cost because of the program translating to a huge decrease in cost for such an easily implemented program (Jamison, Kleiner, 2015).

To attract young fresh talent businesses have introduced loan payback plans for employees that recently graduated with student debt. A study from the Society of Human Resource Managers found that loan repayment programs are in the top 5 benefits students look for upon graduation. This finding doesn’t come as a surprise because “Americans owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. In fact, the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 worth of debt” (Student Loan Hero, 2016).

This means that the average college graduate will face tremendous financial stress for the first few years of their professional careers. In today’s competitive workforce a bachelor’s degree is required as the bare minimum for almost any position even at the entry level. Companies have taken the initiative to ease this unneeded stress by providing aid to their employees with the debt they accrued just to be eligible for the position (Calnan, 2015). PwC offers recent grads up to $1200 dollars a year strictly to pay off loan debt. They offer this benefit to employees because of the huge payoff they receive in return. By not worrying about the massive debt they are working to pay off, they can have the peace of mind to focus on their work and feel like they are receiving payment for their investment into a quality education. Helping employees with debt isn’t the only way companies are investing in their worker’s education. Many have started encouraging their staff to seek out higher education and further job training by providing financial assistance and allowing secured sabbaticals to attend classes and seminars.

Starbucks, the reigning queen of coffee, offers employees the option to join their College Achievement Program. The program allows all eligible U.S employees, that work 20 hours or more per week, the chance to earn a completely payed off bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University’s online program. Starbucks desire is for each of their employees to have access to an education in order to develop talent for the future (Caramela, 2016). They know that an investment into the employee will allow them to better promote from within later in their career paths. By promoting from within employers can reduce the cost of recruiting, wasted time performing interviews, and ultimately know they have a qualified candidate that has experience in the company and has gained experience from the bottom up.

Employee benefits have come a long way since the creation of the Wagner Act. Now days’ companies compensate with much more than just a paycheck. with these benefits, Employees can live their lives as well as develop themselves professionally. Employees are not the only one enjoying these benefits though. The employers who offer them are seeing increases in productivity, efficiency, and morale all while reducing turnover, cost, and health issues; a success for both parties.

To attract the best talent companies like Google, and Patagonia are going above and beyond these required benefits by offering employees tremendous total compensation packages that are far more attractive than just a large salary. Some of these benefits include in-house spas and gyms, free monthly massages, year-long pregnancy leave for mothers and fathers, and even paid month long sabbaticals. The sabbaticals are for employees to recharge and peruse their life passions away from work. Epic Systems, offers their employees an opportunity that allows them to take a four-week paid leave of work once every five years of employment, to do whatever they may want to do. To make the benefit even sweeter they are willing to pay for the employee and one guest’s complete travel cost to any destination of their choosing (Caramela,2016).

Why are business offering these extra packages to employees when they are not required? Because they realized long ago that a happy and healthy employee is one that will remain loyal and work at an efficient rate for much longer. Not only are these employees happier and healthier they also produce superior work to those that simply come in to finish the job as quickly as possible. Only to return the next day and start all over again with no appreciation from the employer. The research proves that companies who invest in their employees lives and provide benefits that make positions more enjoyable, receive enormous benefits themselves. They reduce turnover by giving employees back their lives away from the office with time to pursue their own interest (Goodyear, 2001).

My research proves that work can become something employees enjoy instead of just an obligation to fulfill. The competition to recruit and hire the best employees available will only increase with the number of positions that require skilled workers. And when a staff can come to the office knowing their employer has their best interest in mind not only will they produce quality work for the employer, they will also live happier healthier lives.

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