Flexible hours, child care: Some Wisconsin employers raise benefits to attract job seekers
APPLETON - When the pandemic caused a majority of employees to work from home, many found a schedule that aligned their jobs with and their families. Once companies started to return to in-person work, it became difficult for workers to maintain that schedule.
Unemployment rates returned to normal, more or less, after the pandemic. However, they began to rise again in June 2022, and companies renewed the searched for clever ways to maintain the workforce.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin's most recent unemployment rate is 3.3% as of November 2022. The unemployment rate has been steadily increasing throughout the year, in March, the rate sat at 2.8%, the lowest it had been since March 2020.
The Wisconsin Department of Revenue predicts unemployment throughout the state will raise to 4.6% in 2023.
Brad Tank, an investment management expert and University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus, predicted inflation will continue due to factors which coincide with the pandemic — mostly because of a demographic shift affecting workforces for major world powers including the United States and China.
A mild recession was predicted to have started in the last quarter of 2022 and will continue through the first half of 2023, according to the IHS Markit, a provider of information, analytics, and solutions for governments and financial markets.
Throughout 2022, Wisconsin added 60,000 nonfarm jobs and 52,600 total private-sector jobs, according to the BLS, but companies are still having difficulty filling these open positions.
The flexibility of work-from-home jobs, combined with a chance to eliminate child care costs by working from home, is a driving force in job seekers' hesitancy to return to work in the office. A survey done by Pew Research Center in October shows that 54% of Americans reported they would want to continue working from home after the COVID-19 pandemic ended.
Bobbi Miller, a business solutions manager with the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board, said that recruitment processes cannot be "one size fits all" for every company.
"Companies need to get a handle on what their culture is and then stay authentic to that in recruitment," Miller said. "What are companies going to do to find out what their employees are desiring, that aligns with the company culture, and then just stay very authentic to that?"
Job fairs are a great start to recruiting employees, Miller said.
"We've got a lot of job fairs coming up this spring and that's a great way to connect with people," Miller said. "I think that connection is so important ... they get to see and hear from somebody about the company. Job seekers don't always know what the jobs really entail."
Making connections and networking should be important to employers because even if the specific job seeker isn't interested in the offered position, they might know someone who is, Miller said.
Another barrier companies might be facing is their benefits package. Maria Van Asten, human resources generalist with the certified public accounting firm, KerberRose, believes employers need to be more convincing when it comes to employee recruitment.
"The cost-of-living adjustments over the last few years have been astronomical, and unfortunately if organizations cannot compete, they will lose great candidates," Van Asten said.
Besides job fairs, here's what some Wisconsin employers are doing to recruit and maintain their workforce in the new year.
Employers should implement flexible hours
Jeffrey Sachse, director of the Center for Customized Research and Services (CCRS) and economic development at UW-Oshkosh, said he's seeing a trend in the way companies are approaching their employees schedules.
"More employers are offering flexibility in scheduling and use of PTO to balance worker demands for hybrid or remote work schedules," he said.
Van Asten confirmed she's seeing similar trends.
"Flexible hours are a huge benefit overall, especially to parents of children," Van Asten said. "In my opinion and from what I have seen throughout the workforce, having a flexible schedule is huge, but also having the ability to work remotely greatly impacts ones influence in accepting or declining a role."
Other Wisconsin companies like Foth, an engineering company headquartered in Green Bay, and Bellin Health made sure to include flexible hours in their benefits for employees.
"Foth has found that we can still be productive while allowing employees to have more control over their schedules," said Foth's lead corporate recruiter, Christopher DeRuyter. "This can be especially beneficial for those with children or other caregiving responsibilites."
In December, Bellin Health introduced their employees to 72/80 and 48/80 schedules, or "flex schedules" — meaning if they work 72 or 48 hours, they'll get paid for 80 hours regardless.
"We are looking for opportunities to employ people who maybe weren't thinking about, like, an every-other weekend or weekend physician, or who maybe can't work full time," said Ashley Lyman, director of nursing and clinical practice with Bellin.
Lyman said that they have a greater need for employees to work during the weekends, and flex schedules reward employees who can work those weekend hours.
Lyman explains that Bellin employees who have flex schedules work six 12-hour shifts during the pay period but still get paid for a full 80 hours.
"You get benefits with that," Lyman said. "You still earn PTO, you still have 401k, it's just an every-other weekend program. So you are basically getting a little extra to work that program."
The same works for the 40/80 hour schedule: employees work 40 hours every two weeks on weekends between Friday night and Monday morning, and receive pay for a full 80 hours.
Lyman said this schedule helped to benefit a lot of the staff who were struggling with finding child care during their shifts.
"This maybe gives them an opportunity to be home with their kids during the week," Lyman said. "It was about listening to our employees and offering an incentive to help benefit us as well."
Job seekers value childcare assistance
Wisconsin Early Childhood Association reported that 83% of millennials, defined as anyone born between 1981 and 1996, say they would leave their job for one with more family-friendly benefits.
A survey by the Early Care and Learning Council shows companies that provide child care see employee absences decrease by up to 30% and turnover declines by up to 60%.
Several employers have taken this to heart. Bellin has a partnership with Encompass Childcare that provides their employees with a discount to the facility.
AriensCo. in Brillion constructed the Brillion Early Learning Center, a child care facility that gave their employees easier access to child care while working. Employees of AriensCo. are given a 50% discount subsidized by the company for any child care costs at the facility.
"We cover half the cost of that day care expense, so they don't have to pay out of pocket," said Alissa Beyer, vice president of human resources for AriensCo. "We pay KinderCare directly for the tuition for the kids and grandkids of our employees who attend that center."
By providing these services, companies avoid joining other businesses across the U.S. that lose $3 billion annually to employee absenteeism because of child care breakdowns.
"Some of the more popular benefits we have heard about are for child care and elder care assistance, as well as additional family leave, in light of care demands highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic," Sachse said.
Employees want to be fairly compensated for doing their jobs well
Other incentives companies have been offering include competitive wages, bonuses, insurance benefits and improved training.
"In order to keep our employees engaged and motivated, it's important to invest in their professional development," DeRuyter said. "This can include offering training programs and mentoring opportunities, as well as covering the costs of certifications and continuing education classes."
Bellin also included revamped new employee orientation and onboarding in their list of hiring benefits.
Retention and referral bonuses are also a part of Bellin's hiring incentives along with tuition reimbursement and competitive annual wage raises.
"We have found that more employers are adding retention bonuses at defined service benchmarks for employees at all levels to balance new hire or signing bonuses that have become the norm since 2018 or 2019," Sachse said.
AriensCo. offers their employees numerous medical benefits like dental, vision, and wellness incentives to help drive down the costs of premiums, Beyer said.
"We have on-site flu shots, we cover biometric screenings, we have discount plans available for supporting health and living initiatives as well," said Beyer.
Additionally, they offer their employees a range of on-site wellness benefits such as on-site counseling, nursing and nutritionists, free yoga and product discounts.
"We are continuously watching and monitoring the trends in the market and in the community and trying to continuously and constantly make sure that we're offering competitive benefits that are attractive to our employees, both present and future," Beyer said.
As the year starts, the number of job opportunities in the area is greater than the amount of job seekers. Van Asten said many recruiters are having to search for candidates to apply to open positions where, historically, candidates were the ones flooding to applications.
Employers should spend time analyzing their company's goals and values in order to find what benefits are best for their future and present employees.
Reach Jelissa Burns at 920-226-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @burns_jelissa or on Instagram at burns_jelissa.
Thanks to our subscribers for making this coverage possible. Your support helps local journalism.
This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: Wisconsin employers offer flexible hours, more benefits, to keep ahead