Since last fall, Jen Bradshaw has engaged clients of Holland-based Paragon Recruiting in monthly virtual focus groups to share ideas and best practices. Recently, she asked participants how they attract and keep talent, a top issue for all employers in today’s tight labor market and one that’s especially acute for the technology sector Paragon serves. The clients told her that workplace culture and perks — such as paid training and certification, unlimited paid time off, flexible hours, and variety in the tasks and projects employees are assigned — often matter more to people than wages. Bradshaw spoke with MiBiz about the findings.
What did you learn from clients in how they’re dealing with finding and keeping good employees?
Companies are just evolving and they’re changing. They’re becoming more flexible in offering those benefits outside of just a salary, and some are evolving faster than others.
Based on what clients told you, did any common theme emerge about what allows companies to retain talent?
The non-monetary benefits. Companies are adding more things like company parties or coffee bars and open working spaces. (It’s) just a little more progressive atmosphere than the traditional office 10 years ago — or 15 to 20 years ago — (where you’re) in your cubicle from 8 to 5 each day. Definitely the trend is that companies are breaking out of that mold.
Are firms offering these benefits in lieu of higher wages?
I think so. Companies have their budget restrictions in terms of salaries, so that is something that is attractive to professionals that understand it’s not all about the dollar. It’s easier to offer these benefits that are non-monetary because they can’t do the salary shift. They hire somebody in at $90,000. Well, if everybody else at the same tenure or the same years of experience is making $70,000, then they need to bring everybody up so they can hire this person and retain. That’s a huge hit to the budget.
What’s the most unique benefit you’ve heard about?
One company that I thought was cool has gone as far as to offer unlimited PTO (paid time off). There’s a stipulation that as long as it’s not taken advantage of and people don’t abuse it, then (you get) unlimited PTO. If you need a day off, go take a day off. If you need to go pick your kids up, go pick your kids up. The company has definitely seen success with it, and there hasn’t been abuse of the policy. That’s important to professionals young and old: flexibility, time off, work-life balance. I thought that was a pretty unique offering.
Are these practices becoming the norm in the tight labor market? Are they sustainable once the economy turns?
I believe they will continue to be this flexible, and I think companies that are not as flexible right now will transform and will go to a little more flexible schedule because I think it’s trending. Companies do have to transform with the changing times.
So it’s more that societal norms are changing and employers need to change with them based on what’s important to people. What happens if they don’t evolve?
Then they will continue to have struggles filling open positions. It’s tough enough to find, attract and retain that talent in the first place. The companies that are offering these other benefits, if you will, are having an easier time attracting and retaining the talent. If companies don’t change, there will be a continued struggle.
Would people rather work in a cool place than a place that pays more?
I feel that once one has been in the real working world for a period of time, they do find that yes, there’s much more than just a salary.
What did clients tell you does not work that other employers should avoid?
Being inflexible, the stuffy (workplace), the cubicles, or (requiring) you to have to sit in your chair from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday.
Do the companies that are more flexible and focus more on culture and the non-monetary benefits tend to be younger?
I definitely see that. They are younger companies with younger professionals and smaller companies in terms of size and the number of employees, and with younger entrepreneurs. They have the ability to be more agile.
What does this shift mean for the established tech firms that have reached a certain size?
With the larger firms, the big wheel turns slowly, so it’s a little tougher to change that old mentality. You have so many people already there. It’s just more difficult to get these large companies to get to transform and try to become more progressive, if you will. When you have that many people that you’re dealing with, you have to be consistent. There are job candidates that still do really want the big name and the big company. They feel like (the corporate culture) is more stable, but it’s not the majority.