Across all industries, Springfield-area employers are keen to attract workers.
The unemployment rate in the Springfield metropolitan statistical area was 3.5% in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, millions left the labor force during the first year of the pandemic, and for some, the change is a permanent one. The Wall Street Journal reports that 1.45 million workers age 55 and older left the workforce from February 2020 to February 2021, and many of them have no plans to return.
Older workers aren’t the only ones eyeing a change. A study released by the Society for Human Resource Management predicts a turnover “tsunami” in 2021, with as many as half of the U.S. workforce planning to look for a new job.
Additionally, those who left the workforce involuntarily, because of layoffs or workplace closures, may be trying to find their way back. The good news for applicants is that they seem to have their choice of where to lend their talents.
Speaking at a Springfield Business Journal Economic Growth Survey forum this month, Richard Ollis, CEO of Ollis/Akers/Arney, an insurance and business advising firm, warned about the looming challenges.
“The game is about to change. Costco is coming to town, Amazon has come to town, and the competition for labor is about to heat up,” he said.
Ollis’ remarks, titled “At the Intersection of Workforce and Placemaking,” focused on the ways the city can create an environment that is attractive to businesses – appropriate, since Ollis is a member of Springfield City Council. But in addition to that macro view, he also offered a micro version, as he discussed ways that workplaces can appeal to workers.
Workers always have scoped out attractive pay, of course, but they also are interested in benefits and perks, and the labor shortage means businesses can benefit if they find creative ways to appeal to them. Ollis outlined some popular perks, including opportunities for paid-time off or sabbaticals, flexible or remote work, workplace amenities, family-friendly policies, social experiences and financial planning.
Perhaps one of the most important things a business can offer is the opportunity for remote and flexible work.
“I personally believe that if you can offer it, you must offer it,” Ollis said, adding that flexibility is a factor in attracting and retaining workers.
He admitted that he personally had to be “dragged kicking and screaming” to work-from-home policies. “And I was wrong,” Ollis said. “We have become more productive through flexible work.”
Heather Rooney McBride, founding member of law firm Rooney McBride & Smith LLC, employs 25 people, including attorneys and full- and part-time staff. Making that staff feel appreciated was of prime importance to the firm when planning for its Republic Road law office. The space includes a fitness area with a TV, free weights and other workout equipment, as well as a full shower with towels provided.
“Anybody in legal or professional services is spending a lot of time at work,” she said. “As we were designing this place in early 2019, we wanted to provide people the opportunity to take a brain break – to decompress a little bit.”
Rooney McBride estimates that half of the firm’s staff use the workout room.
“People who want to work out or take a break in the middle of the day have a chance to do so. They don’t have to go somewhere else,” she said.
Rooney McBride stressed the importance of work-life balance.
“Having some semblance of balance as far as health and personal time and family time is not really generally a facet that’s held near and dear as far as management in law offices are concerned,” she said. “Our group really wanted to present a more modern face of what a law office can look like.”
She added the workout space is a draw for new hires – particularly for those right out of law school.
“Every single one comments on how cool that is,” she said. “It wasn’t intended as a recruitment tool, but it has become that.”
Sara Coatney, talent acquisition specialist with Guaranty Bank and a member of the Springfield Area Human Resources Association board, said creativity is key when it comes to attracting and retaining workers.
“I’m seeing a lot of creativity in recruitment and especially this year more remote work options,” she said. “COVID didn’t give us much choice, as businesses have been forced to adapt quickly.”
Offering flexible work options has become increasingly important, she said.
“I understand there are certain positions where that’s not possible for security reasons or specific job requirements, but thinking outside the box about how we can make even partial flexibility an option is going to be really important moving forward.”
Many people felt devastated when their workplaces were shut down or they were labeled nonessential, said Coatney.
“It meant a lot when companies were able to show that they had no layoffs during COVID or were able to take care of employees,” she said. “A deeper sense of purpose, alignment, involvement in the community, work-life balance – these things have always been important, and they’re even more important now.”
Coatney cited some of the extra benefits Guaranty Bank offers, like an employee crisis fund or a wellness reimbursement that pays up to $150 each year for gym memberships, running shoes or fitness equipment. Paid time off for volunteering is another benefit that employees appreciate.
One benefit Guaranty offers is a cost-of-funds mortgage with a 1% interest rate floor to let employees who meet classification and underwriting qualifications buy a home or refinance a mortgage.
“It makes a big difference in your monthly mortgage payment,” she said.
Another SAHRA board member, Ashley Fick, is the human resources director for Nothum Food Processing Systems, a factory that produces machines used in commercial food production. Fick has been busy lately, as hiring signs outside of the factory attest. Nothum is adding 30 workers immediately, and a $1,500 signing bonus is in the offing.
While some businesses offer creative benefits, Nothum is pretty traditional, Fick said – though the company pays 100% of employees’ health, vision and dental insurance.
Working from home is not an option for a factory, but there are other ways to make the workforce feel appreciated, Fick said.
“Every month we take a random holiday,” she said. “If there’s not a real holiday, we just take one.”
When workers go on vacation, they often come back to work that has piled up – but when everyone takes a paid day off at the same time, they can come back refreshed with no backlog, she said.
Some of the other perquisites offered at Nothum are less tangible, Fick says. The CEO meets all new employees and also holds a monthly town hall meeting. There’s an annual company picnic, and workers are sometimes invited to a company property with a lake and trails, just to kick back and fish and relax.
“For us, it comes down to making sure our people are taken care of,” Fick said. “The amount of people we talk to who want to leave where they are because of a toxic work environment is insane.
“Our goal is just to make sure people feel like they belong here.”
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