What are HR Teams Buying in 2018

A few years ago, when artificial intelligence (AI) started to become more prevalent in products and familiar to the public, futurists were quick to make dystopian predictions.

The TED Talks and news headlines were clear: AI will come for white-collar jobs, in the same way that automation replaced blue-collar work. With all of our jobs nearing extinction, it was time to discuss a universal basic income and how to tax robots.

Those sky-is-falling prognosticators may still be right (who am I to predict the future?), but one thing is for sure -- 2018 was not good to their case:

  • Month over month, unemployment rates hit record lows, across all demographics.
  • LinkedIn published a fascinating piece about employees "ghosting" companies, because they had so many employment options.
  • Amazon, the ruthless cost-cutters that invest more in automation than anyone else, nearly doubled their employee minimum wages.

HR teams know the truth about talent scarcity much better than the TED Talk intellectuals. Which is why you can't attend a gathering of three or more HR leaders without hearing their now-famous maxim: "The war for talent is over -- and talent won".

And this guiding principle is not just lip service. Attracting and retaining talent at all costs is what is driving the purchasing decisions at the world's most progressive companies.

In the six months, since OutSail was launched, our team has helped nearly 100 HR teams discover best-fit solutions to their talent challenges. One purchase fills a need. One hundred purchases tell a story. Here's the story that we learned:

Employee wellness is table stakes

A few years ago, offering an employee wellness program was limited to the domain of venture-backed technology companies. Now, however, if you aren't offering a wellness program to your employees, you've fallen behind.

Just this month, we've helped a "behind the times" auto dealership (their words, not mine) and a shoestring budget non-profit launch their first-ever wellness programs.

The questions is no longer "Why have a wellness program?" That's been answered by study after study showing lower absenteeism and healthcare costs, coupled with higher engagement and productivity.

Now the question is "How should our wellness program look?" And the good news is that there is no shortage of options. Want to provide a flexible stipend to your employees? Check out ThrivePass. Want a fitness program that will be a recruitment sell? Partner with ClassPass. Want a program that will accommodate all demographics? Look no further than Vitality.

If feedback isn't continuous, then back-filling will be

There is a scene in the HBO show, Billions, where the company's CEO is asking the on-staff therapist how to retain his best employee. The CEO wants to increase the employee's comp, but the therapist wisely advises that what the employee really wants is "forward momentum".

Many companies try to keep their employees happy - they bring in ping pong tables, happy hour snacks and branded T-shirts. But happiness is volatile and hard to maintain during business challenges.

Smart companies try to keep their employees motivated. Motivation comes from having clear, actionable guidance on how today's work impacts the broader company and one's long-term career goals.

One way of increasing motivation is by moving away from once-a-year annual reviews, to a model of continuous dialogue between mangers and direct reports. For companies looking to create a culture of engaged, high-performers, we often recommend Lattice, Reflektive and 15Five as leaders in the space.

New benefits for a new workforce

You've likely already read dozens of think pieces about how millennials are changing the workforce, so I won't beleaguer the point. Instead, I'll just share a few creative ways that companies are offering unique benefits without breaking the bank:

  1. Student Loan Assistance Programs - One of the largest challenges facing millennial employees is their ballooning student debt. Companies like Gradifi and Peanut Buttermake it easy for companies to make monthly payments towards employee debt. Additionally, many companies will pay for these programs by re-allocating 401K funds, which aren't as appealing to young employees buried below mountains of debt.
  2. Work from Home Days - I've worked at a company that offered an on-site gym and full-service cafeteria, and I've worked at one that offered Work From Home Wednesday's. If given the choice again, I'd choose the company with WFHW every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Best of all this benefit cost the company nothing to offer. And before you cop out behind the "productivity loss" arguments, this was the company that offered it.

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