Meeting the Needs of Today's Workforce

The new workforce has arrived. The tried-and-true formulas for eager workers and organizational success went out with the last millennium. You need fresh ideas that can give your company a competitive edge. There's good news: A few of your peers have had a heads up and have developed compelling strategies to better position their companies as employers of choice. With these tools at your disposal, you can prepare for whatever lies ahead.

First, a Primer

It is no secret that the workforce is changing, evolving so that a single formula for recruiting and retaining employees simply cannot work. In Bright Horizons' New Workforce Reality Study released in 2005, we found that employees who were younger than 30 were significantly more likely to define an 'ideal job? as one that offers opportunities for advancement. They wanted social connections at work. Education and training benefits were important. Child care policies and programs were critical.  

At the same time, older workers are staving off retirement and finding fulfillment staying employed. In a recent survey by AARP, 80 percent of boomers plan on working into retirement. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) projects that from 2004 to 2014 the number of workers ages 55 and older will grow by 49 percent, nearly five times the 10 percent growth the department projects for the overall labor force.  

The contribution of women in the workforce as well as families with two working parents continues to rise. According to the U.S. DOL, nearly 33 percent of women ages 25'64 years held a college degree in 2004, compared with about 11 percent in 1970, and these women are working. Also the State of Working America 2004/2005 reports that in two-parent families with children where the parents are ages 25'54, annual work hours rose between 30 and 69 percent from 1970 to 2000, depending on income.

Companies Respond

In a climate where finding talent becomes increasingly challenging, organizations are implementing people strategies to stay ahead of the curve. Lehman Brothers hosts executive luncheons, offers flexible work schedules, and repeatedly contacts new stay-at-home mothers to help them stay connected to the office. Deloitte & Touche created the Personal Pursuits program that allowed 28 top performers leaves from work of up to five years to raise children, take care of parents, or fulfill personal goals. These workers stay connected to the company via mentoring and training and opportunities for paid project work. Kwik-Fit based in Lanarkshire, Scotland, has an array of programs that demonstrate an overall culture of recognizing employee need to balance the simple, yet necessary tasks of life and work.   Whether it is recruiting mid-career women, supporting transitions back to work after maternity leave, or planting seeds for the next generation, companies are riding the tide of change in an effort to stay afloat.

Attracting New Mothers

In their recent study, Maternity Leave and the Employment of New Mothers in the U.S., researchers Lawrence M. Berger and Jane Waldfogel reported that expectant mothers who were employed in jobs that provided leave coverage were more likely to take a leave of up to 12 weeks, but return more quickly after the leave was over. Goldman Sachs' innovative Maternity Buddy program was developed to ease this transition.

Through the program, new working mothers are paired up with an experienced mom at the firm. These mentoring relationships focus on the practical and emotional aspects of a successful return to work.   Booz Allen Hamilton's adjunct program arose from a similar philosophy. For former employees, primarily mothers who have left the company to care for children, the consultants are offered work for pay on short projects, training, career planning, and a hire-back option. This policy encourages former employees to consider Booz Allen Hamilton first when they are ready to return to work full time.  

Ernst & Young recently launched the Working Mom's Network, a program that will provide resources, networking, and mentoring opportunities for new, expectant, and veteran mothers. The network is part of the firm's My JournEY initiative, an umbrella of programs and resources for working parents. My JournEY provides for all leaves related to childbirth or adoption, a full lactation program, flexible schedules and work arrangements, concierge services, and back-up care. For working dads, Ernst & Young also operates a Working Dads Network.   For women who want to continue in their careers and be successful parents, programs such as these are major differentiators.

Programs for Older Workers

Several studies have revealed that the value of older workers cannot be underestimated. For one, productivity does not decrease as a worker ages. In addition, a study of workers older than 65 found that the attendance of older workers was better than much younger workers, as were their punctuality and manners. These qualities are very useful, particularly in positions that require interactions with customers. With 49 percent of companies in the U.S. (71 percent of companies in the UK) reporting that they allow older workers to reduce their schedules in order to remain at work, it seems that many organizations are understanding the value of their older workers.  

In fact, CVS and Publix have begun increasing the number of older workers they hire. Greenville Hospital System of Greenville, SC, redesigned many of the layouts of nursing stations to retain its older workforce. With upgraded floors that offer more cushion on the joints, the redesign reduced the physical toll on the population. A couple of years ago, Procter & Gamble and Eli Lilly executives partnered to launch YourEncore to connect retirees to companies that need scientists, engineers, and other skilled people for short-term projects.  

States are also taking notice. Four states ' Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, and Mississippi ' have joined with AARP to pilot the Mature Worker Initiative. The program is an effort to increase awareness of the older workforce and an appreciation for older workers by asking employers to commit to hiring them. The goal is to halt the shrinking workforce caused by the retirement of baby boomers. State agencies will serve as liaisons between employers and job candidates.  

And, that's the new dawn of the way we approach work. In this increasingly competitive labor market, organizations are turning to creative solutions to find and keep the right employees. It's those benefits that are viewed as 'sticky? that really help to keep an employee within the organization and deliver the highest value. Recognizing the needs of the workforce and how those needs can differ depending on the employee's career and family care concerns is smart business ' a key strategy to recruiting and retaining current and future labor.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

About the Author

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.