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Workers Compensation Issues

Employer Trends Shaping the Workplace

Mark Walls , Kimberly George | January 19, 2022

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Employers are adjusting their workplaces to accommodate evolving expectations of the workforce and regulatory requirements. How have human resources (HR) leaders aligned benefit and HR programs to support new or changing business needs? How are employers addressing the return to the office? With an increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting talented employees, how are organizations attracting and retaining talent? And how are employers pivoting to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives? 1

The recent virtual conference, Elevate, presented by Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark, hosted a panel of HR leaders to answer these questions and more. The guests included the following.

  • Paul Garrier, vice president of Global Total Rewards Operations, PepsiCo
  • Misty Hambright, senior manager, Benefits Strategy, American Airlines
  • Michelle Hay, global chief people officer, Sedgwick

Adapting to the Vaccine Mandate Requirements

As employers await the vaccine mandate's fate by the ruling of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, many have already invested significant time and energy to encourage workers to get vaccinated. PepsiCo has provided incentives for those choosing to get vaccinated and has made it easier for employees to receive a vaccine. Yet, there is hesitation to require vaccination within an ever-tightening labor market since it could alienate some groups. Employers are focused on keeping workers safe but are also trying to balance their messaging on requirements effectively.

Other employers have shifted to a fully remote work environment and have not yet had to approach mandating the vaccine. To keep their employees safe, Sedgwick pushed back their return to the office to 2022. They are also focusing on recruitment and retention efforts, leading to further hesitation to require vaccination.

Reassessing Worker Needs in the Great Resignation

The term "Great Resignation" has come to describe the ongoing phenomenon of employees quitting their job after reevaluating their employers throughout the pandemic. The record loss of workers meant employers were faced with reassessing the needs of their workforce, with a particular focus on benefits and flexibility. While this has been a dynamic issue, employers must view this through their employees' lens.

While PepsiCo has not seen a mass exodus in the way of other employers, they have been keen to the additional stresses on their workers from the pandemic to ongoing social unrest. They have focused on providing support and changing their employee value proposition while also digitizing their benefits experience to engage their workforce.

When evaluating their attrition trends, Sedgwick has found a higher loss of workers employed less than a year. These employees may feel less connected to their colleagues or managers without an in-person connection and find it easier to leave the job. Sedgwick has counteracted those losses by redesigning their onboarding, accounting for the virtual nature of the work, with an emphasis on building new employees' contributions and confidence in the first few months. They are also equipping their people managers to check in more frequently with employees. Empowering their employees to know what benefits are available to them and how to take advantage of those benefits has also proven critical.

Airlines were hit particularly hard throughout the pandemic when travel was restricted or discouraged. American Airlines saw 40–50 percent lower capacity, forcing severance packages or extended leave. Now, with a return to travel, they have felt the effects of the labor shortage. Where free travel on standby used to be enough to recruit individuals, they have had to expand benefits significantly. A redesigned Web experience, extensive maternity and disability leave, gender dysphoria benefits, and the expansion of gender reassignment benefits have all been vital in recruiting efforts. They have also kept these benefits public as a recruiting tool and educational tool for both employees and executives.

Supporting the Underrepresented

People of color, LGBTQ+, and women represent those hit the hardest by the effects of the pandemic. Fears around health and safety in the workplace, career progression, isolation, and mental health have been driving concerns for these minority groups. Interactions with different colleagues have been critical in reducing biases, which has not proven easy with remote work. Women also faced increased household responsibilities throughout the pandemic and saw a 57 percent reduction in representation as a result.

While visibility and influence within organizations have increased for minority groups, employers should still focus on their representation. PepsiCo has looked to expand its representation within the organization's managerial roles while also strengthening efforts through the support of minority-owned businesses and community impacts. They have encouraged their business partners to follow suit to prioritize this issue.

Social capital is a set of shared values that allow individuals to work together to achieve a goal effectively. This concept is essential in an inclusive work environment and how work gets done. Employers should equip managers to understand this idea and how it affects minority groups while also having resources and mentors for these individuals.

Managing Social Media Brands

All organizations have a brand to represent, and the proliferation of social media has made protecting that brand more challenging than ever. Organizations should have a plan to proactively and directly respond to their mentions across social media. That plan should include reframing how they connect with their audience and creating a different mindset to anticipate potential issues.

Social media may have its pitfalls, but it is instrumental when bridging the divide between commercial and employment branding. Glassdoor recently stated that 79 percent of job seekers use social media when conducting a job search, with over 84 percent of organizations recruiting through the platforms. In the current labor shortage, social media can prove especially important in recruiting and retaining.

Evolving Benefits

Thinking outside the traditional benefits strategy has become a necessity with increased employee demands. American Airlines rose to the challenge through expanded retail health benefits, recently pivoting their pharmacy benefits manager to CVS. With this integration, employees had minimal disruption to their pharmacy program and were given a more holistic approach to their health.

American Airlines also sought to ease concerns around healthcare costs postretirement. When forced to reduce their staff at the height of the pandemic, part of the early out packages offered retiree health reimbursement arrangements. Proving valuable, the company has built this offering into their 2022 health plan, enabling employees to receive account credits from the company over the years using preventative health measures.

The Future of Work

If the pandemic has proven the need for anything, it is flexible and hybrid work environments. Some employers will shift from employee-managed schedules to a minimum requirement of in-office workdays. Getting back to an in-office setting is critical to dynamic collaboration and mentor development, but balancing it with remote work is just as crucial for recruiting and retaining.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.


1 View the archived recording of this session here. Follow @outfrontideas on Twitter and Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark on LinkedIn for more information about upcoming events and webinars.