THE TALENT MARKET IS SIZZLING IN WESTERN CANADA. From Vancouver to Winnipeg, organizations now expect ever-increasing bottom-line results and are striving to achieve this goal with talent who present interesting generational and cultural challenges. They need creative solutions.

Some key findings in an Aon survey done in Alberta show that employers are adding flexibility to their benefit programs but generally do not measure the cost of recruiting and training which can include advertising, hiring fairs, hiring bonuses, orientation, health and safety training, and certification—all factors that can impact the bottom-line. The results also showed that plan sponsors are responding to the labour crisis with increases in salary, salary ranges and bonus payments, as well as benefit improvements.

Clearly, attraction and retention challenges are real, and how organizations respond will make the difference in their ability to keep the best talent.

In addressing these challenges, organizations are increasingly looking at their employees’ expectations and needs; then developing an overall total rewards strategy to meet both organizational and employee demands.

Forty per cent of survey respondents indicated they have implemented benefit plan changes during the last 12 months. The overwhelming majority(67%)agreed the changes were in response to the increased competition for talent in Alberta. Employers have been adding flexible benefits or increased flexible credits as well as healthcare spending accounts. They have also increased available amounts on healthcare and increased benefit maximums on specific coverages, such as vision care. Plan sponsors have also demonstrated their willingness to increase their own portion of the cost share of benefits plans.

Attraction and retention challenges are evident at most levels in the organization and employers are beginning to respond to the war for talent.

Many organizations are working on programs to move their employees from an “entitlement” philosophy to one of partnership in managing their benefit programs. Partnership is being introduced from the perspective of an integrated health strategy. This includes corporately supported individual initiatives to obtain optimal health, combined with incentives to encourage “smart shopping.” By incorporating incentives and rewards for healthy habits and wise consumer behavior, flexible benefit programs are becoming a powerful strategy to improve the health status of employees.

Increased flexibility in benefit programs is a key retention and attraction tool to address the very different needs of Canada’s diverse workforce. This need is driven not only by the changing demographics of our workplace but also the extent to which employees understand their total compensation package as well as their desire to maximize the value of the package on a personal level.

What should organizations be considering? To effectively compete in today’s marketplace, employers must take action and ensure their total reward program is precisely aligned with stakeholder needs. Organizations should understand the competitiveness of the marketplace for talent. Once this is accomplished, a smart plan sponsor will review/establish a governance foundation for their total rewards program. Ultimately, the plan sponsor must determine if their current benefit program meets the established performance metrics and where appropriate, take action including considering increased flexibility.

Employers who offer flexibility to employees and allow them to customize their coverage from various options will achieve a greater degree of employee satisfaction and understanding of what the plan offers.

The key for employers is to keep up with what is going on in the marketplace and to stay ahead of the curve in their intense need to attract and retain talent. On the bright side, this is an opportunity-rich time, in which knowledge and innovation is key to winning the talent war. This is what employees now expect, and those responsible for their people programs must deliver.

Joan Hollihan is senior vice-president and Kimberley LeComte is senior consultant for Aon Consulting in Calgary.;


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