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On the Third Hand: Keeping workers

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The oldest boomers are 69. The youngest are 51. The youngest workers who have ever received any significant amount of coaching from middle managers who had time to coach younger workers (remember them?) is around 60.

India and China have many young workers, but training those workers for America-focused jobs can be a challenge, and those young workers want more money and better working conditions.

The labor market may be firming up even here, in the Land of the Great Recession Lost. The other day, I was talking to a human resources manager who rolled his eyes at the idea that there’s a big pool of qualified, hard-working young job hunters sending out hundreds of résumés and getting no offers. 

Of course, some cities have more jobs than others. Some sets of skills are more in demand than others. Some readers of this article have personally sent out hundreds of résumés and gotten no offers, or have children who are struggling to find jobs. But it looks as if employers may be coming back to viewing a solid benefits package as a tool for attracting and retaining workers who know how to do their jobs, not just as an annoying responsibility dumped on them by a dysfunctional society.

Consultants at Accenture have raised that possibility in a report based on a survey of about 2,700 U.S. workers who have health benefits. The consultants asked what the participants might do if their employers dropped the health benefits. Sixty-four percent said they would be dissatisfied with their employers, and 32 percent said they would be less motivated to work harder. About 31 percent said they would quit in 12 months. Fifteen percent said they would leave their jobs immediately.

Accenture is a player in the private health insurance exchange market. The company conducted the survey to sell employers on the idea of using private exchange programs to wean workers off of traditional group health coverage, rather than simply dropping health benefits.

See also: Will health exchange roots break through your wall?

In some cases, the company says, workers may be more interested in help from employers with finding high-quality, reasonably priced plans than in employers’ contributions for coverage. Only 18 percent of the workers surveyed said they would be satisfied if their employers held employer contributions for health coverage steady but sent the workers out to find their own individual coverage. Twenty-three percent of the workers said they would be satisfied if their employers provided no help with paying for coverage but did offer access to a curated menu of plans. Or, in other words, a private exchange.

On the one hand, what startled me most about the report is that Accenture assumes that employers care about what workers think. Josh Tauber, the Accenture strategy manager, acknowledged in an email interview that “retention strategies vary widely across industries.” 

“For those relying on highly skilled labor, such as higher education and professional services, retention is essential,” Tauber says.

Even employers in sectors in which benefits have been weak may find that discontinuing the benefits they do offer will backfire, by increasing turnover, Tauber says.

On the other hand, maybe Accenture is trying to spook employers by giving them an inaccurate view of workers’ position. Maybe, even if changing benefits packages increases turnover, there are plenty of great ways to replace those turned-over workers. Schools in China, India and Greece may have plenty of great candidates in the pipeline.

On the third hand, members of the small “baby bust” generation, sometimes known as Generation X, are now rising into positions of real responsibility, after years of being overshadowed by the boomers. Employers may need all the help they can get with finding, and keeping, the graying baby busters, and precocious millennials, who have somehow worked steadily enough, and in responsible enough positions, to equip themselves for proper jobs in areas other than coffee preparation. 

See also: Millennials think they have it bad? Generation X has it worse