As the economy continues to expand, employers find themselves locked in a war for talent unlike any other period in history. Now in our 123rd month of growth—the longest period of economic expansion since the U.S. began keeping track in 1857—employers are doing everything they can to attract and retain valuable talent, including offering higher salaries, better benefits and attractive perks.
When it comes to the public sector, HR teams have had a particularly rough time staying competitive:
- Although tax revenues have increased, politics, protections and processes make it difficult to justify budget increases aimed at attracting and retaining talent—talent that is being sucked up by the private sector at an alarming rate.
- Then, there are the demographics. The “silver tsunami” of retiring baby boomers has long been a threat to retaining a full workforce. But this trend hits the public sector particularly hard, where 52% of public workers are aged 45 to 64 compared to 42% in the private sector.
- Finally, the culture and pace of government work fails to attract younger workers with certain skill sets. A millennial computer programmer, for example, is more likely to want to work for a start-up than a governmental entity where the technology may be outdated and the appetite for innovation is relatively low.
Benefits Matter in the Public Sector
Many of these issues are “forever challenges” for public sector HR teams. Politics will always play a role, and culture has a way of sticking around. But there’s another area of concern that is unique to this unprecedented period of economic growth: benefits.
Once a bastion of rich benefits like great health insurance, pension programs, dental coverage and more, governmental organizations now find themselves on an even footing with private sector employers who offer equally attractive benefits packages. Great health care coverage, retirement options and a host of voluntary benefits have become table stakes.
Seven HR Priorities for Staying Competitive
While that may be a harsh reality, public sector employers can still leverage benefits to attract and retain top talent. In our experience working with state and local governments, we’ve uncovered seven business priorities HR teams are pursuing to remain competitive with the private sector. In alphabetical order, they are:
- Analytics/Insights: Given the right technology, HR teams can generate reports themselves without going through their IT department, saving valuable time and effort. More importantly, the insights they gain from immediate access to the right data helps them make data-driven decisions that drive cost out of the plans while creating better outcomes for their employees.
- Automating Benefits Administration and Management: When budgets are limited, leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate manual processes greatly reduces HR teams’ administrative burden, allowing them to focus on more strategic endeavors… like saving money.
- Benefits Decision Guidance Tools: Employer and employees both win when the latter is empowered to make informed decisions about their benefits based on factors like their risk tolerance, health status and budget. Enrollment platforms that include decision guidance tools produce greater levels of employee engagement, benefits literacy and employer satisfaction.
- Cost Control: Public sector benefits administrators are well versed in strategically designing plans aimed at lowering their overall spend. Some, however, have reached a point of diminishing returns and are now focused on helping their employees be better health care consumers through health literacy initiatives, financial well-being benefits, decision guidance tools and robust communications tools that transform the annual enrollment experience into a year-round personalized journey.
- Retiree Administration: Retiree benefits can be complex and time consuming, especially in the public sector where grandfathered plans and benefits can stretch back decades. And the rapidly aging public-sector workforce doesn’t help matters. HR teams who outsource this type of administrative work are better able to stem this rising tide of complexity while ensuring their retirees have the support they need to effectively navigate this new stage of their lives.
- Self-Service/Mobile Technology: The rapidly evolving digital landscape and the level of customer service we enjoy from retailers, banks, hotels and even ride sharing services has dramatically influenced our employees’ expectations around benefits. Government is not known to be particularly innovative, but they can partner with organizations who are—vendors who can help users engage with their benefits when and where they prefer.
- Total Rewards Programs: Public entities need help telling the kind of story that helps retain valuable talent. With politicians on one side and unions on the other, competing for your employees’ attention is hard. Employers who embrace a holistic total rewards strategy, however, are finding that the solution tells the story for them.
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