Enjoyable work trumps benefits packages for many job seekers

You have scoured the résumés, packed your office with candidate after candidate, conducted a million interviews and you finally have selected an engineer. Now it is time to put together an offer and it is nerve-wracking because you know it pales in comparison with the packages of yesteryear.

By Jeff Dickey-Chasins, Vice President of Marketing, MEP Jobs, Urbandale, Iowa October 1, 2007

You have scoured the resumes, packed your office with candidate after candidate, conducted a million interviews and you finally have selected an engineer. Now it is time to put together an offer and it is nerve-wracking because you know it pales in comparison with the packages of yesteryear. But with the rising costs of healthcare, your firm cannot offer what it did in the past.

Relax. Your new employee will be more understanding than you think. As it turns out, many job seekers in the engineering field understand the effects of rising healthcare costs. Instead of demanding vigorous benefits packages, more job-seeking professionals are placing an emphasis on qualitative benefits, such as enjoyment of their work.

MEP Jobs, an online job Web site for engineers in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing sectors, recently polled its users, asking them to identify the best incentives an employer could offer. Surprisingly, survey respondents chose “Interesting Work” as often as “Full Health Benefits.”

Together, the two factors account for 41% of the votes (20 percentage points for health benefits, and 21 percentage points for interesting work), surpassing “A Fat Paycheck.”

Although “A Fat Paycheck” ranks highest in responses at 36%, the survey results indicate that employees are placing more emphasis on enjoyment of their work than in previous years.

In March 2005, MEP Jobs conducted this same survey. “A Fat Paycheck” ranked at 59%, and “Interesting Work” accounted for 10% of the votes. The former answer went down in percentage points, and the latter rose in the 2007 survey, showing that employees place more emphasis on work enjoyment now.

Create your own poll

There are several ways engineering firms can leverage this shift in priorities among job seekers.

First, firms should ask their employees what they consider “interesting work.” Discover what your engineers find stimulating and exciting. Because employees may have different ideas, business owners should create a culture that encourages team members to share those thoughts.

Opening up the lines of communication with employees is key to providing team members with a rewarding career. Employers often guess at what employees are looking for because it’s easier than engaging them in a brainstorming process. Not only does surveying employees take more time, it also may reveal more than they want to know.

If getting creative with the types of projects proves difficult, look at other areas, such as tools and processes. After all, it often is the employees who are most tapped into the latest materials and gear, methods and practices. Providing them with contemporary tools of the trade will not only improve the work product, but also the employees’ pride in their work.

Veterans are on board

Employing industry veterans greatly improves the quality of a firm’s craftsmanship and reputation. Industry veterans also are experienced, requiring less investment in training.

However, senior-level prospects bring a bit of baggage to the interview process, as they often are accustomed to the hefty benefits packages of the past. And for a lot of employers, offering these kinds of packages is no longer a possibility.

While responses to the MEP Jobs survey were anonymous, they most likely were from senior workers, according to MEP Jobs user data. More than 80% of users have worked in their fields for more than 10 years, and nearly 40% of users have more than 15 years in the industry.

Firms often value experience more than other qualifications on a prospective employee’s resume, so it is useful to know that this shift in priorities among job seekers extends to the more senior among them.

Creating a work/life balance

Is your star performer missing her child’s T-ball game because of deadline pressures? Offer flexible her hours so the employee can take a few hours for the game and return to work afterward or earlier the next morning.

Does your new employee need a place to take his child until suitable day care is found? Offer to help, allowing the employee to bring the child to work for a few days or arranging for child care on the company’s dime until the employee can locate a sitter.

Ninety percent of employees say achieving work/life balance is a high priority, yet only 15% claim to be anywhere close to attaining it, according to research from Opinion Research Corp., Princeton, N.J. Helping workers achieve this goal alleviates some of the pain felt by shrinking benefits.

Again, communication is paramount to making this plan work. Ask your employees what they are missing out on in their personal lives and see if you can adjust their schedules or duties to accommodate them.

Creating a safe and open culture where employees feel safe sharing their outside burdens is necessary to achieving work/life balance. If employees can trust that the issue will be kept in confidence and that they are receiving help, they will ultimately become better employees because their minds will be on work, not wandering off, trying to find solutions to their personal problems.

Share the gratitude

Beyond access to modern tools and stimulating projects, business owners should consider the value of communicating client gratitude to the entire team. When a customer is pleased, he typically thanks only the person with whom he’s had contact from the start, and this may not be the employee who completed the physical labor on the job. Sharing the customer’s kind words with the entire team can go a long way in the fight to keep employees satisfied with their jobs.

Tap an incentive program

Another alternative to a hefty benefits package is employee-recognition incentives. Personalized non-cash awards, such as gift certificates, vacations, and home electronics, have a great impact in an employee’s mind.

Incentive programs also can be designed to achieve greater results for the team as a whole. All employees should have an opportunity to participate, as each person plays an integral role in contributing to the success of the firm.

Loyal employees who are recognized for their contributions feel valued by their employers, and this builds a stable foundation for a firm’s success.

Show me the money

While the MEP Jobs survey indicates an increase in the emphasis employees place on qualitative benefits, engineers still need to feel adequately compensated. Although employers may not be able to offer the health benefits they once could, they can compensate in other fiscal areas.

Take retirement benefits, for example. Particularly appealing to the senior-level prospects employers want, a vigorous retirement package is a satisfactory supplement for less-than-stellar health plans.

According to the Eighth Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, which announced its results in February, 62% of employees surveyed said they would leave their jobs for similar positions with employers who offered retirement plans.

Flexible spending plans are another option that employers may find more affordable than traditional health plans. Designed to help employees pay for medical and day-care expenses tax free, these plans are an ideal alternative for organizations in the engineering field.

After adopting these measures, your reputation as a compassionate employer will spread faster than you think, and before you know it, your phone will be ringing off the hook with qualified prospects looking to join your team. Not all of these solutions will work for every firm, and you may have to work out creative benefits on a case-by-case basis. However, it will be worth it in the end.