Over the last three years, our team has conducted countless interviews and surveys with employers across the country to learn about their challenges recruiting, retaining and engaging their workforce, especially their lower-wage workers. The Employer Toolkit is the product of this research. As you’ve likely reviewed, the Toolkit reframes over sixty workplace policies to address potential unintended consequences to a lower-wage employee. As we created and vetted this resource, we have identified five main takeaways to consider as you vet your own policies:
- Reimbursement based policies, like tuition and transportation reimbursement, can be inaccessible for a lower-wage workforce. Many of these policies require the employee to pay for the benefit upfront and then receive the reimbursement from their employer. For employees that are living paycheck to paycheck, they likely do not have the money to invest even through they know they will be reimbursed in the future. Consider flipping this policy by their providing the resource, like a bus pass, directly to the employee, or for larger investments, coinvest with the employee.
- Lack of benefits is one of the largest barriers to success for lower-wage employees, as one medical bill or emergency can jeopardize financial security. Since many lower-wage employees are working multiple part-time jobs to earn enough money to afford necessities, they likely are not extended the same benefits of their full-time counterparts. Consider extending as many benefits as possible to your part-time employees to create support and stability.
- Many of our workplace policies were created by and for upper and middle-class employees. Benefits like investing in a 401(k) are important but are likely being underutilized by your lower-wage workforce– as contributing to a 401(k) is not a priority when you are struggling to put food on the table or make a critical car repair. Often, our benefits are geared toward long-term financial stability, when short-term needs are often a bigger priority for your lower-wage employees. Consider adding benefits like an emergency fund, student loan repayment or childcare subsidies to meet the urgent needs of your workforce.
- Time of service eligibility requirements can be a huge barrier to your lower-wage workforce. Benefits are meant to support the employee, yet if you have high turnover, many employees never reach the time eligibility requirements to access them. It’s not uncommon to see turnover rates exceeding 80 percent in the lower-wage workforce. To ensure the benefits have the desired effect, consider shortening or removing the time of service eligibility requirement, so employees can access stabilizing benefits as soon as possible.
- A tip to help decide where to start may be within your current workplace policies. As you review the Employer Toolkit, you may notice some of the policies are already in place in your organization. To better understand the effect of these policies on your lower-wage workforce, consider reviewing the employee usage by wage ranges or bands to understand if a policy is only benefiting one level of workers. If you notice a pattern in the use of policy by wage range, we recommend talking to your employees that are not using the policy to understand the barriers.
The bottom line? If you listen to your lower-wage employees and seek to understand their needs, your workplace policies will begin to benefit all levels of your workforce. This is a continuous learning adventure, and the Employer Toolkit will give you many options to consider. As you support, stabilize and invest in your employees, they will bring their best to your organization.