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What do Colorado workers want?

September 11, 2019
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Every month, Pinnacol CEO Phil Kalin reflects on the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation's latest economic indicator report. His position at Pinnacol, with its 56,000 Colorado customers, gives him insight into the business trends - and what they may say about the future. See his latest post below and past articles here.

I write a lot in this column about how businesses can think about disruption and transformation in their industries. But a truly fundamental transformation is that of the nature of work and workers.

I’m not talking about the rise of robots and artificial intelligence. I’m talking about how our employees and colleagues – we ourselves – think about work in the context of our entire lives, and how that will shape the way we all want to work in the coming years. Each of us as leaders needs to understand these dynamics if we want to be employers of choice with highly productive workforces.

My company, Pinnacol Assurance, commissioned voice-of-the-worker research into the attitudes, habits and preferences of Colorado workers. Our research reveals some interesting patterns that every leader must be attentive to: for example, most workers feel like they themselves are treading water economically – and that their employers are doing the same when it comes to investing in innovation.

Here’s a summary of what your workers need you to know and act upon:

  • Money talks: Quality of life is great, but compensation still matters more.
  • “When” trumps “where”: Colorado workers care more about when they can work than where they work.
  • Over-commit to innovation: Workers want to know that their company is keeping up with a changing world.
  • Invest in workers’ futures: Most workers want training, guidance or a mentor, but don’t feel they have access to those through their work.
  • Employee experience shouldn’t feel second fiddle: As we refine our customer experiences, Colorado companies must also invest in a differentiated and positive employee experience.
  • Invest more in diversity and inclusion: Our data suggest biases are still holding Colorado companies back from nurturing top talent.
  • Reduce gender bias: “Soft skill” training around different gender needs is increasingly important.

I’ll be drilling into all these findings more deeply over the coming months; today, let’s look at the first.

Our research indicates that, even as Colorado workers care about flexible, innovative, inclusive workplaces, their first concern is salary. Indeed, compensation is almost twice as important as anything else. Benefits matter, of course. But in industries across the board, for workers across demographic lines, they’re not as important as the cash in the bank. Despite record-low unemployment and rising salaries, workers are uncertain and deeply concerned about their economic futures.

This is largely because too many feel left behind by the current, yet slow, economic expansion. While 80% of our interviewees think the Colorado economy is growing, 67% think their income isn’t keeping up with the cost of living. Those numbers indicate that economic uncertainty is a stressor for the middle class, not just low-wage earners.

This focus on compensation is also driven by new realities: many workers are saddled with student loan debt. Many others (and some of the same) are incurring costs to care for aging parents and relatives. These cost pressures add to the squeeze of housing prices. And low inflation in other sectors isn’t enough to soften the burden.

So, as you think about your own recruitment and retention strategies, bear in mind: excellent compensation for your employees will set you apart.

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