The benefits challenge
While most businesses are finding that employees prefer benefits over pay raises, that’s not ALWAYS the case in the painting industry, In fact, when asked if the employees of Crestwood Painting, LLC valued benefits over a pay raise, company president Jacque Kelly answered with a resounding “No.”
“Over the past few years, our employees have made it very clear they’d rather have cash in their pocket,” says Kelly of the Kansas City-based company. “Recently, we offered full-service health insurance with a monthly premium of $150. Not a single person opted to take it. The average age of our newly hired employees is 25 and it appears they (millennials) just don’t consider health coverage important.”
THE GEN-BEN GAP
According to research from the payroll and HR solutions company Paychex, Inc., there is a significant generational divide when it comes to what people want in the way of benefits.
Not surprisingly, boomers (born ~ 1946–1964) who are approaching retirement (at a rate of 10,000 people per day, just FYI) value health care, bonuses and retirement programs.
Gen Xers (born ~ 1965–1980), who are still in the planning and building stages of life, value—in this order—salary, career advancement opportunities, job security, work/life balance, health care, bonuses and flexible work arrangements.
Meanwhile, millennials (born ~ 1981–1996) are looking for paid time off, the ability to work remotely, and professional development—all followed by health care and wellness initiatives. It’s no surprise Crestwood Painting wasn’t getting many takers.
A SHIFT AHEAD
According to Brian Robertson of the Fringe Benefit Group in Austin, TX, which caters to employers with hourly workers, the challenge is, in part, helping employees understand the real dollar value of benefits. Further, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), benefit packages were often initially less expensive than most employer-offered programs. However, he notes, “Over the past few years, premiums have risen at a much higher rate than wages.”
In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that between 2006 and 2016, the average payments by enrollees toward deductibles rose 176% while wages only rose 29%. “We’re seeing that gap resulting in better retention rates for companies that offer benefits,” says Robertson.
MAKING BENEFITS AFFORDABLE
For many paint companies, the concept of offering meaningful benefits is simply out of reach. Until now.
According to Steve Skodak, executive director of the Painting Contractors Association (PDCA), “There’s an estimated 310,000 paint contracting businesses in the U.S. The average size is 1.5 employees. In those instances, benefits are a real stretch. But in the case of PDCA business members that average 18 employees, benefits have become a real possibility thanks to some recent actions by the U.S. Department of Labor related to association health plans (AHPs).”
AHPs work by allowing small businesses to band together to buy insurance as a single entity. The PDCA is currently researching a plan that would provide members, regardless of business size, with access to more affordable health coverage in mid-2019. According to Skodak, “What we’ve found is that companies participating in AHPs are saving anywhere between 10% and 30% on health insurance. With that kind of savings, we anticipate more people will take employers up on it. Plus, offering affordable insurance can serve as a really nice differentiator in small markets where employers are competing for talent.”
As an added bonus, the PDCA also intends to include retirement options as part of the new program.
“At a time when many full-time people are working without benefits, we think this plan is the best way to ensure our members have what it takes to attract and keep talent—and to provide for those employees in a way that is meaningful to not just staying healthy and performing their job to the best of their ability,” says Skodak, “but to the quality of life for them and their families.”