2021: Year of the Employee
Joe Herbers

2021: Year of the Employee

Joe Herbers December 30, 2021 Posted in: Blog Posts, Blog, General

This past year has marked a sea change in the traditional relationship between employer and employee. We are experiencing a paradigm shift, and the power and prominence that once rested with the boss has gravitated toward the employee.

This change may have been gaining momentum for years – but it’s likely the pandemic accelerated it. The situation is reminiscent of a passage in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which captures the human tendency to overlook issues until they become a crisis. When character Mike Campbell is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?” he responds, “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.”

First, consider the nature of the rapidly changing workplace, to which employers have had to adjust. Many more employees now work from home. In-person company meetings have been replaced with virtual formats. The once-familiar system of desks, cubicles, offices and floors of employees working together suddenly feels quaint and old-fashioned.

For employees, the time, cost and aggravation of commuting seems to be in the rearview mirror. But while there are fewer interruptions by co-workers when working from home, other distractions from neighbors, kids, pets, delivery services and elsewhere have become the new normal. New perils, such as the battle for home bandwidth, have emerged.

Second, of course, is a historically tight labor market. I’ve heard more than a few executive leaders say, “The war for talent is over, and talent has won.” The ongoing competition for talent has meant new concerns and issues for management.

According to this article by The Washington Post, 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September 2021 alone. The number one concern of employers is now employee retention. Every day, we see companies respond with new ways to ensure their employees remain their employees. Sound recruiting programs remain critical, of course. But we continually hear of fresh strategies to foster employee retention, including shorter workweeks, retention bonuses, flexible workplace, flexible hours and more flexible childcare.

Closely related to retention is a concern for employee safety. Those concerns take so many forms now, including providing access to resources to manage burnout and other mental health ramifications. The natural human reluctance to wear a mask all day must be balanced with the health concerns of others. An employer’s concern about employee safety now extends to the health and well-being of the employees’ extended families.

Not so long ago, the fashionable term and hot-button issue for employers was “work-life balance.” That narrow concept was wholly obliterated with the onset of the pandemic. A new term, “work-life integration,” seems to have found purchase. We’ve entered a new normal that is much broader; employers must be respectful of each employee’s concerns about the manner in which they carry on with their daily lives.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal addresses the movement towards a more compassionate posture towards work-life. The article referenced those companies instituting “mandatory” vacation days and blackout hours when no meetings can be scheduled. These companies are working to address the stress associated with “density” of the days – back-to-back-to-back commitments with no time in between to reset or prepare.

Further, the article cites statistics that indicate that before the pandemic, 60% of employees said their own mental well-being was their responsibility. Since, that statistic has flipped, and 62% now say the employer has a share in that responsibility.

As a consequence, employers are searching for innovative ideas in the workplace to simply demonstrate in tangible ways that they care. This feels like a very new element to the employer-employee relationship.

Employee turnover is costly; even highly profit-focused companies realize the importance of employee retention on their success. The concept of bottom-line profitability as the employer’s only concern is fiction. That goal has been replaced by a focus on employee retention and well-being. It does seem that 2021 was the Year of the Employee, and we’ve entered a new frontier that is emerging from this tectonic shift in the relationship between employer and employee.

Employers understand more than ever that without employees who are diligent about their work and committed to the organization’s core values, profitability is less likely. Organizations now face clear and present risks to their ability to continue as a going concern. The safety and happiness of their employees are now paramount.

Joe Herbers is Pinnacle’s managing principal and a consulting actuary with more than 30 years’ experience. His practice focuses on providing loss reserving and funding studies for a wide variety of entities – both traditional insurers and alternative markets. Joe’s specialties include policyholder-owned group captives, large-deductible and/or self-insured entities, lawyers’ professional liability carriers, Florida property writers and non-standard auto writers in the state of Illinois. Joe is an Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS), a Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA) and Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst (CERA). He served as long-time member and Chair of the American Academy of Actuaries Committee on Property Liability Financial Reporting (COPLFR), as well as several other professional committees. He is a regular speaker at industry events.

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