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The Keys to Moving from the Great Resignation to the Great Retention

Higher pay. Flexible work hours. A retirement account. What more do workers want?

The answer is: plenty.

The pandemic changed the way a lot of people think about work, and employers are not only scrambling to find new employees but to retain their current workers, giving employees the most power they have had in years.

The result has been higher wages, especially at the low end of the pay scale, with Walgreens becoming the latest company to announce (Aug. 31) new employees would start at $15 an hour beginning in October, following such other retailers as Walmart, Target and CVS.

Other companies are offering an array of new perks, including student loan repayment assistance and 529 college savings plans, as well as tuition-free college degrees, child- and senior-care assistance, and expanded mental health services.

“When offered by employers, student loan repayment assistance is of significant interest and support to the many young employees who are weighed down by student loan debt,” Patricia Roberts, chief operating officer at Gift of College Inc., told The Food Institute.

Federal law allows employers to pay as much as $5,250 per year, per employee through the end of 2025 – and employees do not have to pay taxes on the money. Pair that with college savings plans, and much of the worry about the costs of higher education for loved ones is eliminated, Roberts said.

Adam Bergman, a partner at IRA Financial Group, told CNBC that before this year he was aware of only two restaurant companies offering 401(k) plans or profit-sharing to their employees. Now, that’s changing as these companies fight to retain staff.

“A 401(k) makes all the sense in the world,” Peter Vauthy, owner of Red South Beach, a steakhouse in Miami Beach, Florida, told CNBC. “It’s minimal cost to me, we do a match up to a certain percent, we have basically 90% of the staff on it and they loved it.”

Vauthy said 90% of his staff returned after the pandemic shutdown.

The pandemic laid bare the conflict between work and life. The Pew Research Center reported recently that between February 2020 and February 2021, 2.4 million women left the U.S. workforce compared with 1.8 million men as COVID shut down schools and day-care centers.

“Work-life ‘balance’ has always been a lie,” wrote Tim Allen in the Harvard Business Review (April 7). “Work and life are not independent entities fighting for 50/50 equilibrium. They’re interconnected, and one affects the other. But people — especially women — have been conditioned to design life around the demands of work, and rarely to design work around the demands of life.”

Allen said the pandemic has forced employers to take a closer look at the needs of the workforce, with 63% of those surveyed by HBR indicating they planned to increase existing child-care benefits while 41% said they would increase their senior-care benefits.

Currently, just 7% of U.S. employers provide child-care assistance. But that could be changing.

Midwestern grocer Hy-Vee Inc. announced (Sept. 1) it had partnered with WeeCare to offer employees help in finding in-home child-care options along with free membership to Care.com to find caregivers, tutors, errand runners, senior caregivers, pet walkers and sitters, house cleaners and other services.