Originally created 07/05/99

Employees' demands rising



Hiring and keeping the top candidates for job vacancies isn't just about money anymore, particularly in the most rapidly expanding employment fields, experts say.

Flexible work schedules, improved benefit plans and more relaxed dress code policies are just a few of the value-added offerings that are making their way into offices across the nation.

Employers in the most rapidly expanding fields, mainly computer-related companies, already report increased salaries. And many companies are actively implementing new benefit programs in an effort to recruit and keep their most valuable workers.

On the move

"Pay scales are escalating and escalating," said John Wise, business manager for Augusta data processing firm Compudat, a Morris Communications Corp. company. Morris Communications publishes The Augusta Chronicle.

"It's been in the last three to five years that they have really jumped."

Mr. Wise said that he could hire men and women directly out of college for about $20,000 a year in the mid-90s. Today those entry level positions are paying more than $30,000 in most cases, he said.

"If we don't pay them (enough) they can go somewhere else and get offered more," he said. "We try to find people who want to stay in Augusta, but it's getting harder."

The director of career services at Paine College, Cherrie Collins, says the reason the Augusta employment pool may appear shallow is because many recently graduated college students are on the move to metropolitan areas where larger businesses are offering bigger benefit packages.

"Business majors, especially those in computers are almost able to write their own tickets," Ms. Collins said.

Full health care coverage, travel amenities and plush retirement packages are on most every student's career wish list, she said.

"It depends on the company, but more so than not, Atlanta does offer greater benefits than Augusta," Ms. Collins said. "And of course, the larger the company the better the benefits are."

What workers want

A survey conducted by OfficeTeam, a specialized administrative staffing service, showed that in a pool of 700 working men and women, the ability to balance work and family was more important than earning a big salary; 26 percent of respondents said family was the most important work concern while 23 percent said earning a competitive salary was.

Network Data Services Inc., an information technology consulting company based in Evans, is meeting these demands by providing its employees with a more family-oriented work environment, human resources officials report. The three-year-old company will haveits first family day picnic this year.

"We try to be very family oriented because work has become such an integral part of society," said Scott Yawn, human resources director for NDS. "Nontangible benefits like these are developing a culture where people want to work."

Dress down Fridays, flexible work hours and telecommuting opportunities also contribute to that positive office culture, Mr. Yawn said. The company also offers a full health care plan and is in the process of implementing a 401(k) program.

To keep up with the demanding pace of real estate while maintaining some flexibility for its agents, Meybohm Realty in Augusta is implementing some of the most up-to-date telecommuting equipment available.

"We're trying to bring our local business more in line with what's happening on a national scale," Executive Vice President Bill Boatman said.

The real estate company is in the process of connecting its four Augusta offices through a shared computer network. It also is using bundled communications, which links agents' voice mail, pagers and cell phones.The system helps them do business from wherever it is most convenient, be it their homes, cars or the office.

"In today's world, agents spend less than 20 percent of their time in office," Mr. Boatman said. "As we begin to bring more of these high tech items and tools to the office, that amount of time there becomes less and less."

And in addition to being more productive, his agents are happier, too.

"It gives them more flexibility," Mr. Boatman said. "Many of our agents have young children, so that flexibility is a really big plus."

FUTURE OFFICE

OfficeTeam administrative staffing services compiled information from various surveys to make predictions about how offices of the future will be run.

Salary continues to be among the primary concerns of employees, but other benefits are emerging as equally, if not more important including:

Family demands: The ability to balance work and family ranked ahead of earning a competitive salary in a survey of 700 employees. Job security was the third most important career-related concern.

Day care: Twenty-nine percent of employees surveyed said an on-site day care was the most appealing benefit. Twenty-seven percent said an on-site exercise facility was the most valuable job benefit. An on-site physician ranked third at 10 percent.

Bureau of Labor Statistics projections predict that by 2005:

The nation's work force will rise to 146 million, which is an 11 percent increase from 1996.

Two in five workers, or 39 percent, will be more than 45 years old; 15 percent of the work force will be over 55.

The median age of U.S. workers will rise from 38 in 1994 to 41.

Women will make up about 47 percent of the work force.

Hispanics, Asians and blacks will comprise nearly 30 percent of the work force.

A survey of 150 executives with the nation's 1,000 largest companies showed that they are changing their benefits plans to attract candidates. The survey, conducted by OfficeTeam, showed that:

82 percent are are incorporating casual dress days.

53 percent are offering flex time.

51 percent are offering profit sharing and stock options.

46 percent are upgrading medical and dental coverage.

45 percent are expanding child care and elder care assistance.

43 percent are offering telecommuting options.

Heidi Coryell can be reached at (706) 823-3215.