Leveraging Your City’s Employee Benefits Package

This is an NLC staff post by Anita Yadavalli.

On March 11-14, city leaders from across the nation gathered at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., to speak up for city priorities and rebuild America’s infrastructure.

I was quite busy during that time, flocking from meeting to meeting, greeting seasoned city leaders and welcoming freshmen — and doing everything but kissing babies in an effort to bolster and further develop NLC’s Public Sector Retirement Initiative.

The initiative features a series focused on strengthening the capacity of city leaders to ensure healthy public sector retirement outcomes. We start with the premise that desired goals for retiree savings, pension plans and other post-employment benefits balance municipal workforce/retiree needs with city fiscal responsibility.

As part of the initiative, I taught an NLC University course on using compensation and the overall benefits package for recruitment and retention of talent. The premise there being, saving for retirement is a priority for all generations.

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But various demographic groups differ in what they are interested in right now – millennials, representing about 40 percent of American workers, are interested in flexible work arrangements and wellness initiatives; Generation X, representing about 35 percent, is interested in professional and career development, health insurance and accumulating savings; and baby boomers, representing about 25 percent, are most interested in stable growth in savings for retirement.

Each group requires a different approach and tactic by employers in recruiting and retaining America’s evolving workforce. City governments recognize the need to treat the diverse employees of their workforce differently. The hard part is how to begin.

To help inform that debate, I invited Mayor Ashmore of Sesser, Illinois, Mayor Walter of Florence, Arizona, and Councilman Lowman of Bloomington, Minnesota, to speak on a panel focused on employee benefits package. I also asked my colleague, Josh Franzel, at the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) to help moderate. SLGE is a non-partisan, non-profit organization with a unique perspective on the local-state government relationship.

The general theme of our discussion was how to keep healthcare costs down, and how investing in wellness initiatives has helped in achieving that goal. Interestingly, our small panel echoed the results of our annual State of the Cities report, namely, that healthcare is becoming more top of mind. The State of the City speech is a reflection of the mayor’s priorities as well as the city’s accomplishments, challenges and roadmap for the future.

Here are some things these cities are doing:

Bloomington, Minnesota

  • Partial reimbursement for health club membership
  • Preventative health measures to reduce smoking
  • Discounts to purchase health food
  • Allow flexible work schedules

Sesser, Illinois

  • Offer platinum healthcare insurance to employees
  • Offer adult literacy programs
  • Planning to implement smoking cessation programs

Florence, Arizona

  • Allow flexible work schedules
  • Allow 48 hours on-96 hours off work schedule for fire crews, as well as employees who want to secure a second job; police crews work 4 12-hour shifts
  • Offer fire crews comprehensive professional development and training to stay current in their fields
  • Pay for POST certification of police officers on an as needed basis
  • Offer flexible work arrangements for government employees, such as working 4 10-hour shifts and work from home if the need arises

Cities need to recognize the diverse income needs, skills development goals and desired working conditions of different age cohorts and job types among its current and potential workforce, and these three cities are implementing flexible policies to recruit and retain their workforce.

By taking a more nuanced, segmented approach to policies that consider the unique needs of each workforce generation, local government can be a more attractive job compared to private employers than it is today.

anita-photo.pngAbout the Authors: Anita Yadavalli is program director for city fiscal policy in NLC’s Center for City Solutions.