The View from HR

Health care costs and finding talent top concerns among N.C. employers

March 9, 2013 

The times are always changing and so are the top workplace challenges.

Our just-completed employer survey of 15 broad areas brings some good news. The least common employer problem today is layoffs. (Workforce reduction was a top concern in 2009.) The bad news is that low-to-moderate demand for the employer’s product or service means “staffing to meet demand” is also not a concern for most.

The top three employer concerns reported by hundreds of North Carolina employers:

1) Health care costs

One hundred percent of employers put health care costs in their top three worries. This extreme response shows the degree of uncertainty in government policy and insurance markets. We believe it also shows employers assume costs will go higher because of federal reform measures.

Conversations with insurance carriers, benefits consultants and employers tell us to expect a wave of increases which may be unprecedented. Insured employers with fewer options should be actively seeking to expand those options including the use of health savings or reimbursement accounts and learning about new insurance programs that bring the most relative value when employers take on more of the risk.

2) Finding key talent

Eighty-five percent of employers said finding key talent is a top concern. This is different from “staffing for demand.” Key talent means those 20 percent of roles within any organization that allow it to produce 80 percent of its revenue. The lack of good people in key roles has a disproportionate impact on company results.

Finding great people with special or hard-to-find skills is always a challenge. It is especially acute today because of the “skills gap” and because technology has increased the impact a single role can have. The lack of a good production operator today has much more impact on output than it did in the 1990s. The same goes for sales and service skills that are delivered more efficiently today. Create your own pipeline of good prospects rather than expecting them to find you.

3) Motivating employees

Eighty-four percent of employers listed employee motivation issues at the top. This one is in your control. If engagement, motivation or basic job satisfaction is low, there are plenty of ways to make things better. Most of them cost little or nothing in hard dollars. The bigger problems are usually senior leadership buy in, and consistent implementation by HR and management.

Try to suspend some of your current assumptions around motivation and what rewards people. The author Dan Pink quotes Mark Twain: “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” Pink found that carrots and sticks can motivate routine or mechanical performance. For higher level work and creativity, re-think the use of traditional rewards in favor of the intrinsic motivation from autonomy, recognition, peer awards and having impact on other people.

The top concerns change each year, but the answer is always the same: Understand the root cause and construct a plan of attack.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit

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