A CEO’s Insights

Brought to you by our Research Sponsor, Pinnacol Assurance

What do Colorado workers want?

I write a lot in this column about how businesses can think about disruption and transformation in their industries. But a truly fundamental transformation is that of the nature of work and workers.

I’m not talking about the rise of robots and artificial intelligence. I’m talking about how our employees and colleagues – we ourselves – think about work in the context of our entire lives, and how that will shape the way we all want to work in the coming years. Each of us as leaders needs to understand these dynamics if we want to be employers of choice with highly productive workforces.

My company, Pinnacol Assurance, commissioned voice-of-the-worker research into the attitudes, habits and preferences of Colorado workers. Our research reveals some interesting patterns that every leader must be attentive to: for example, most workers feel like they themselves are treading water economically – and that their employers are doing the same when it comes to investing in innovation.

Here’s a summary of what your workers need you to know and act upon:

  • Money talks: Quality of life is great, but compensation still matters more.
  • “When” trumps “where”: Colorado workers care more about when they can work than where they work.
  • Over-commit to innovation: Workers want to know that their company is keeping up with a changing world.
  • Invest in workers’ futures: Most workers want training, guidance or a mentor, but don’t feel they have access to those through their work.
  • Employee experience shouldn’t feel second fiddle: As we refine our customer experiences, Colorado companies must also invest in a differentiated and positive employee experience.
  • Invest more in diversity and inclusion: Our data suggest biases are still holding Colorado companies back from nurturing top talent.
  • Reduce gender bias: “Soft skill” training around different gender needs is increasingly important.

I’ll be drilling into all these findings more deeply over the coming months; today, let’s look at the first.

Our research indicates that, even as Colorado workers care about flexible, innovative, inclusive workplaces, their first concern is salary. Indeed, compensation is almost twice as important as anything else. Benefits matter, of course. But in industries across the board, for workers across demographic lines, they’re not as important as the cash in the bank. Despite record-low unemployment and rising salaries, workers are uncertain and deeply concerned about their economic futures.

This is largely because too many feel left behind by the current, yet slow, economic expansion. While 80% of our interviewees think the Colorado economy is growing, 67% think their income isn’t keeping up with the cost of living. Those numbers indicate that economic uncertainty is a stressor for the middle class, not just low-wage earners.

This focus on compensation is also driven by new realities: many workers are saddled with student loan debt. Many others (and some of the same) are incurring costs to care for aging parents and relatives. These cost pressures add to the squeeze of housing prices. And low inflation in other sectors isn’t enough to soften the burden.

So, as you think about your own recruitment and retention strategies, bear in mind: excellent compensation for your employees will set you apart.


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About Phil Kalin

Phil Kalin joined Pinnacol Assurance as CEO in 2013. He has served as the chief executive of both public and privately-backed companies, including large hospital systems, as well as organizations focused on health care data, technology and education. He has been active nationally on health care topics related to insurance, data analytics, technology innovation, cost improvement and risk mitigation. Phil is providing an informed opinion on what we see in the Monthly Economic Indicators.

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About Pinnacol

Pinnacol Assurance is the Metro Denver EDC's Research Sponsor. Pinnacol is Colorado’s leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance. Pinnacol provides comprehensive, competitively priced coverage; immediate attention to claims; a highly qualified network of medical providers; and proactive safety programs to more than 55,000 Colorado businesses. Annually, Pinnacol supports nearly $500 million of Colorado’s economic activity, spends over 35,000 hours keeping Colorado worksites safe and provides compassionate care to over 40,000 Coloradans injured on the job.

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