Determined to lure new employees and retain existing ones in a suddenly hot job market, employers are turning to new incentives that go beyond traditional monetary rewards.
What's more, in many cases the inducements are on top of increases in hourly pay.
The result is a cornucopia of new benefits as human resources officers and employees alike rethink what makes for a compelling compensation package. And in a pathbreaking move, some businesses are extending educational benefits to families of employees.
JBS USA — the nation's largest meatpacker that runs a big pork plant in Worthington, Minn., and the Pilgrim's Pride plant in Cold Spring, Minn. — began offering to pay for community college degrees for its 66,000 workers as well as one child per employee in March.
Hormel also offers the benefit for employees and their children.
The move at JBS followed an increase of more than 30% in hourly pay over the past year, said Chris Gaddis, head of human resources at JBS USA. At large beef-processing plants, floor workers earn $21 an hour, with salaries rising to $30 an hour for employees with more advanced skills.
"We're seeing a lot more innovation both in terms of wages and secondary incentives, but nobody is doing what we're doing in terms of rural America," Gaddis said.
Waste Management will pay for employees to earn bachelor's and associate degrees, as well as certificates in areas such as data analytics and business management. In a significant expansion, Waste Management will begin offering these scholarships to spouses and children of workers this year for enrollment in January.
"We knew we had to do something radically different to make Waste Management attractive when you have other companies looking for the same type of worker," said Tamla Oates-Forney, chief people officer at Waste Management. "There is such a war for talent that compensation isn't a differentiator."
Waste Management estimates the cost will be $5 million to $10 million for the first year of the employee program.
Nataly Mendoza Yanez joined JBS 4 ½ years ago as a production floor employee in Tolleson, Ariz., before moving to the human resources department. With help from the company, she is planning to study international business starting in August.
"It feels like the opportunity fell from the sky," said Mendoza Yanez, who hopes to work for JBS' unit in Australia one day. "I'm really excited about it. I was going to go back to school, but it's pricey."
The competition for new hires is especially intense in the leisure and hospitality industry.
To attract workers this summer, Omni Hotels & Resorts is offering a range of incentives, including free hotel rooms for summer employees at some properties, as well as guaranteed entrance into the company's management training program for staff members who stay through Labor Day. New employees will also receive three free nights at the Omni hotel of their choice.
"We have never taken guest rooms out of inventory for housing before," said Joy Rothschild, Omni's chief human resources officer.
Members of the culinary team will get a free set of knives and weekly sit-downs with the executive chef in the kitchen where they work so they can tap the chef's expertise.
Not that cash has gone completely out of style — all of Omni's summer hires receive a $250 signing bonus plus a $500 retention bonus at the end of the season.
Rothschild believes that the additional incentives are needed — and more may be added. "We want to see how much traction we get with these," she said, "but I suspect we will be coming out with more."