The Anthropology of Work

From the blog

Give Me Benefits or Give Me Death!

During the two rounds of research I conducted into the world of coworking (2008 and 2011), I repeatedly heard people say that the only reason they had stayed in their previous job as long as they did was for the benefits.  Whether they have preexisting conditions that made getting insurance on the open market expensive, or they have family members who need coverage, whatever the case, they were/are in the job only for the benefits.  Not for the work, the colleagues, or the mission of the business.  Those things fall way down the list.

Such are the velvet handcuffs of full-time corporate employment for many people.  Of course this is becoming less and less the case with each passing year, as more companies turn to using contractors and freelancers to get their work done.  But what about the 30 million freelancers out there?  With the cost of individual insurance policies spiking each year by 10-20% in some cases, many are simply being priced out of insurance altogether.

It is one of those odd positions for the business community to be in.  On the one hand, business leaders are quite consistent in their mistrust of government and government solutions.  They are near unanimous in their opposition to any sort of public, government-managed healthcare system.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, they are the ones who then become straddled with the financial burden of providing health insurance options for their employees.  It is estimated that ~30% of the overall cost of an employee lies in their benefits.  I’m not quite sure why businesses insist on voluntarily paying this?

New Models for the Future

How to relieve companies of these costs while also presenting some viable option to workers.  This is the gazillion dollar question.

Ironically, it is actually not a large stretch here to see that the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK might in fact be a useful example for American businesses and entrepreneurs to think about.  If all workers already have insurance, then employers never have to bother with the matter.  If they could ever get passed their deep seated hatred of everything associated with the government, such a model would, I suspect, actually benefit them (and workers) tremendously.

The likelihood that this will happen, though, is quite small.  However, as it relates to companies’ efforts to attract and keep the best and brightest of today’s young knowledge workers, they will need to cook up real reasons (beyond just dental insurance) to remain attractive.  If the only reason your people are sticking around is to pay for that next root canal or hip replacement, then you are only half-managing your company anyway.

Which is largely what is happening in many large firms today.  So, if when you walk around the floor of your company and your employees look bored and listless, it’s because they probably are.

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