Fortune magazine released its 2013 list of 100 Best Companies to Work For Jan. 17 after a sneak iPad peek on Wednesday that has oh, about 100 companies issuing press releases touting their place on the annual ranking. A Twitter feed, #BestCos, is doing a brisk business in self-congratulatory Tweets as well.
So, chances are you already have identified and posted about any firm in your neck of the woods that made it on the list behind No. 1-ranked Google. But the annual oohing and ahhing over cool corporate perks like nap pods, vegetable gardens and Spanish-language lessons - which must sound like a fantasy from Willy Wonka land to your long-term unemployed audience members just looking for a simple paycheck – is a peg for a deeper look at employee compensation and benefit trends at an array of employers in your market.
You may not be able to come up with a Top 100 list but you can give audiences an idea of trends in wages and fringes. Sources include the companies themselves – just call HR departments and ask for specifics about wages, fringe benefits and perks of advertised positions. You’ll undoubtedly hear “that’s confidential” a number of times but even a sampling of this information from cooperative companies will intrigue readers. Job and career fairs (here’s a list of expo promoters) are another place to browse for this information. Also talk to unions, executive recruiters, payroll processing firms and accounting firms about trends their seeing in contracts, paychecks and employers’ expenditure patterns. Don’t forget about temporary help agencies and specialty contract staffing firms as well as employers offering W-2 employment; with more people turning to contractor status that could be a separate story in itself.
Personal chefs and volleyball courts are nice perks but for a local story I’d focus on the prevalence of practical benefits such as tuition assistance/tuition reimbursement, child care and flex-time or telecommuting. Another angle might be taking a look at any small businesses that benefit from providing employers’ menu of perks, such as shuttle operators, stores that sell gift cards or coupons to employers, caterers, day-care services and the like; when workplaces rein in spending on these benefits, who loses out? And who stands to gain if an economic recovery revives employer spending on training and other employee enrichment services? A company called Care.com, for example, contracts Workplace Solutions to employers who want to provide back-up dependent care and other services to workers.
Consulting firms like Towers Watson and staffing companies like Robert Half International also are good sources of expert opinion and sometimes trend reports and benefits surveys. And be sure to check with the state and national trade groups for specific industries you cover; they may have similar research and publications to offer. An organization called the Alliance for Work-Life Progress also recently awarded its seal of distinction to a number of firms, you might find some local ones on the list, and the alliance is gearing up for a conference in February; the speakers list might also provide you with some helpful sources.
For comparison to averages, here’s the December release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Employer Costs for Employee Compensation; total compensation costs for all workers, including salaries/wages and benefits, averaged $20.80 nationwide in September. The report breaks the data down for a variety of occupational categories as well as types of benefits – the average cost of holiday pay is 65 cents an hour per worker, for example, with sick leave costing employers 33 cents an hour compared to $1.04 an hour for vacation time. (Presumably because more vacation time gets taken than sick leave.) In addition to offering the comparative stats that add texture to story, reading reports like this can give you an idea of common metrics and help inform your interview questions.