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Which Benefits Attract Highly Skilled Workers?

Employers are leveraging benefits to recruit and retain people for tough-to-fill jobs.

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As the economy improves, employees are moving back into the driver’s seat in the workplace. As a result, more companies are focusing on how to attract and retain the best talent for a range of positions that are increasingly difficult to fill. These positions include high-skilled technical jobs, professional jobs and jobs in fast-growing sectors such as health care.

Official employment numbers have been fairly strong in recent months: January 2015 was the first time since January 2001 that there were more than 5 million job openings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, other indicators, such as the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) recruiting difficulty index, suggest that it is getting harder to fill many key jobs. And surveys also show that employees are feeling more confident about quitting their jobs in favor of new opportunities—making it even more difficult for HR to keep the talent pipeline full.

In response to these trends, employers are starting to get more strategic about benefits. While they’ve always leveraged benefits to attract and retain workers, to some extent they are now specifically targeting certain perks to highly skilled employees, according to a new survey from SHRM on the strategic use of benefits.

SHRM’s 2014 Strategic Benefits Survey found that, overall, employers are still using traditional benefits—including health care, retirement savings and professional development opportunities—most often to recruit both highly skilled employees and those at all levels of an organization. Health care was the most leveraged benefit for recruiting both categories.

But the picture changed slightly when the researchers looked at retention strategies. Health care, retirement savings and leave benefits were the top benefits used to retain employees at all levels of an organization. For highly skilled workers, health care again topped the list, but this time it was followed by leave benefits and flexible work arrangements.

Will a more competitive market for highly skilled talent lead organizations to further reconsider how they use employee benefits? Or will they decide to focus primarily on compensation, salaries and bonuses—which have also been found to be critical incentives for workers—to attract and keep this critical group of employees?

Indeed, the latest SHRM Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement survey report shows that compensation is the most important factor in determining people’s job satisfaction. So it stands to reason that companies might shift their focus in that direction—and employees in the most difficult-to-fill roles will be in the best position to negotiate for what they want.

Whichever way employers decide to go, the lesson to HR is the same: Your employees and prospective employees have lots of options these days—so make sure you give them a good reason to choose you.

Jen Schramm is manager of the Workforce Trends program at SHRM.


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