Surveys: California employers reveal their workers’ top priorities

More pay and better benefits continue to drive the recruitment picture today for businesses, according to the executive of a Sonoma-based staffing firm, which recently completed two comprehensive studies after surveying nearly 350 employers.

“Wage pressure continues to sit front and center for most companies making offers today,” said Joe Madigan, CEO of Nelson and Higher Growth Strategies. He noted this is particularly true for employers who need to fill lower-wage roles in industries like manufacturing, retail, hospitality and food service.

“Hourly employees remain in high demand in these sectors, and they have no problem jumping ship for even the smallest pay increase,” Madigan said.

These are among the findings in Nelson’s newly released surveys: “2022 Future of Work Report” and “2022 Salary Guide.” The salary guide details annual compensation rates for hundreds of positions within 11 industries in 21 California counties, including Marin, Napa, Sonoma and Solano in the North Bay.

Compensation continues to dominate people’s decisions about whether or not to accept a job offer, and remains essential to employers as they look to the future, according to the findings.

“In our labor-short market, paying at least or above the going rate is crucial both for making new hires and for retaining workers who are absolutely watching the pay meter at the competitor down the road,” Madigan said. “We’re also seeing employees jump industries, such as switching from manufacturing assembly line work to food service, if they can make more money.”

As the pandemic quickly unfolded, employers were forced to make fast decisions. Industries conducive to remote work moved those employees to their homes. This method of working that before the pandemic was the exception rather than the rule, has become a primary issue for businesses, according to the findings.

“The latest twist on the remote work phenomenon is that some companies are standing firm on bringing people back into the office.” Joe Madigan, Nelson and Higher Growth Strategies

“The latest twist on the remote work phenomenon is that some companies are standing firm on bringing people back into the office. Employers note that working 100% solo can be psychologically challenging and feel the in-office requirement actually helps individuals and teams thrive,” Madigan said, citing the findings. “On the flip side, many employees still want flexibility, so we’re watching how this sticky situation shakes out. The hybrid model remains a good solution for employers to consider.”

The pandemic also brought to the forefront another important matter, the surveys found.

Considering the high levels of stress and uncertainty over the past two years, employers across all industries indicated they have become more focused on the well-being of their employees.

According to the findings, many employers have instituted a full menu of benefits that address career development and purpose, physical and emotional health, financial well-being, and social and community connection.

As stated in the future of work survey: “By offering these more comprehensive benefits, employers can provide critical wellness support while also boosting their brand and gaining an edge in the race for top talent.”

And training and development initiatives that stalled during the pandemic are not only back, they’re necessary, Madigan said.

“(Many) workers are looking for better-defined career paths and opportunities for growth — or they will start looking for alternatives,” he cautioned. “Our research showed that only about half of employers offered upskilling, and roughly a third included training and development as part of their retention programs. So companies that invest in training now will be better positioned down the road.”

Nelson’s future of work report is available on request, and its salary guide is available online.

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state’s business journal. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at or 707-521-4259.

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