The Great Resignation is coming for the education sector.
Burned out by the pandemic and tempted by more favorable working conditions elsewhere, more than half of teachers (55%) say they’re thinking about leaving their jobs sooner than they had initially planned. The National Education Association calls the impending mass exodus “a five-alarm crisis.”
While the COVID era has accelerated the situation, a widespread education-industry labor shortage has been a long time coming. Enrollment in teacher-training programs has been declining for years. Young professionals increasingly see education as an underpaid and thankless job and are choosing to pursue other careers.
The competition for qualified educators has never been stiffer for schools and districts, and the need to retain experienced teachers and staff has never been more urgent.
The crisis is leading many educational employers to rethink their benefits packages to compete with the private sector and support their employees’ health and well-being as they confront the stressful challenges of modern classroom work.
Here are some innovative ways educational employers are using their benefits to attract, retain, and enable their faculty and staff:
1. Enhanced Mental Health Benefits
Amid staffing shortages and pandemic restrictions, educators have found themselves with less and less time to tend to their mental health. Burnout among teachers — which leads directly to disengagement and resignation — is at an all-time high. Most experts believe educator burnout will continue to climb, citing “rising stress and plummeting morale.”
Many schools are beefing up their mental health resources to help their employees manage stress and prevent burnout. Tech-based solutions make these resources conveniently accessible to school employees juggling intense workloads.
Trending mental health benefits in the education industry include:
- Telehealth access to mental health therapy
- Employee assistance programs (EAPs)
- Mindfulness courses or subscriptions to meditation apps
- Wellness programs and coaching to promote stress-reducing physical activity and the development of healthy habits
2. Decision-Support Tools
Open enrollment is a stressful period for workers across every industry — perhaps even more so in the educational field, where faculty and staff have very little time to research and choose healthcare options.
Meanwhile, “controlling employee benefits costs” ranks second in a list of operational priorities for educational employers compiled for a Gallagher benchmarking survey. (“Attracting and retaining a competitive workforce” takes the top spot.)
Decision-support tools help schools and school districts tackle both problems simultaneously.
Digital tools, such as PLANselect, guide employees to health plans that fit their needs and budget in a matter of minutes. Decision-support tools remove much of the uncertainty and confusion from open enrollment, which often results in higher enrollment in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and other options that reduce employers’ costs.
[Related Ebook] Decision Support: Your Secret Weapon for Reducing Healthcare Spending and Making Employees Happier. Read it here →
3. Financial Wellness Benefits
It’s no secret that many teachers happily sacrifice some private-sector earning potential because they’re genuinely passionate about making a difference in the lives of young people. Nevertheless, as the cost of living skyrockets across America, some educators may be wondering if trading money for a sense of purpose will continue to be feasible.
According to the National Education Association, 96% of members say raising salaries would help reduce burnout. But educational organizations can also help their employees make the most of their current salaries by offering financial wellness benefits.
Like mental health benefits, financial wellness benefits are most effective when they’re easily accessible and digestible by overworked and exhausted educators. Trending options include:
- One-on-one financial counseling with expert advisors, in person or remote
- Online financial-planning seminars and workshops
- Discount programs for essentials like home and auto insurance, wireless plans, and travel
- Access to goal-tracking tools and apps
4. Student-Loan Assistance
A 2021 NEA report found that 45% of educators took out a student loan to fund their education, with the average total amount starting at $55,800. Over half of this group still carries a balance, with an average debt of $58,700. Younger educators carry even higher amounts of student debt, on average, and say their debt has impacted their ability to buy a home, return to school, or start a family.
To help their faculty and staff members manage the burden of student debt, some educational institutions are adding student-loan assistance to their benefits packages. Student-loan-assistance programs can include:
- Paying off some or all of employees’ debt
- Contributing to loan payments
- Offering student loan counseling
- Providing access to loan-refinancing and -consolidation resources
5. Greater Schedule Flexibility
At the height of the COVID pandemic, when most learning went remote, teachers got their first taste of the flexibility that comes with working from home. Now that schools have reopened, many teachers — along with knowledge workers in nearly every industry — are hoping to maintain some of their ability to run essential errands and tend to family matters during the workday.
Teachers in Washington, D.C., recently ranked “flexible scheduling options” as the number-one factor that would keep them in the classroom — above “higher pay.”
Full-time virtual schooling is detrimental to students (and can be extremely taxing for teachers). Some districts are experimenting with other ways to build flexibility into their employees’ schedules:
- A hybrid schedule that includes some remote and some in-classroom work
- A team-teaching model
- The option to conduct non-student meetings remotely, such as parent-teacher conferences and staff-development meetings
- More time off, such as sabbaticals earned after teaching for a certain time period
Help Your Faculty and Staff Love Their Benefits
As the nationwide educational staffing shortage intensifies, innovative benefit offerings can help schools retain and attract qualified faculty and staff.
But teachers and support staff have very little free time to learn about their new benefits, so an effective benefits-communication strategy is critical. Keep your classroom heroes up to date and engaged year-round with all their benefits by following your free 2022 Benefits Communications Calendar.