As human resources professionals know all too well, the workforce is a marketplace as complex as any other. Like the consumer or financial marketplaces, laws and regulations play a major role in defining boundaries. Similarly, all marketplaces contend with less tangible elements, like public approval or perception, that may have as much or more impact. This is the main reason why, as hard as it is for the government to nudge a market in one direction or another, it’s actually harder to stop that momentum once it starts.
A couple of timely examples demonstrate this point. In a Wall Street Journal article before the holidays headlined, “Some Employers Stick With Raises Despite Uncertainty on Overtime Rule,” the reporter points out that while the Trump administration may reverse or significantly amend the new federal overtime standard which currently resides in judicial limbo, at the end of the day, it may not really matter. That’s because a number of major employers, including leaders in the restaurant and retail sectors like Walmart, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Target and numerous others, have already incorporated the new standard into their business models. And with a keen eye on public and employee relations, they’re not going to roll that back.
As a result, the marketplace has shifted. Even companies that wait for direction from the new labor department over the next year or so will ultimately find their way into the new marketplace. Regulatory proposals may have created the inertia, but the invisible hand of markets will sustain it.
The same case can be made with healthcare. Even if the incoming administration is successful in amending, replacing or outright repealing the Affordable Care Act, the marketplace may have adopted many of the components regardless of new “looser” regulations coming down the pike. On Thursday, The Washington Post published a story highlighting record numbers of enrollment in ObamaCare plans. Enrollment is on pace to meet the administration’s fourth-year-goals of nearly 14 million subscribers. Fourteen million! It’s not a vote for ACA in the typical sense, but signing up in higher than expected numbers is a signal from the public. Clearly, Congress and the administration will tinker with the tax subsidy portion in an effort to make it a less desirable option, but regardless, consumers have moved into that space and providers will answer their needs no matter what happens on the regulatory front.
The bottom line is that the 50-yard lines of the labor and healthcare marketplaces have shifted significantly and that won’t change regardless of what does or does not happen in Washington, D.C. I think most human resources professionals who are charged with recruiting, developing and retaining talent understand this innately. Other folks around the boardroom may take a little longer to realize the game has changed.
Joe Kefauver is managing partner of Align Public Strategies, a full service public affairs and creative firm that helps corporate brands, governments and nonprofits navigate the outside world and inform their internal decision-making. For more information, go to AlignPublicStrategies.com.