Workplace Tool Account: A benefit for employees who can’t work remotely
Much of the discussion about supporting and sustaining the workforce in the COVID-19 era has focused on formerly on-site employees who are now working remotely for the first time. The stresses and adjustments of this “new normal” are something many businesses and organizations are still trying to manage. In “How to Make Remote Working ‘Work’ for Your Company and Employees,” and “Remote Workers Work Harder, But Avoiding Burnout Is Key,” we’ve addressed these issues and offered ideas for how to keep employees happy and productive.
But what about the workers whose jobs can’t be done from home? In the United States today there are more than 460,000 auto mechanics1, more than 500,000 plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters2, more than 700,000 electricians3, more than 760,000 barbers, hairstylists and cosmetologists4, more than a million carpenters5, more than 750,000 physicians6, and more than 3 million nurses7. The challenges they face today are at least as stressful as those faced by people working from home. No doubt there are things your company is already doing to help protect workers like these from exposure to the coronavirus and ease their health concerns. But it’s also important to their productivity and to your ability to retain them that you recognize the stress they’re under and show your support.
The pandemic has heightened employee concerns about health, family, and finances. You’ve addressed “health” by instituting new procedures and protective measures on the job. Maybe you’ve also addressed “family” by offering greater work-schedule flexibility and time-off flexibility to meet new parenting and caregiving challenges. But how can you address the financial anxiety employees are feeling today? One way that has value to employees in all the occupations noted above is by offering a Workplace Tools Account (WTA). As you probably know, these occupations often require employees to provide some or most of their own tools, everything from socket wrenches to stethoscopes. In the case of an auto technician, tools and a tool box can cost between $7,500 and $11,000.8 Technicians can spend another $480 to $880 each year replacing worn, lost or broken tools.9 A WTA provides an employer-funded account that employees can draw from to purchase tools and equipment essential to the performance of their jobs. It can also cover uniforms, some supplies and certain kinds of occupational training.
Since you fund the account, you control its parameters. You set the amount available to each employee, designate approved vendors (if you wish), and have the freedom to adjust the allowance amount on a yearly basis. The fund is tax-free to both the company and the employee as long as it meets IRS requirements: that purchases qualify as necessary and exclusively for work and be submitted for reimbursement in a reasonable period of time; and that any funds left in an employee’s allowance at the end of the year are returned to the employer.
By taking some financial pressure off your employees, you’ll help improve worker morale and retention. Having a WTA in your benefit offerings can also help you with recruitment, which is a key consideration in fields (like auto repair) where there’s currently a shortage of qualified workers. Many companies who have already instituted a WTA benefit say that letting workers purchase the tools they prefer can make them more productive. Some employers even find that employees take better care of their tools because they own them. And by specifying eligible vendors, you help assure that employees won’t be bringing inferior tools to the worksite.
A Workplace Tools Account is the kind of benefit that will go on making sense and paying dividends even after the new normal goes back to the old normal. Meanwhile, it’s a way to reward the dedication of those working on-site and in the field while the rest of us are hunkered down in the safety of our homes.
- “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/automotive-service-technicians-and-mechanics.htm
- Ibid.: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/plumbers-pipefitters-and-steamfitters.htm
- Ibid.: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/electricians.htm
- Ibid.: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/barbers-hairstylists-and-cosmetologists.htm
- Ibid.: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/carpenters.htm
- Ibid.: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm
- “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics