How has your company recruiting fared in the last two years? According to a June 2021 survey from Indeed, 70% of respondents are participating in some form of job search. Despite those numbers, if you’re like a majority of businesses and leadership teams, you have likely found yourself wrestling with new and unexpected difficulties in hiring and retaining great talent. 

A small minority of companies are rolling with the radical changes presented by a revamped, remote-first-oriented workforce and find themselves thriving. What are they doing, and how can you do it too?

This blog addresses the problem of talent recruiting in the post-COVID job market and helps senior leaders understand how their recruitment and retention activities can stand out from the pack.

The Job Market Looks Very Different

The grand remote work experiment is over, and, by most accounts, it’s been a resounding success for organizations and employees. Employees are more productive per hour worked than anticipated. Organizations are enjoying the reduced overhead of maintaining large office spaces, and employees are enjoying the break from commuting while spending more time at home with loved ones.

What’s more, relocation is also no longer a barrier for many organizations and job seekers. Although change is never comfortable, the breakdown of the geographical obstacles is widely seen as a boon for the best employers while threatening to bust organizations that can’t adapt.

This de-centralization of employees might be the most significant change to the new working culture; because physical location is now a near-afterthought, the talent pool has busted wide open and heavily increased competition.

As an employer, you’re now competing with geographically diverse companies for top talent in your immediate area and vice versa. You can now hire battle-tested, high-performing remote employees far outside your geographic location.

If you’re still hanging onto hopes that the old normal is coming back, you may be prepared for a rude awakening. As the generation of working adults continues to turn over and incoming talent have already tasted the forbidden fruit of remote or “flex” work, they’re prepared to fight tooth and nail to keep it.
In many ways, the change was inevitable; a not-so-insignificant portion of the workforce has been angling at this change for a decade in response to the growing industry of contract work and the gig economy. And now that circumstances have forced it to succeed, there is little employers can do to convince younger workers to return to the cubicles, break room coffee, and business casual uniform of their parents.

But, it’s not all bad news. We reached out to Navolia Bryant, EWF Executive Forum Member, and CPO for Premier Trailer Leasing, for her insight on the current staffing situation. She and other hiring experts expect September to bring a welcome injection of people back to the talent pool. As COVID-19 restrictions relax, Bryant expects the cessation of unemployment benefits, children returning to school, elderly care restarting, and an increased vaccination rate to bring job seekers back to the market.

Bryant asserts now is the time to prepare. Senior leadership should discuss the realities of the job market with their hiring teams and managers, set realistic expectations, move quickly, and find new and creative ways to engage talent in preparation for September.

Prospective Talent Wants a New Playbook from Recruiting

The new generation in the workforce has abandoned the “old-school” expectations of long-term, consistent employment from a dependable company. What indicates the new generations have shifted their expectations, and what does top talent want from employers as they charge forward into their careers?

New Expectations from a Disillusioned Workforce

“…[A]n unprecedented number of employees are accustomed to working from home, using remote technology and being based in more relaxed environments – formal office wear is a distant memory for many.”

Personnel Today

Turnover is Rising with the GenerationsAnyone who’s worked in your organization for a decade-plus can affirm this for you anecdotally; look around at the employees and consider who you expect to see ten years from now. Disproportionately, the younger generation is expected to move on faster than their more established colleagues. 

Some Millennials with means are opting out of traditional work entirely in favor of more flexible, self-determined freelance or contract-oriented work, as covered by the NYTimes in April.

The newest addition to the workforce, Generation Z, has never worked in a significant career path unmarred by the pandemic. They were thrown headfirst into the remote-or-closed job market and the general turmoil among employers that came along with it. There’s no doubt this experience has made a significant impression on them and their expectations as workforce members. All available indications speak to a more profound, generational disillusionment among younger generations; the past two years have done much to damage their faith in the traditional white-collar career path.

Add to this the mounting challenges they observe in the shifting social culture. Many entry-level workers have experienced bosses piling on basic work while actively looking for ways to automate them out of a job.

Of equal concern for these socially active generations is the lack of commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion among prospective employers, along with a lack of support for wellness and mental health employee benefits.

Indeed, if they can look elsewhere for better opportunities, believe they are part of the 70% who are. However, there’s plenty of good news for motivated organizations. Great employers should rejoice at the potential the future holds.

All of this general discontentment speaks to one pressing pain among most top-talent employees. Desperately, they want the one thing they haven’t been able to find yet, an employer that’s committed to them, their individual security, and success.

What Do Employees Want?

“The Most Human Company Wins”

Mark Schaefer

To put the new employees’ desires in a nutshell: they’re desperately seeking feelings of value, inclusion, and connection to the organization. They’re highly attuned to recognizing opportunities stuffed with empty words and will immediately throw them aside in search of that golden goose — the organization with authentic culture and one that resonates with them.

Does your organization offer the culture fit they’re seeking? A key indicator would be the table stakes you provide in an employee’s individual development. Leadership development, in particular, is vital for high-performing employees who want to excel, grow, take on more responsibility in the organization.
What other new “benefits” have the most influence on employer selection for this talent?

  • Flexibility in work location and hours: Not everyone likes working from home, so providing a flexible work arrangement can make everyone happy.
  • Work from home stipend: As homes convert into workplaces, employees are learning office space isn’t cheap. Some typical cost offsets employers can cover include ergonomics, office supplies, home space dedicated to work, and technology needs, plus the ongoing cost of high-speed internet access, personal phone use.
  • Physical and Mental Health/Wellness Support Benefits: Whether a stipend in the form of cash to offset costs or internal HR resources, more and more teams are demanding attention be paid to their wellbeing. 
  • “Build Your Own” Work Weeks: While perhaps still far off for mid-to-large sized organizations, the chatter around the four-day workweek is building, and those employers that can offer this will hold a significant edge over 8-to-5, Monday-to-Friday employers.
  • Career Track Autonomy: With decreased dependence on degrees and “traditional” requirements, employees can recognize increased opportunities to make a career change. Enabling them to pursue their passions within your company is an oft-overlooked way to retain the best people.

Recruiting and Retaining Outstanding Employees

Attention to Retention

First and foremost, the best way to build a team of great employees is to focus on those you already have. Pay attention to retention. It’s much easier to keep great talent than find it. Ben Town, a founding partner of mthree, had some concise tips in his article for Personnel Today:

“[Employers are] urged to adopt a more flexible and agile approach to working from home, enhance their remote tech platforms, embrace a better work/life balance and reimagine their office spaces if they want to attract and retain precious talent.”

His advice also allows you to tap into a much larger talent pool because you’ve removed geographic boundaries to your recruiting.
EWF Executive Forum Member Navolia Bryant emphasizes many factors about your company’s structure and situation can help or hinder your staffing capabilities, but that every company should be doing these three cost-free things to retain their top talent.

  1. Appreciation – Express it often. The smaller the gap between a behavior and the appreciation, the stronger the message.
  2. Recognition – How do your people prefer to be recognized, publicly or in private? Take the time to find out and recognize them in a way that empowers them. Remember your team members’ birthdays, work anniversaries, etc.
  3. Encouragement – Everyone needs it. Throughout your day, find moments to encourage and help your people think more highly of themselves. Remind them often of their ability to always cross the finish line.

Use the Right Language in your Job Recruiting Listings

Attention to detail goes a long way in creating a more inclusive workplace, and it starts from the moment you post a job listing. Recent findings suggest that gender-neutral language significantly increases female applicants over the old-school masculine language commonly found in job listings. 

Reduce Recruiting Reliance on General Requirements

Requiring a college degree in a specific field, 3-5 years of closely related experience, and other established biases are moving aside. More focus is given to specific skills and digital credentials that apply to the position.

Primary among the new skills job seekers need to showcase will be a proven ability to work remotely. Even employees returning to 9-to-5, every day in the office, will continue to work with clients, vendors, and partners who are not. The critical remote coordination skills of the past year will be an absolute necessity from now on.

Accommodate the New Hybrid Workforce Needs

Despite a migration towards remote work, many people still want the ability to meet with others on their team in person.

Companies like Merrill Lynch are converting their old traditional office space into more conference space and huddle rooms. Other companies are reducing their office footprint and transitioning to flex desks to accommodate employees as they want or need to come into the physical office.

Additionally, take advantage of the opportunity to offer increased benefits. A well-operating team opens up the possibility to provide more vacation/time-off, as you’ll have more work coverage for team members actually to use their days off without disrupting work. Some organizations are even taking the plunge and offering unlimited PTO as a standard benefit.

Retaining Talent By Nurturing Raw, Underdeveloped Employees

As always, the best way to instill passion and a sense of loyalty in talent is to help them grow into their current position or prepare them for the next leg of their career journey. Not only does this provide better retention and engagement, but these individuals will also have a marked impact on your company culture.

When seeking to fill a role, look at your internal talent pool first, where you can move existing talent up your pipeline where finding lower level backfills are easier. Investing in professional development is always a strategic move for your company and a business investment that offers a great ROI.

Use a Paid, Freelance Project or Presentation During Recruiting to Assess Capabilities

“Trial jobs” are beneficial for gauging soft skills like time management, communication, and presentation skills that can be difficult to assess in a traditional recruitment process. New employees are more and more willing to take on short-term paid projects, which allows all parties to evaluate the work experience and employer-employee fit.

Wrapping it All Together

The new workforce presents a host of new challenges and demands of employers but offers exciting new opportunities as well. The potential for great employers to find and retain equally great talent has never been better. Handling the new challenges presented by the shift of post-COVID work culture may find you on unfamiliar ground. Still, if your organization can rise to the challenge, you’ll find yourself with a team that’s happier and more engaged than ever before.

Executive Forum Member Navolia Bryant leaves us with her five top tips for recruiting the best talent on the market to help close our thoughts on recruiting and retaining top talent.

  1. Provide hiring incentives like sign-on bonuses if it makes sense for your business.
  2. Lead with your culture. Speak candidly about life at your company. The current state of COVID gloom will pass and candidates will want to see themselves in a place where they can thrive beyond COVID. 
  3. Focus on what’s in it for the candidate – highlight what they will learn, do, and become.
  4. Move swiftly, avoid unnecessary delays and bottlenecks in the hiring process. Candidates have more options today.
  5. Treat candidates as you would potential customers.

EWF International Executive Forums help senior executive women address challenges like recruiting, leadership pipeline management, building employee engagement, and more. Our Emerging Leaders Program helps build your current top talent into your organization’s future leaders.