The tables have turned. At the start of the pandemic in 2020, many HR departments experienced a flood of applications, undoubtedly a result of layoffs, furloughs, and uncertainty about the future. By 2021, employees’ thoughts about work and career shifted. They began reflecting on what work means to them and the kind of work-life balance required to live in these challenging times. The pandemic put into perspective what is most important in life, including health and time spent with family and friends. No longer should work define them. Instead, they wanted to create a more well-rounded life.
So, recruits and employees are demanding more of employers. Specifically, employees are asking for more flexibility, empathy, and clear-cut, well-defined paths to achievement. They want processes to be efficient, so they don’t spend any more time on work than necessary. They want organizations to invest in practical and useful technology to help them be more productive. They are connecting their work with their emotional well-being. When they are not satisfied, they are walking out.
The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics reported that 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the entire workforce, quit their jobs in August. A historic labour shortage is underway, and it’s forcing a renaissance at work. Human Resources is acting swiftly to transform itself to recruit and retain top talent. The competition is fierce. The war is on. The winners will be those who recognize what employees need and are willing to prioritize the human in Human Resources.
In their quest for talent, HR leaders have grappled with creating better employee experiences and engagement regardless of whether people were back in bricks-and-mortar offices, remote workplaces, or hybrid workplaces. In addition, the mental health and wellness of employees has taken precedent in a way that was previously unseen. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plans that go beyond mere talking points have become a cornerstone of talent management strategy. Learning and development with an emphasis on upskilling is top of mind.
READ: Guide to DEI
While automation and the future of work continue to be on everyone’s mind, the vision of what that will look like is evolving. Technology alone will not solve business’ problems. So, HR executives are recognizing the need to recruit and retain top talent. They are focused on the people who will help their organizations overcome the obvious challenges of these times and move forward with both grace and growth in mind.
What is Reckoning?
The pandemic forced lockdowns and a jolting transition from in-person to virtual work practically overnight. And it accelerated other changes that were frankly inevitable. Suddenly, learning and development grew in importance because everyone needed tutorials on how to use the technology that allowed them to work from home. They needed training on soft skills, too. For instance, some managers learned how to identify employees who might be facing more challenges or could be feeling blue.
Although people still had deadlines and metrics to meet, they knew it wasn’t all going to get done. After all, there was too much uncertainty, and employers realized you probably were tending to your children, juggling Zoom calls, writing your latest work report, and scarfing down a meal that you had to cook yourself in your kitchen. Cracks in the system that related to low wages paired with high expectations and demands surfaced. Some people began to feel unappreciated. Some felt their jobs were not as meaningful as they desired.
Other people were not as lucky. They faced layoffs and furloughs and had no choice about whether to stay or go. Or their first job out of college was delayed or simply cut before it even started. Regardless of their individual situation, people all over the world had a chance to catch their breath. In the quiet of their homes, they could contemplate the precise kind of work they would like to be doing. Often, they realized they had given up their dream for a lackluster 9 to 5. They were neglecting their family for something that just wasn’t worth enough to them.
With this shift in mentality on the part of employees, businesses had to reconsider their relationship to their people. Human resources quickly took charge to transform both the idea of work, the kinds of benefits employees get, and the ways to win top talent. The media calls this phenomenon the Great Resignation, but many HR leaders see it differently. “The Great Resignation implies we’re in an era or point in time,” says Sebastien Girard, Chief People Officer at Centura Health. “I don’t think we’re in an era. I think the market changed.”
“The Great Resignation implies we’re in an era or point in time, I don’t think we’re in an era. I think the market changed.”
Sebastien Girard Chief People Officer, Centura
What Employees Want ?
A revolution is afoot, and there is no turning back. The days of wooing recruits with a branded T-shirt, napping pod, and free lunch are over. People who are walking out on jobs in 2021 are doing so because they have more practical motives. Just as employees are reassessing what’s important to them, employers are reconsidering their purpose and approach. The first step to turning the Great Resignation into the long-term Great Regeneration is understanding what this mass exodus means and how to prioritize the HR to-do list:
1. Better Compensation
“We fooled ourselves into believing that people will keep working below the living wage,” says Jan van der Hoop, President of Fit First Technologies. Indeed, people are asking for a bigger piece of the pie, so they can afford to live a decent life. The federal minimum wage in 2019 had 17% less purchasing power than it did 10 years prior, and 31% less than minimum wage in 1968, according to a 2019 analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. In the meantime, the prices of necessities from milk to gas have risen. By not keeping pace with inflation, employers have made the class divide even wider.
In addition to getting paid more money, recruits want to see equal pay for equal work. In 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned, according to Pew Research Center. Wages decline even further for women of color. Millennials and Gen Z are looking to fill the gender wage gap.
2. An Employer Who Shares Their Values
Those from Gen Z are distinct in their desire to have an employer, who doesn’t just pay them regularly; they want him or her to take a stand on issues that matter to them. They don’t care if the issue is related to the business or not. During the Black Lives Matter protests, for instance, employees and consumers alike wanted companies to demand justice and send a message about racism and inequality in the United States. And they wanted them to do more than just pay lip service to the cause. They wanted corporate America to use its power, influence, and wealth to support police reform and effect real change.
For years now, some job applicants have sought organizations that lift up causes in which they believe, such as climate change or homelessness. The clear message is that today’s employees want their life and work to have greater meaning. They want to feel like they are part of the solutions to the world’s big problems, even if they might be a cog in a big wheel.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion For a while now, employers have talked about their desire to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority. However, DEI remained a talking point, rather than an actionable strategy. As Millennials and Gen Y join the workforce and have more of a voice, they are making demands about having a wider range of perspectives that better reflect actual communities among their workmates.
“When it comes to diverse profiles, it takes time to have them onboard, and sometimes with the business’ pressure, HR and hiring managers tend to go the easiest way, reproducing the same recruitment formula from the past, which is not sustainable,”
CGG’s HR Director, South America, Gabrielle Botelho
“The world is changing, and our companies must change as well.”
Botelho insists that achieving DEI at your workplace requires swift and thoughtful action. Her advice is to recruit outside your comfort zone:
- Anticipate recruitment needs in advance.
- Remove systemic barriers from your process.
- Build a pool of diverse talents.
- Invest in mentorship programs.
READ: Guide to Pew Research Center
3. Flexibility and Work-Life Balance
In an instant, the pandemic had even the most traditional of organizations transitioning from a bricks-and-mortar office building to a virtual workspace. Suddenly, people realized they could work from anywhere, be closer to their loved ones, and avoid the hustle, bustle, and commute often associated with work life. No one wants to let that go, even if vaccines have made it somewhat safer to resume in-office activity.
Companies are going to have to provide some form of flexibility to win over workers. This could be an all-remote or hybrid workforce or some sort of arrangement that allows for part-time work or shortened work weeks or condensed hours. The point is that, when possible, people want to work from where they would like and within the timeframe they prefer. Many workers feel that as long as they get their work done on time, it doesn’t really matter when or where they do it.
4. Leadership with Empathy
Businesses have gotten a reputation for being impersonal and transactional, says van der Hoop, who longs for the days when managers got to know their teams. They talked to each other, supported one another personally and professionally, and often lifted each other up through mentorship and networking. You got the sense that the people for whom you worked genuinely cared about you.
Today people want to return to caring employers, especially after a long pandemic continues to cause high levels of uncertainty, stress, and anxiety. Companies that show they truly care about the mental health and wellness of their employees will get noticed. Those who are flexible and understanding when people are having a tough time personally will win hearts.
“Companies need to switch their focus on engagement to experience,” says Girard. “Maya Angelou said it the best, ‘People forget what you tell them. They don’t forget how you make them feel.’”
Girard’s advice is for HR leaders to figure out how to create an experience that stimulates a positive emotion and connects employees to their colleagues and organization. You want employees to associate their work with a sense of loyalty and positivity.
The skills gap is nothing new and remains top of mind. What has changed is the employer’s role in education. Previously, employers expected new hires to come from previous workplaces and institutions of higher learning that trained them for their position. They were ready to get started virtually upon arrival at the office.
Now the expectation is that employers will provide more in-depth, structured on-the-job training. This includes preparation for the future of work. While people will probably never again see a time where employees spend their entire career with one employer, these learning and development opportunities could mean that employees stay in one place longer than they have in recent years.
A number of companies are aiming to promote a culture of lifelong learning to help adapt the workforce to the anticipated rapid changes that lie ahead. “JPMorgan Chase added $350 million to their $250 million plan to upskill their workforce. Amazon is investing more than $700 million to provide upskilling training to their employees. PwC is spending $3 billion to upskill all of its 275,000 employees over the next three to four years,” according to Harvard Business Review.
6. Investments in Advanced Technology
Humans should never be obsolete. Certainly, employees have a right to be concerned that automation could take away their jobs. At the same time, however, they want businesses to invest in practical, functioning technology that allows them to complete tasks sooner and do a better job in general. It’s not just the likes of AI and robots that employees want.
They expect businesses that employ them to invest in apps and other technology that make remote work, including remote team collaboration, and learning and development programs accessible at their convenience. Employees want to have dashboards that let them track their progress, compensation, and benefits. Online onboarding is a favourite, too. The point is that employees want technology that is intuitive and can help them be more efficient and successful.
“JPMorgan Chase added $350 million to their $250 million plan to upskill their workforce. Amazon is investing more than $700 million to provide upskilling training to their employees. PwC is spending $3 billion to upskill all of its 275,000 employees over the next three to four years.”
Harvard Business Review
Bold Solutions for the Labour Shortage
Talent Management is the cornerstone of any organization. After all, your people determine the business’ destiny. By 2030, the global talent shortage could reach 85.2 million people, which will cost companies trillions of dollars in lost economic opportunity, says Vaso Perimenis, Head of Human Resources Strategy and Solutions at Ekstein Consulting Services.
In addition, for every two Baby Boomers who are retiring, one Millennial or Gen X employee are joining the workforce, says Girard. “That is not going away,” he adds. “People have options.”
In other words, this labour shortage is going to drive a talent war for the foreseeable future. As a result, HR leaders will have to convince executives to consider creative solutions to ensure attracting applicants, promoting from within, and having succession plans in place.
Perimenis, for example, suggests businesses completely rethink their traditional organizational structures with bureaucratic chain of command.
“With agile talent mobility, people move around all the time,” says Perimenis. “This takes place when people work on multiple projects, they join various teams or initiatives, and the company operates more like a professional services firm and less like a hierarchy of jobs and functions.”
Technology platforms that allow managers to post temporary assignments, long-term projects, mentorship opportunities, and other internal work can support the effort, she adds.
“Creating a culture that supports internal mobility starts at the top because people are viewed as the company’s resource versus the manager’s resource,” says Perimenis.
“Creating a culture that supports internal mobility starts at the top because people are viewed as the company’s resource versus the manager’s resource.”
Vaso Perimenis Head of Human Resources Strategy and Solutions at Ekstein Consulting Services.
Recruit the Unlikely
“When you think about a resume, it is nothing more than a summary of the opportunity you’ve had up to that point.” Jan van der Hoop President of Fit First Technologies.
Nurturing talent, helping employees grow, and permitting people to do the work they most enjoy are keys to retention strategies. But before you can retain, you must recruit.
Employers have to reconsider the groups they usually turn to for applications. For starters, college degrees might not hold the weight they once did. Companies will look for potential as opposed to pieces of paper. After all, fewer high school graduates pursued higher education in 2020 than in previous years and according to a recent survey, college enrolments dropped by 6.8%, which is more than quadruple the rate of decline before the pandemic, according to Harvard Business Review.
Many people are reconsidering the return on investment of higher education, and the pandemic accelerated changing mindsets. Employers have to come around to the idea that college degrees might not be what they’re cracked up to be, especially when considering the future of work that requires continuous learning.
Another bold move is to eliminate the resume like van der Hoop did for one of his clients. It opened the client up to casting a wider net and hiring a more diverse group of people for apprenticeships in small- to mid-sized electrical companies. Yet another client offered a perspective that van der Hoop feels is fitting and brilliant.
“The client said, ‘What we’ve learned through this is that aptitude is evenly distributed in the population. Opportunity is not,’” says van der Hoop. “When you think about a resume, it is nothing more than a summary of the opportunity you’ve had up to that point.”
In the end, employers will completely change how they use their workforce, says Girard. Ultimately, they will turn to groups like high school graduates and moms who have been out of the workforce or have gaps in their resume to fill jobs of the future. Employers will train them upon hiring rather than seeking certain credentials.
Change Is in the Air
Life as we knew it before 2020 is never returning. HR leaders who accept the rapid changes that keep getting thrown at everyone will have an edge. The fact of the matter is that almost seven in 10 people say they are open to switching to completely different job roles, according to a survey reported in Rotman Management, the magazine of the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management. That’s exciting.
Leaders looking to solve the problem of the labour shortage have an opportunity to find talent in the rough. They can reshape Human Resources and in doing so transform workplaces. Rather than dwelling on this Great Resignation, employers should recognize that this is the chance for them to nurture their people, help them grow and learn, build trust, and gain loyalty. But they will have to give up some traditional practices and think outside the box to win these ultra-competitive talent wars.
“People fool themselves into thinking that what’s happening now is a point in time, which means adapting and innovating are the only ways to win,” says Girard. “In a world, where we have full employment, the only way to win is technology, process improvement, retention, and thinking differently.”
“In a world, where we have full employment, the only way to win is technology, process improvement, retention, and thinking differently.”
Sebastien Girard Chief People Officer, Centura
Economic Policy Institute
Pew Research Center
Rotman Management, Post-Pandemic Career Paths and Reskilling
Harvard Business Review, “You Don’t Need a College Degree to Land a Great Job”
Harvard Business Review, You Need a Skills-Based Approach to Hiring and Developing Talent
“The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late” (AMACOM Books, January 2005) by Leigh Branham.