After the blur that was 2021, we’re having a hard time believing 2022 has commenced. While some familiar obstacles have overstayed their welcome (hey pandemic, we’re looking at you), this year also comes with heaps of promise and opportunity. So, what’s the word from under the leafy canopy of this wild and untamed talent jungle? Well, we hope you have your machete ready because there’s a lot of ground to cut through.
It’s Wild Out There
After a year of economic uncertainty, the wild ride that is the labor market continues to be topsy-turvy. As predicted, increased consumer confidence and spending led to more opportunities and a war for talent unlike anything we’ve seen in recent history. The unemployment rate dropped drastically from 6.7% in December of 2020 to 3.9% as of December 2021. While job growth in the travel and entertainment sector remains hit-or-miss, high-growth career areas include IT, healthcare, and finance. Although we weren’t surprised to see a big demand for recruiters, we never thought we’d see the day when job postings for TA professionals surpassed those for software engineers. Many of the recruiters who were laid off at the start of the pandemic are now dealing with a major upswing in openings, and companies haven’t had enough time to hire or train within talent acquisition. Maybe it’s time we get National Recruiter Appreciation Day officially on the calendar?
What’s The Bait?
With what feels like more opportunities than actual workers, employers are having to pull out all the stops to land the right talent. Higher starting salaries are the norm as candidates get more confident in negotiating. Signing bonuses with amounts sometimes doubled or even tripled are being offered again, especially for frontline roles. Job opportunities with the ability to work from anywhere continue to be a big draw. Many employers are revising their benefit plans to include unlimited PTO, mental health days (more on that later) and paid time for volunteer work. Some are even adopting a 4-day work week to get an edge in highly competitive markets. Feel like you don’t have to revisit your incentives to fill your open roles? You’re in the minority, with only 7% of companies saying they are doing nothing.
Covid, The Never-Ending Story
Covid has continued to be predictably, well, unpredictable. So where does that leave us? On the bright side, Omicron does not seem to be dampening any of the hiring enthusiasm and we don’t anticipate slowdowns any time soon. Companies that were hoping to have some level of in-person presence are still hemming and hawing on return-to-office dates. Vaccinations are a hot topic and source of consternation for employers and employees alike. In a Gallup tracking survey last fall, 36% of U.S. based employees said their employers were requiring workers without medical exemptions to be vaccinated against Covid-19. While 56% of employees say that they are supportive of vaccine mandates, many companies lack a firm stance on the matter for a myriad of reasons (one of them being whether employees will seek out employment elsewhere).
Doing The Shuffle
By now, most of us have heard all about “The Great Resignation.” But will employees keep making moves in record numbers this year? The short answer is yes, but this time it’s being rebranded as “The Great Reshuffle.” For early career workers, frequent job shifts will likely become the norm (with so many companies hiring remotely, there are even more opportunities to pick from). But no so fast! While a record number of Americans are leaving their jobs, the longer-term picture is blurrier. It has been theorized that a higher resignation rate has been driven by Covid-related factors including infection risks and childcare issues. It’s worth noting that nearly half of the resignations in the last year have come from the hospitality and leisure industries, both of which continue to be greatly impacted by the pandemic. In other words, the overall resignation rate may plummet in a post-pandemic world.
For those companies serious about employee retention, you may want to consider making the Stay Interview a part of your organization’s regular people practices. Not familiar with this concept yet? It’s the opposite of the traditional Exit Interview, surveying employees on what’s keeping them in their jobs. Questions can be as simple as “tell me about a time you thought about quitting and why you decided to stay.”
Taking Greater Care
It’s no surprise that the pandemic has fueled an increase in anxiety, depression and burnout amongst workers. On top of that, a microscope on racial and social injustices has magnified additional stressors that BIPOC employees face every day. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that employers pay close attention to employee well-being. A whopping 33% of the workforce recently said they were considering a job move due to mental health concerns. So how do we foster a culture of care? Encourage your leaders to start the conversation around mental health and well-being. Make employees aware of their options, both upon hire and throughout their tenure. Allow managers to lead by example by taking more breaks and truly stepping away in the evenings. Consider extending mental health benefits not just to employees but also their children.
The result when your workers know you truly care about and support them? Increased engagement and retention, improved work performance, and decreased absenteeism. The World Health Organization reports that, for every $1 spent on treating common mental health problems, there is a $4 return on improved health and productivity. According to a recent Glint Employee Well-Being Report, employees who feel cared for at work are 3.2 times more likely to be happy at work and 3.7 times more likely to recommend working for their company (bring on the employee referrals). Now that’s a return on investment most leaders can get behind.
Where’s The Remote?
Remote work continues to be one of the hottest topics of the last few years and, with a lingering pandemic, more employers are pulling the trigger on permanent work from home arrangements. With less obvious boundaries between work time and home life, employees are pushing their organizations to better weave work-life balance into company culture. Along with the change to where so many people work, there’s also been more discussion around how working from home affects employees differently. The Guardian predicts that, over time, women who choose remote work options to balance care responsibilities will lose out on professional development opportunities. On the upside, remote working opportunities have removed barriers in ways that might be less obvious. Disabled people now have more opportunities to take a job they love without having to worry about transportation or having to disclose their disability. Employers who allow remote work have also been able to tap into more diverse talent markets and fill roles faster.
Diversity: Just A Trend?
News about unemployment rates seem to dominate the headlines while national conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion seem to be moving to the backburner. Despite this, diversity hiring and retention will continue to be a major focus for employers in 2022, with a bar that’s held, hopefully, even higher. While many companies already report employment stats on both race/ethnicity and gender, there will be increased pressure to report on those stats combined. Does this mean we are on the path to looking at diversity in a more multi-dimensional way? Well, that remains to be seen.
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Photo credit: Chris Abney