June 29, 2021
 by 
Lori Freeman

Talent Intelligence Brief | Summer 2021

It’s official, summer is in full swing!  After being thrown into the deep end in 2020 (and realizing what good swimmers we are) it feels good to take the floaties off.  Shore and solid ground are within reach. Breathe in, breathe out. We’re taking a look at what transpired talent-wise in the first half of the year–and getting a better view of what’s on the horizon.

The Perfect Labor Market Storm  

This past year brought record job losses not seen for decades. In the wake of it all, the market for talent isn’t just shifting, it’s doing yet another 180-turn! While we aren’t quite out of the woods, emerging from the pandemic has increased consumer confidence and created an economic outlook that’s increasingly rosier. How does a tidal wave of hiring sound to you? Some experts predict that 73 million United States-based hires will take place in 2021 alone. If you’re searching for the market that added the most jobs in Q1, New York led the pack, with Los Angeles and Minneapolis hot on its heels.

The good news doesn’t stop there. At the end of March, The Hiring Lab at Indeed reported that job postings saw an overall increase of 13.5% compared to pre-pandemic times. Career opportunities across manufacturing, pharmacy, and construction experienced a significant revival, while industries hit hardest by the pandemic–hospitality and tourism–were slower to post new jobs but are now gaining ground.

As summer hits, critical hiring for “on-site, in-person” roles has begun to surge. It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and many employers are getting creative in their efforts to entice talent back into the office after work-from-home became the new normal for many.

If you thought the nautical metaphors were behind you, you’d be mistaken. Amid the tidal wave of hiring exists a different phenomenon: a turnover tsunami. Employees lucky enough to remain employed throughout the pandemic were content to ride out the storm. With the return of economic confidence, however, came an increase in the likelihood that employees might be considering a job switch. One reason? The push by employers to get people back to the physical office – and a desire by many workers to remain remote.

As the battle for talent rages, companies are taking a closer look at what they can offer. This includes thinking critically about which roles benefit from person-to-person water cooler chats, and which employees can keep their Zoom-friendly fiddle leaf fig trees at home to spruce up their home office. (We’re sorry, we’ll see ourselves out now.) Some companies are restructuring roles to incorporate AI and machine learning, lowering hiring needs in the process. Others are putting a greater emphasis on employee retention, identifying potential flight risks while reevaluating employee wants, needs, and motivators. At the end of the day, many employers are resorting to a tale as old as time – in a bid to entice more applicants, they’re increasing wages.

The Post-Pandemic Workplace

At the onset of the pandemic, many people frantically shifted into working from home so those who couldn’t (thank you, frontline workers) were able to more safely do their jobs. Suddenly, “you’re on mute” became something of a workday anthem and on-camera pet sightings became a regular occurrence. Amidst it all, many employees found an increase in both productivity and job satisfaction. As the number of vaccinations increase and COVID-19 cases decline, a common refrain can be heard surrounding remote work: “What now?”  

In a recent survey of 100 corporate executives, McKinsey reported that 9 out of 10 employers will be moving forward with some combination of both remote and in-office work. Because it’s both novel and evolving, many of those same executives report their vision of this hybrid model isn’t fully realized, leaving them unprepared to communicate the finer points to employees. Nevertheless, most feel it’s worth the effort to map out a longer term fully remote or hybrid workplace due to increased gains in both individual and team productivity.

The physical landscape of work wasn’t the only thing to change during the pandemic. Managers were also required to get more in touch and in tune with their employees than ever before. This required people leaders to focus on softer, more people-centric skills including listening, empathy, patience, and forgiveness. With ever-changing employee needs, priorities, and work locations, managers will need to continue to maintain these skills, keeping closely connected with ongoing pulse checks.

Managers will also likely be the ones looked upon to establish and communicate the finer details of what continued remote or hybrid work looks like – including expectations, guidelines, and accountability. Whether it’s corporate executives or line managers, Forbes has compiled some helpful guidelines for shaping your workplace vision. Questions that will be valuable to ask when putting policies and expectations in place include: How and when will our work teams collaborate in a hybrid model? Which roles truly need to be done on site? How will our vision and culture change as a result of our new workplace?

A Vaccinated Workforce?

For companies with employees heading back into the office (or those that never left), the question of employee vaccination requirements has become the elephant in the room. Little to no precedent exists on the issue, leaving employers to make tough decisions with limited information. Further complicating the issue is the legal difference in employee rights and liabilities depending upon location – a significant issue for teams with a presence across multiple states or countries. While many employers are still uncertain when, where, and what stance they will take surrounding vaccinations, others are offering incentives (extra PTO, anyone?) to encourage employees to get vaccinated.

The DE&I Work Continues

It’s been over a year since the killing of George Floyd, a moment that transformed into a movement and propelled diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts into broad daylight. While many bold statements and promises were made, one question remains: How far have companies actually come in a year? (Not as far as we had hoped.)

While conversations have been sparked, it is clear that awareness without action isn’t enough. Most companies are still struggling to meet the moment when it comes to implementing deep, meaningful changes. Among the chief complaints is the argument that companies haven’t been specific enough in their goals. By treating the needs of marginalized groups (including BIPOC and employees with disabilities) as a monolith under one DE&I effort, companies are missing the mark. Distinct accommodations, changes, and perspectives are needed to truly advance the work of DE&I, centering the complexities and differences in each employee’s lived experience.

If your organization is struggling to attract diverse talent, it’s worth considering how your company looks from an outside perspective. Revamping your job descriptions to be free of bias is a great start. Bias comes in many forms, including biases on the basis of race, gender, ableism, and sexual identity. Phrasing is key – if you’re feeling stuck on where to begin, helpful tools like Gender Decoder help remove biased jargon. Investigating your hiring process is another great step. Consider ways to build inclusive processes like blind resume reviews, which can aid in eliminating preconceived notions about a person’s name, location, socioeconomic background, or college. Finally, review your company culture and brand. Some candidates will make a judgment call on just how inclusive you are by looking at your website and social media.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are only possible if the entire company commits to collective action. This requires transparency surrounding processes and policies, specifically those surrounding historically excluded populations. Beyond mere conversations, it’s leadership’s responsibility to get their teams on board and create actionable plans for change. The world is waiting – and the time is now.

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Photo credit: Andrew Neel

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