July 20, 2021

Q4 2021 Is a Pivotal Moment For HR. Here’s Why.

Human resources professionals are about to be challenged in unprecedented ways.

“Pandora’s box is open, cats are out of bags,” writes David Rice, editor for the HR Exchange Network. “The pandemic has created changes for business and HR that simply won’t be undone.”

As the economy starts to recover from the pandemic and expanded unemployment benefits end, millions of people are going to be reentering the workforce. They will bring with them many different perceptions of what it means to work and the value of their contributions at work.

Hiring and HR teams will confront and have to provide solutions for these transformative changes as they reevaluate talent-acquisition processes and practices in order to meet the workforce needs of their organizations.

Talent Will Return to Work With Redefined Expectations

In the coming months, there will be a great migration of workers back into the workplace. Schools will be reopening, expanded unemployment benefits will be ending, and a large portion of the population will be fully vaccinated (the current vaccination rate is about 49 percent). All of these signals point to a return to work for millions of Americans.

This is good news for employers who are trying to increase operations but are having a hard time filling open positions. “Hiring in the United States picked up in May [2021] yet was slowed again by the struggles of many companies to find enough workers to keep up with the economy’s swift recovery from the pandemic recession,” writes Associated Press economics reporter Christopher Rugaber.

Why has it become so difficult to find workers? Primarily because employees have different expectations of their employers and their jobs than they did before the pandemic. These expectations are forcing organizations to make adjustments to attract talent.

Hybrid Work Models and Better Benefits Top the List

For example, workers want the opportunity to work remotely. According to McKinsey & Company’s Reimagine Work: Employee Survey, 52 percent of workers want a hybrid-virtual working model post-pandemic. More than one-half of those surveyed want the option to work from home at least three days a week, with about 30 percent saying they would likely switch jobs if they aren’t offered the opportunity to work from home.

Employees are also demanding fair wages and better benefits as they return to work. Findings in the Next Normal omnibus survey conducted by Randstad U.S. show 42 percent of workers say compensation was the reason they changed jobs during the pandemic while 30 percent say they left for better benefits.

“Benefits are one of the most important ways companies can attract and retain top talent, so now is the time for employers to review their offerings to ensure they meet market expectations,” says Karen Fichuk, CEO of Randstad North America.

That includes nontraditional benefits, such as training opportunities, paid time off for community-service projects, as well as mental health benefits, as reported in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Workforce Pulse survey. For HR, this means they should “rethink employee benefits and rewards beyond retirement and traditional healthcare,” advise Bhushan Sethi, Julia Lamm, and Byron Carlock, Jr. in the PwC report.

Meeting these expectations will be crucial for HR teams competing for talent in a market where workers have the advantage of choice. “In a tight labor market, some workers are also finding that if they hold out, they might get a better job than the one they left,” write AP reporters Dee-Ann Durbin, Stephen Groves, Alexandra Olson, and Joseph Pisani.

tunnel of light, representing the upcoming return to work and its impact on HR

Women Will Return to the Workforce

The great “she-cession.” That’s what some economists call the pandemic-related unemployment that has seen more than 5.4 million net job losses for women in 2020. It’s a crisis never-before experienced in the U.S. where men are usually the face of recession-related job losses.

“This is historic and unprecedented,” said C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Women have never been the face of the economic impact in terms of job loss.”

Conversely, women will also be the face of the economic recovery as they return to work when schools and daycares reopen. Their reentry into the workforce will challenge HR teams to create supportive environments that welcome women back to a workforce and that doesn’t make them choose between career and family.

According to a 2021 survey of U.S. female adults conducted by Verizon, women are most concerned about their earning potential, job opportunities, and long-term career goals. HR will have to address these issues to attract female workers. They will need to ensure that working women won’t again be forced into a position to choose between family and work during a crisis.

“This is the time for companies to take steps to support their women employees,” writes Mita Mallick, head of inclusion, equity, and impact at ownership management platform Carta. Doing so “may ensure that women’s progress in the workplace isn’t set back an entire generation.”

Workers Will Seek Out Better Career Opportunities

As businesses reopen and the economy begins to grow and stabilize, workers will be changing jobs. That increase in talent mobility is perhaps one of the most impactful realities facing employers in a post-pandemic economy.

According to Prudential Financial’s May 2021 Pulse of the American Worker survey,

  • 50 percent of working adults say the pandemic has given them more control in deciding the direction of their careers;
  • 48 percent say they are considering whether or not to stay in their current job; and
  • 24 percent plan to look for a new job at the end of the pandemic.

HR leaders need to plan for this uptick in talent mobility as workers seek to prioritize career goals after over a year of prioritizing job security. To attract and retain top talent post-pandemic, HR departments must support their organizations in creating and communicating a company culture that encourages employee learning and development.

According to another Prudential survey in March 2021, 80 percent of respondents cite concern around career advancement as the reason for considering switching jobs. This highlights the fact that the pandemic has created a “very real experience that employees have had around a lack of career progression, and a concern around skills development,” says Rob Falzon, vice chair at Prudential.

This means companies will need to prioritize upskilling and reskilling opportunities to help employees meet their career goals. Otherwise, those employees may leave to find skill development elsewhere.

silver 3-d map of the world representing the global scope of the upcoming return to work

Boundaries For Talent Sourcing Will Dissipate

The normalization of remote work and increase in talent mobility across industries and geographic boundaries will continue to impact talent sourcing in ways HR teams will have to solve for. Hiring managers will need to broaden their talent pools and incorporate virtual talent-acquisition strategies and tools to source candidates in a labor market without boundaries.

Hiring unconventional talent will be key to meeting organizational workforce demands. Doing so will require HR teams to rethink their sourcing strategies, including their definitions of the “perfect” employee for roles.

“The truth is that the skills that seem ideal for a role today may no longer even be a fit in a year,” write Debbie Ferguson and Fredrick “Flee” Lee, respectively head of foundation engineering at and chief information security officer at the small-business platform Gusto. “When you’re screening and interviewing candidates, look for ways to explore the capabilities that will enable the individual to thrive as everything around them changes.”

Because talent can be located anywhere, HR teams will also have to design virtual hiring and onboarding processes to reach them. It’s a practice that started out of necessity during the pandemic-fueled lockdowns but will evolve into standard operating procedure for successful talent acquisition.

Moving forward, “more companies will adopt virtual recruiting technologies; shift talent attraction efforts to remote candidates; consider internal talent pools; and focus on diversity, equity and inclusion,” writes Roy Maurer, talent acquisition and HR technology editor at SHRM. That approach will allow them to stay competitive in the current labor market as so many return to work.

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