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Despite rising case numbers in the United States amid the emergence of the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, a sense of normalcy has returned to most parts of the country in recent months.
The economy, despite inflation concerns, has rebounded and more employers are welcoming workers back to the office. This, however, has also led to a white-hot jobs market that’s seen many people wave goodbye to their employer in lieu of greener pastures.
The “Great Resignation,” or the “Great Departure,” — whatever your preferred nomenclature, organizations are currently ripe for turnover and there’s no signs of that momentum slowing anytime soon.
Bill Armstrong, president of staffing and professional services company Gava Talent Solutions, said there’s a confluence of variables that have led to this moment.
“There were people who were wanting to change jobs pre-pandemic for all the normal reasons that people want to change jobs, and then the pandemic struck and there was nowhere for these folks to go, so they hunkered down and made the best of it,” Armstrong said. “Certainly, the pandemic has changed the way people look at work and look at their relationship with their employer. That has caused a sea of change in the workforce.”
Remote work, of course, is at the crux of this talent war. Many employees who grew comfortable working from home the past year are scoffing at the idea of being asked back to the office.
In April, for example, WorldatWork and SalesGlobe conducted a survey that revealed more than three-quarters of respondents said they would like to continue working remotely at least part-time, and 32% indicated they would not return to work in person or would seek out new job opportunities if their current employer opted to put an end to remote work post-pandemic.
Other recent surveys revealed similarly strong feelings about remote work. A FlexJobs survey conducted in April saw 58% of workers saying they would “absolutely” look for other employment if they couldn’t go on working remotely in their current job. A month later, Morning Consult found 40% of 1,000 workers saying they would consider quitting their jobs if they weren’t allowed to work remotely at least part of the time going forward.
“[Remote work] is a significant factor in all of this,” Armstrong said. “Companies have to realize that their employees may be looking at this situation differently than they are looking at it.”
Expanding on that idea, Armstrong noted that organizations could be viewing a return to the office through the lens of schools and daycares opening up, meaning less child care responsibility for working parents. However, many of those working parents might’ve grown accustomed to the work-from-home routine and could be looking forward to being even more productive without children in the house during the workday.
While some employers have made grand proclamations about a full return to the office, Armstrong said a bit of tact is the best approach. What this looks like, he said, is evaluating individual roles and determining which ones might require more office time and communicating the business reason for why to those employees.
“If the company feels there’s a legitimate reason for these people to be in the office, the person usually tends to feel that way too,” Armstrong said. “Where you get this disconnect is when the company is looking at it from an all-or-nothing perspective and the employee doesn’t understand why they need to come back to the office because they feel they’re just as productive working from home.”
Amid this mass exodus of workers, some organizations are opting to sweeten the pot with signing bonuses to lure more talent. While this isn’t a new practice by any means, it’s one that’s gained plenty of traction in recent months as companies look to differentiate themselves in the ultra-competitive talent marketplace.
“We’re seeing some increase in sign-on bonuses and we’re also seeing people getting bigger bumps in their pay in salary and bonus potential when they do change jobs,” Armstrong said. “Often times, many of these good candidates have more than one offer. When you have more than one offer, you can negotiate more, so we’re seeing these things happen much more frequently.”
While this ploy will certainly aid in bringing in more talent to an organization, Armstrong cautioned relying solely on compensation incentives. Gava’s intel and other research has indicated that most people aren’t leaving their jobs for financial reasons.
“You have to be careful not to just throw money at an issue, because that’s going to be a short-term fix,” he said.
Beyond financial incentives and quality total rewards packages, employers need to ensure they have adequate mental health and well-being resources available for their employees, Armstrong said. Mental health and well-being were touchstones for organizations pre-COVID, but the pandemic represented a watershed moment in elevating their importance for organizational health and workforce strategy.
A recent WorldatWork survey found that HR leaders perceived that demand for well-being programs increased 61% in recent months, as has utilization (63%). Thus, organizations that prioritize targeted employee well-being programs are poised to not only retain talent during this dynamic period, but attract it as well. Additionally, the survey found that 92% of organizations offer mental health services and 59% of employees rate access to mental health services as very or extremely important to them.
“Whether it’s stressing employee assistance programs or offering wellness classes for your employees — there’s a variety of online options for doing those things these days and it’s very important,” Armstrong said. “It comes back to listening and then being able to offer programs and stress programs that you have to help people with this issue.”
Armstrong said that while he doesn’t foresee this employee-driven market slowing down in the near future, it will likely cool off in the next year or so. In the interim, employers should view it as an opportunity to improve their organization by embracing the changing needs of employees.
“This is something that employers have to understand and embrace — it isn’t a bad thing if you’re doing a lot of the right things,” he said. “It could represent a tremendous opportunity for you to hire and upgrade your team if you’re able to embrace what’s going on and begin to offer these programs that are appealing. Some employers are taking great advantage of this.”