Recruitment and Retention in the Age of COVID

By Deon Nicholas
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Recruitment and retention strategies look completely different in 2022 than in early 2020. The economy was stable, and unemployment low—a stat that in March 2022 looks similar to pre-pandemic numbers. Remote work was part of the conversation, adopted mainly by startups and tech companies. 

Then everything changed. The pandemic forced most businesses to send employees home. Layoffs ravaged many industries as the economy took a pause. Since then, there have been many bumps along the way. Organizations learned how to make remote work function, and employees appreciated the freedom and flexibility. 

The economy bounced back, but many workers quit en masse, sparking the Great Resignation. Many left their current industry for something different as they reexamined what they desired in a career. According to data, one in four workers quit their jobs in the U.S in 2021.

All these factors created a perfect storm around recruitment and retention. We recently hosted a panel discussion with experts to dive into these issues. Moderator Amanda Quinn, senior vice president of marketing, business development, and finance at ArenaCX, spoke with:

The Changing Workforce: Is Hybrid the Answer?

The panel began by discussing their company’s position on work before the pandemic and where they stand now. “We were in offices prior, then went to hybrid but have strict rules about coming to the office,” Stiles said. “My personal view is that hybrid isn’t working. There’s a lot of pushback to return, and no one wants to force this, or they could lose talent.”

Saurin relayed that Zendesk is a hybrid work environment with a people-first mentality. “We’ve been reimagining how and where we work,” she said. “People do want flexibility, and it’s also opened the door to more talent that can be remote.”

Ginsburg noted that Forethought’s culture before COVID was a strong belief in the office. They did go remote but now have their offices back open. “I’m seeing a desire to get together physically,” he said. “There is energy from human connections.”

The predominant position for most companies continues to be hybrid. Still, many organizations found that remote work was positive for the company and employees. Ultimately, workers want choices and autonomy. 

Recruiting and the War for Talent

The war for talent is a battle that companies are fighting every day. It’s a candidate-driven market, which means top performers can have their pick of jobs. In diving into how recruiting has changed, the group also discussed why people leave jobs. 

The answer? It rarely has to do with compensation. Quinn shared a statistic from a recent study: A toxic work culture is 10.4 times more likely to lead to attrition than compensation. She elaborated on what toxicity means, including disrespect, unethical practices, not being inclusive, or cutthroat environments. Workers are looking for a better culture—not necessarily a bigger paycheck. And companies are willing to battle in the “war” to win them over. 

So, how are their companies aspiring to win it?

Saurin explained that Zendesk has been accelerating the hiring process to ensure they don’t miss out. “We still have rigor around the process, but we’re shortlisting quickly and doing panel interviews,” she said. “Candidates are getting responses much quicker.”

Stiles echoed that it’s hard to find talent, but how his line of business is doing this is much different. Before the pandemic, everyone was in Salt Lake City. Now, they’ve been recruiting anywhere. “About 30 percent of people are outside Utah now.” 

He lamented that acceleration didn’t apply to KPMG due to the nature of their work and the background check process. One thing that’s increased is the number of employee referrals. 

Ginsburg said they are still looking for applicants in areas where they have offices. The recruiting teams at Forethought are also ramping up efforts, so they don’t lose candidates. “When we’re excited about a candidate, it’s all hands on deck to get them,” he said.

Keeping Workers Once You Have Them

Recruiting and acquiring workers is just the start. You have to onboard them, and now many are doing this virtually, including Zendesk. It’s critical to make this experience positive because it can set the tone. 

“We have a great two-day onboarding with a sense of culture and groups competing for points,” Saurin said. Interactions like this make the process more inclusive and even fun. 

If onboarding is successful, the next phase is building loyalty. And that goes back to the culture question. 

“Compensation will always be an issue, but culture is a driving factor,” Ginsburg said. “It comes down to how you want to spend your time and the people.”

Stiles has witnessed something unique about retention: people who come back. “The grass isn’t always greener,” he said. “People may have left for money, but they came back because the culture, benefits, or attitudes weren’t there.”

The most crucial aspect of employee retention is often an employee’s relationship with management. So, how have leaders adapted to this new way of work?

“Remote work highlighted the importance of managers having regular one-on-ones, development conversations, investing in talent, and helping employees navigate opportunities,” Saurin said. She remarked that when employees can bring their whole selves to work and feel valued, they stay. 

Stiles had a similar recommendation. “If we are responsible for other people, make the effort to reach out to people.” 

A little empathy goes a long way in retention, whether it’s face-to-face or screen-to-screen.
Get more insights and tips from Saurin, Stiles, and Ginsburg by watching the webinar

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