Businesses striving to attract and keep employees are facing stiff competition in a tight labor market in which the nation’s ultra-low 3.6% unemployment rate (3.9% for New Jersey) operates in tandem with the United States’ Great Resignation: A record-setting 47.4 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021, and March 2022 saw a record 4.4 million Americans voluntarily quit.
With many workers continuing to retire and others sidelining themselves due to pandemic-related fatigue/worries, the overall scenario has resulted in more job openings across the country than there are applicants. This means businesses of all stripes must sharpen their strategies for attracting new workers as well as keeping the ones they already have.
In that vein, workplace flexibility is a crucial element that employees seek today, according to multiple experts interviewed by New Jersey Business Magazine. This flexibility might not only entail accommodating popular hybrid work-from-home arrangements, but it also may mean creating a results-oriented workplace where all employees are required to work online during the hours of, say, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but are otherwise free to complete tasks at any time of day or night.
Although some forward-thinking organizations shifted to workplace flexibility years ago, the pandemic changed the equation. New Jersey-based Ray Rokicki, an HR advisor at Mineral – a firm that provides HR compliance services to more than 500,000 small- and medium-sized businesses in the United States – explains, “Before , working from home was: ‘Hey, can I get approval from my manager to work from home today? I have an appliance being delivered.’ There was a reason you were working from home. … Today, it is: ‘I am working from home.’
That is the full sentence.’ … It’s a really hard sell [today] for [companies] to say, ‘We need you in the office.’”
Employee autonomy is likewise popular in work environments, according to experts such as Marcella Schneider, senior human resources consultant at Lindenberger Group, a Titusville-based human resources consulting agency. She describes a process of employees reaching goals sans micromanaging supervisors, with managers nonetheless remaining available for advice and guidance.
Employee compensation is another core component for attracting/retaining workers, with US Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicating that private-sector compensation increased 4.5% year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2021. In conjunction with this trend, at least some employers are forgoing after-the-fact employee tuition reimbursement, and instead paying for employee education costs up front.
Michael Timmes is a New Jersey-based human resource consultant at Insperity, a firm that assists companies with human resources matters in order to improve their business success. He explains, “Organizations must work within their own budgets. You can’t necessarily pay salaries [and offer benefits] that are going to put the organization … in a position where they’re going to go out of business in a couple of years because their expenses and revenues are out of line.”
He says another “critical” employee attraction/retention element is developing a “learning environment” where workers are continually presented with opportunities through online training and/or the ability to improve their skills in other ways.
A wider workplace mosaic includes creating corporate cultures aligned with employees’ values. Mineral’s Rokicki says, “Anyone who focuses solely on [employee compensation] is missing out on the much bigger pieces, which are workplace culture and [workplace] environment. And that’s what people are really aiming for. They want organizations that align with their beliefs, that they feel good about going to work for, and that back up what the [organizations] say that they’re going to do.”
Offering similar sentiments is Insperity’s Timmes: “[Organizations should ask]: ‘How are we aligning with individual’s mission statements?’ … Across all generations, the pandemic has caused people to step back – no matter where they are in their careers – and [say]: ‘I don’t have as much time left on this earth as I thought I did. And now I want to spend it doing something that’s really connected to my core.’”
While much has been written about corporate cultures and how to create workplaces congruent with leaders’/employees’ beliefs, Timmes describes corporate culture as a “purpose” that reinforces organizational values and ensures, for example, that ethics is defined in a way that everyone understands.
In addition to employee attraction/retention trends, there are specific tactics and techniques for obtaining employees. Lindenberger Group’s Schneider says that companies should consider employee referral programs to obtain new workers, and, separately, that employer branding – such as responding to comments on the employer review site Glassdoor – is “really, really important.”
She also says employers should rapidly respond to any online job applicants: “You can’t wait.” Schneider additionally advises companies to examine how they use online recruiting platforms
since many of these services may automatically reject applicants who have gaps in their resumes, and they therefore may not consider many qualified people.
“Looking at these [online recruiting] platforms and understanding how the parameters are set up – and how people are being weeded out – is really important,” Schneider stresses.
Ensuring new employees have a smooth onboarding process is also important, she says. “If it’s not working for them, it’s too slow or it’s not clear, [new employees] take that as: ‘This is what it’s going to be like to work here.’ … [The new employees] are making decisions such as: ‘I know I said ‘yes’ to this job, but I have another [job] offer [that I can consider].’”
Judith Lindenberger, founder and president of Lindenberger Group, highlights additional ways to obtain employees in today’s marketplace. She says her firm has used the social media site LinkedIn to pursue potential candidates who might already have good jobs to ask them if they would be interested in switching to another company, and then explaining why it is “a great company and opportunity.”
Lidenberger recommends keeping in touch with people who have expressed an interest in a company and informing them as soon as there is a job opportunity.
Companies may also wish to consider a wider range of potential employees. While Insperity’s Timmes says that while, in the past, companies may have looked for a candidate to align with every aspect in a position’s description or summary, he explains, “They’ve realized that they have to step back [from this practice].”
Mineral’s Rokicki has similar sentiments: “I think what you are going to see, and what I have seen, is that a lot of employers are expanding who they are willing to interview. They’re starting
to really have visibility [regarding] what is truly a transferable skill. In the past, people would get hung up on: ‘Well, [the prospective employee] has never had this job title before.’”
Although attracting and retaining employees can be challenging in today’s labor market, organizations that know what employees are seeking arguably may have some advantages.
But, overall, the going isn’t always easy. Mineral’s Rokicki explains that one person told him they were “shocked” that after 10 days of posting a job position online, their firm had only received two applications. “In the past, a good number of candidates could be worked through to fill the funnel,” Rokicki says.
He concludes, “We’re talking about organizations that really need to figure out how to market themselves and say [to applicants]: ‘Do you want to come work here?’”
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