How to Win the War for Talent in the Most Competitive Labor Market Yet

Photo Credit: Mek Frinchaboy

By Lindsey Galloway

At the beginning of 2020, Tasha King was a successful VP at a major global bank in New York City. She loved her job responsibilities and didn’t even mind the necessary long days. But once the pandemic hit, things started to change. "Working even longer days during a pandemic at home was just different," said King. "The feeling of being treated more like a 'worker' and less like a human being during a global pandemic triggered a different response in me personally and professionally."

Like so many who worked from home during the pandemic, King took the time in quarantine to reflect on what was important to her life, and made a change to start the coaching and consultancy business she always wanted. "Somehow, 2020 seemed like the best (and possibly worst) time to take the leap of faith," she said.

Stories like King’s aren’t unique, as employees across the world faced both new challenges and new opportunities that made them reevaluate what they want out of their jobs and their lives. With employees quitting in droves for the YOLO life, to finding new job opportunities as companies race to rebound, the year gap has wrought a sudden avalanche of pent-up employee attrition at all levels. In light of these changes, leaders must take the time now to rethink and redesign the modern workplace to win the waging war for talent.

Who Has the Upper Hand

"People are asking 'What do I really want to do with my life going forward?' 'Do I want to be in this career or job?' or 'Do I want to live here or by the ocean?'" said Meighan Newhouse, CEO and Co-Founder of consultancy Inspirant Group. "They’re reassessing their careers but also the companies they work for to see if their values are aligned. And, if they’re not in alignment, they are moving on."

These values can range from a competitive salary or compensation package, to flexible schedules, the option to work remotely, or a more inclusive, value-driven workplace. "Employers should feel like they won the lottery when they find a good job candidate," said Newhouse. "The attitude that people should be happy to have a job are not on track with what 21st Century corporate America looks like."

Onboarding Is More Critical Than Ever Before

The staying power of remote work has also changed the employment landscape, and leaders need to be especially attuned to making new hires feel included in a virtual environment. Dr. Sunni Lampasso, an executive coach at Shaping Success, had two of her clients start remote jobs during the pandemic, but both had very different experiences. "One of them struggled to learn about the organizational culture without ever having been in the office, and his requests for support were met with circular responses, and his frustration mounted," she said.

"In contrast, another client felt a sense of community within the first few weeks through an onboarding process that included one-to-one meeting with all team members and multiple team meetings," said Lampasso. This allowed her the opportunity to get to know other employees and learn about the culture quickly.

Create a Feedback Loop

Though it may be harder to connect when employees are physically separated, creating open communication on both a personal and professional level matters for long-term retention. One of the easiest ways to do that is giving clear, concise, and consistent feedback, and making it meaningful, especially in light of the challenges of the past year.

"The past year has been incredibly demoralizing for many top performers who went above and beyond during a time of significant stress, but did not have those efforts appropriately acknowledged," said Lori B. Rassas, HR consultant and author of It's About You Too: How to Manage Employee Resistance to Your Diversity Initiatives and Improve Workplace Culture and Profitability. "A simple 'excellent job' with no further direction will not discourage an employee from seeking a new opportunity outside of the company. But a prospective employer makes it clear there will be room for development and advancement."

Specific feedback is just as important for high performers as those who need improvement. In those cases, Rassas suggests encouraging the behaviors you want the employee to continue to engage in, and be specific with the rewards they’ll receive if they do so, whether that’s professional advancement, compensation, or additional time off.

Human Connection for Better Retention

Though perks and benefits certainly help when it comes to attracting talent, it’s still the longstanding tenets of empathy and care that matter to keep employees engaged and aligned for the long-term. "Leaders who are empathic, approachable, and available are better able to create a sense of community in any environment," said Lampasso.

Despite the physical and structural changes to the business landscape during the past year, retaining and growing talent still starts from the place it always has: with leaders who care for and value their employees first.