New Research Reveals How the Pandemic Is Re-Shaping Hiring

Article main image
Jul 24, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Uncertainty is one of the most difficult things for humans to manage. Ditto for organizations that must carefully and precisely invest in their future. The question becomes: How can you plan for the future during uncertain times? 

The impact of coronavirus differs across industries, making everyone’s situation a bit different. But one thing we all have in common is that in times of uncertainty and stress, careful analysis of one’s situation and the sharing of information are essential to the decision-making needed for survival.

With that in mind, my firm recently surveyed talent acquisition professionals to learn how COVID-19 has impacted their current and future hiring programs. Looking at our survey results within the context of facts, information, and stories being reported in the media helps highlight what we know and what we don’t know about the impact of the pandemic. All of which is critical for decision-making, especially when it comes to hiring. 

What We Know

We Know COVID-19 is Bad for Business 

  • According to the IMF, the global economy is expected to shrink by over 3% in 2020, the steepest slowdown since the Great Depression. 
  • The pandemic is projected to make a $77 billion (and counting) dent in the U.S. GDP.
  • Our survey results support this data, with 83% of respondents’ indicating their organizations have experienced a negative impact on their revenues; 80% also indicate that they feel this impact will be long-lasting. 

We Know COVID Is Bad for Jobs (For Now)

  • While there has been some confusion regarding the actual unemployment rate in past months, it remains in the double digits, representing the highest rate since the Great Depression.
  • As the virus continues to spread, a second wave of layoffs is expected to impact 6 million white-collar workers.
  • Researchers estimate that 42% of pandemic-induced layoffs will result in permanent job loss.
  • Our survey shows that 85% of respondents predict a decrease in hiring in 2020 from pre-pandemic hiring plans, with half predicting a greater than 50% reduction. Almost half of respondents indicate that they have completely ceased hiring or have laid off employees. 

We Know Companies Care

  • 55% of our survey respondents indicate that their companies will change the way they see their role in society due to the pandemic, and almost half of respondents indicate that their companies are offering free goods and services to the public.
  • Organizations are contributing to the financial and physical health and safety of their employees. Notable efforts include giving PPE to all field employees, creating cross-functional teams to come up with plans to allow safe continuity of services, offering virtual mindfulness sessions and free mental health services, and offering catastrophe pay to employees who test positive for the virus as they quarantine themselves.
  • Companies are finding ways to repurpose workers. Nearly half of our survey respondents have workers who cannot work from home, but less than 10% say they laid off these workers.
  • Businesses are helping the general public and workers. For instance, DoorDash is bringing free groceries and food to those in need, while Hydrant is donating rehydration packs to frontline workers.

We Know Change Is Inevitable

This pandemic will create lasting impact — as past pandemics have. For example, the Bubonic Plague of 1348 led to major changes in the social order. With a large percentage of the privileged class dead, those in lower stations in life were given opportunities to enter new and previously forbidden occupations, own land, or receive coveted positions within the church. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic pales in comparison to the plague, it will impact the world of work via big-picture changes such as the reshaping of our collective values, new and increased government regulations, and the movement to a contact-free economy (think increased digital commerce, telemedicine, increased automation, etc.). These changes will undoubtedly lead to revisions to the short- and long-term strategies of both businesses and individuals.

Our study supports this: 66% of respondents indicate that their companies expect changes in their business strategy to adapt to the pandemic. But the exact nature and timing remains uncertain, and the things we don’t know are making decision-making both difficult and risky.

What We Don’t Know

We Don’t Know a Lot

  • Unlike other natural disasters that are discreet incidents, COVID is still rolling. This uncertainty frames everything when it comes to understanding future plans.
  • Despite trends in the right direction, the almost universal increase in new cases has proven that the pandemic is far from over. 
  • Despite recent gains in the job market, unemployment is trending in the right direction. But with more than 30 million people filing for unemployment (and counting), the U.S. is predicted to experience a coronavirus-induced recession through 2021. 
  • 71% of respondents to our survey feel it will be more than six months (from the survey date of May 1) until things in society return to normal. However, recent developments in the resurgence of cases make it likely that it could be much longer still.

Planning for the Future

In the face of uncertainty, adaptations for immediate survival often focus on the obvious. For example, restaurants shifting to delivery and curbside pick up. Likewise, increasing use of video-based interviews and shifting to working from home. Our data supports these trends — 57% of our sample indicates that they have increased the use of video interviews and 69% say that their companies transitioned workers to work from home. 

When it comes to big-picture strategy and complex business decisions, navigating through uncertainty requires looking beyond the obvious to connect the dots and take action. For instance CVS is undertaking “the most ambitious hiring drive in the company’s history,” adopting a bold, next-level strategy to fill 50,000(!) roles via a hiring process complete with virtual job fairs, virtual interviews, and virtual job previews. 

Seismic shifts in society caused by the pandemic’s fog of uncertainty mean that employers will have an expanded role in the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of their employees. The pandemic has accelerated a movement that has been gathering momentum in HR — a focus on creating a human experience for its workforce (and customers). This mindset encompasses the importance of communication, creative upskilling and reskilling, and business continuity while keeping employees and customers safe and healthy. 

Human-Centric Hiring Will Finally Happen

The pandemic’s impact on hiring will be profound and will require a mash-up of bold decision-making and people-first strategies.  

The rules for a post-pandemic workforce will intensely favor employers. With the chance to reset their workforces, employers will have the upper hand as they reboot with a mix of old and new talent. 

However, it is not going to be an easy road for employers who seek to staff up with new skills required to support strategic changes in direction. While the war for talent has been raging for over a decade now, we are about to enter into top-talent armageddon.

It is not out of the question to assume that top performers will be in twice the demand than before. The heat of battle to find and retain top talent will place a premium on speed and efficiency. But speed and efficiency alone will not win the day. Balancing the need for fast and precise hiring with the importance of the human touch will be the next great challenge in hiring. Employers that get it right will be handsomely rewarded. 

The playbook for human-centric hiring is not a secret. It starts with a mindset of compassion and flexibility, from which spring pillars such as:

  • Karma. How you treat your employees during the pandemic will be public knowledge and will send strong signals to job-seekers. 
  • Communication. Maintaining a genuine connection with talent throughout the hiring process will be even more essential.
  • Understanding. Knowing what job-seekers want (stability, financial peace of mind, opportunities to grow and develop) should be at the forefront of the dialogue.
  • Workplace wellness. A focus that goes beyond the nuts and bolts of the job to include wellness, health, and family. 

Balancing Human Touch With Tech

Recruitment process automation (RPA) is here to stay, and the pandemic is definitely accelerating its adoption. RPA adds efficiency to the hiring process via automated sourcing, scheduling, and communication, but the real winners will find creative ways to include the human touch in their tech stacks.

For instance, Michael Wright, head of talent acquisition for media investment company GroupM, reports:

“This crisis has led us to reimagine recruiting. We Immediately adapted our [artificial intelligence]-driven video interview tools to be more empathetic and more contextually aware than they were pre-COVID. We’ve also set up what we’re calling ‘video handshakes,’ which are more focused on discovering what people can be and become, rather than what they do and have done [previously in their career.]”

Automated marketing platforms are another tech tool that, when used creatively, can bolster efficiency while sharing your company’s special brand of the human touch. Here are some great examples of how employers are using their tools and channels to promote compassion.

Pre-hire assessments are also an excellent way to add efficiency and engagement. Scenarios where there are more applicants than openings are where pre-hire assessments do their best work. While assessments have traditionally been knocked for being unpopular with candidates, they can actually be a strength to your recruitment brand if constructed in ways that engage candidates while simultaneously ensuring fit for role. 

While 50% of respondents to our survey indicated an immediate reduction in spending on new hiring technologies, it is inevitable that widespread investments in advanced hiring technologies are on the horizon. No matter when you jump in, successful hiring will require flexibility, boldness, compassion, and mission-focused decision-making.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!