You might assume that with U.S. unemployment skyrocketing in the last few months, the sudden influx of talent into the candidate pool would make hiring much easier. Perhaps you might assume that employers now hold all the cards in the talent game and don’t have to work as hard to keep employees engaged. You might also assume that a natural reaction to such wild market fluctuations would be for businesses to hunker down, play it safe, and try to weather the storm.
But you’d be wrong on all counts.
This month, Universum released EB Now 2020, an annual survey of more than 1,100 businesses and talent leaders from around the world who shared their perspectives on what’s going on in their companies and their collective predictions for the future. Even with COVID-19, a worldwide recession, and increased political and economic tension across the board, what these leaders are seeing and saying will likely surprise you, as well as inform your own talent strategies.
Let’s start by debunking common misconceptions.
Misconception #1: Higher Unemployment Means Hiring Is Now Easier
It’s macroeconomics 101: If the supply of something increases and the demand remains roughly flat, prices will drop. In the talent game, increased supply should mean less fighting over top talent or long protracted talent searches. But that’s not what we’re seeing. Because talent isn’t commoditized.
Top talent — be they nurses, autonomous driving software designers, aeronautical engineers, Tik Tok specialists, or sales leaders — is desired based on the value people bring to a company. And as they still bring value, they create their own demand. There aren’t suddenly twice the top nurses, even if it feels like twice as many are applying.
The game-changing talent you have been fighting to attract remains difficult to find and hard to persuade. Even companies anticipating less hiring in the coming year are preparing for more difficult hiring conditions.
Misconception #2: Investing in Employee Engagement Is No Longer Necessary
With unemployment so high, it makes sense to assume that the pendulum of the power dynamic has shifted away from talent being in charge to businesses holding all the cards. In times of unstable job markets, employees tend to clamor less for perks and demands to be a part of decision-making processes, and instead focus on getting through the day and doing what it takes to keep the business successful.
So where each employee’s paycheck may be on the line any given day, why would a company invest in employee engagement? The carrot of gainful employment and the stick of job failure should be enough to keep even jaded staff involved, right?
Wrong. When talent knows its value, when it has gotten used to having a say in business strategy, it will be willing to take its valuable skills where they are most wanted. Thus, talent leaders know that they need to keep investing in getting the most out of staff by encouraging engagement.
Misconception #3: Staying Safe Is the Best Course of Action
Aside from safety around COVID-19, businesses don’t always manage risk well. When times are good, they can over-extend and over-leverage themselves into trouble by thinking the good times will never end. And when times are tough, they can overcompensate by taking fewer chances and squeezing budgets out of “non-essential” programs like R&D, branding, and HR.
This safe strategy may or may not increase their odds of survival, but it will certainly put the company in dire straits when the economy starts to gain strength. Talent leaders have learned the lessons of the past and are doing everything they can to avoid headcount loss and increasing their own flexibility to meet whatever needs may come. That’s why they list “learning agility” as the number one most sought-after skill. When you don’t have faith that you can predict the future, agile talent is a cost-effective way to hedge your bets.
The Macro Trends
Beyond those misconceptions, what other big changes are happening?
Macro Trend #1: Employer Brand Is Evolving and De-Siloing
Talent leaders cited weaker interest in investing in employer branding, while at the same time expecting high employee engagement, more effective recruiting and a stronger EVP. How can that be?
As companies evolve their thinking on employer branding, they may be seeing it less as a separate silo living within TA or marketing communications. Instead, they may be viewing it as an idea that lives in many departments all at once, leveraging resources all around the company instead of being boxed into one slot on the org chart. In other words, the “brand” is a shared idea across departments. So while companies aren’t necessarily growing employer functions, they are demanding those outcomes from various teams and functions around the organization.
Macro Trend #2: Remote Work Might Be the Boost D&I Projects Need
It should be no surprise that the four-month experiment in remote work has generally been considered a success among most companies and employees. The economic value of lower physical overhead and the ability to hire talent from anywhere is crystal clear, even if video-conferencing fatigue is a real thing for some staff.
A more remote work structure is also having a surprising knock-on effect: supporting talent diversity. By not having to focus on a few schools, by being able to hire from almost anywhere, the clustering of certain talent demographics no longer has such an outsize impact. For example, if you are a Bay Area company looking to hire Black technical staff, you’ll find a four-fold increase of available talent in Atlanta than in your own backyard.
Macro Trend #3: For Your EVP, Segmentation Is the Name of the Game
For years, companies thought of an EVP as somewhat monolithic, a single concept with some supporting pillars to define the brand. But as different audiences respond differently to different messages, EVPs are becoming more modular, with pillars being developed to connect to different audiences.
For example, EVP messages around innovation and inspiring purpose might be most common among U.S.-based engineering companies, but not among automotive and energy companies, and certainly not in countries like India, China, or Russia. Understanding the value of localizing your brand for regions, as well as micro-cultures and talent segments, is becoming more common among successful companies.