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Apr 21, 2022

The pandemic was the catalyst — not the reason — that millions of American workers quit their jobs, according to a growing body of evidence that includes a recent survey by Pew Research. The reason they quit? A widespread belief that employers had been treating them unfairly for years prior.

This belief was based on several factors, including low pay, progressively heavy workloads, poor work-life balance, and a dearth of advancement opportunities. When the pandemic hit, workers began worrying for their safety, as well, and many were forced to continue working under highly stressful conditions. This unleashed their pent-up resentment and triggered a mass exodus, and the U.S. jobs market still hasn’t recovered. There are presently nearly 5 million more open jobs than job seekers, and talent shortages are reaching critical levels at many organizations.

This isn’t merely a wake-up call to employers regarding the power of perceived fairness. This is a five-alarm fire, and it’s going to take a massive, collective effort to put it out.

The Roots of Perceived Fairness

Employers across the country have one clear aim right now — to replenish the talent they lost during the Great Resignation and avoid these kinds of losses in the future. To accomplish this, they need to address their perceived lack of fairness, and the sooner the better. 

No employer with a reputation for unfairness is going to convince droves of fresh talent to sign on, not in today’s market where job seekers are choosier than ever about the companies for which they work.

Many organizations will have to rethink and revise their people practices, pay scales, and working conditions, all of which are essential to perceptions of fairness and a positive employee experience. Employers will also need to keep one other thing in mind as they work to mend their reputations: Perceived fairness isn’t limited to the employee experience. It begins with the candidate experience

The candidate experience is where people form their first impressions of your company, its culture, and values, and how you treat your people. Candidates you hire carry their initial perceptions into the employee experience, which can have a profound impact on their performance and commitment from Day One. 

Meanwhile, candidates you reject (who vastly outnumber those you hire) carry their initial perceptions back into the marketplace, blasting them across employer review sites, social media, and their professional and personal networks. They publicly call out any employer they perceive to have treated them unfairly at any point in their experience, and they’re not the least bit shy about it.

The damage this can do to your employer brand is just the tip of the iceberg. Candidates who believe you’ve treated them unfairly are much more likely to refuse to apply to your jobs in the future, withhold referrals, take their purchases and business relationships to your competitors, and influence others to do the same. 

Conversely, candidates who feel you’ve treated them fairly are far more likely to do just the opposite — i.e., apply to your jobs again, refer others to you, purchase your company’s products/services, and influence others to do the same — even if you turn them down for a job.

None of this is speculation. Candidates across the world have shared these insights directly with Talent Board again and again in our annual benchmark research, as they did again in 2021.

3 Ways To Build Perceived Fairness

As our research shows, the candidate experience contains several touchpoints that shine a light on your company’s perceived fairness, or lack of it. Here are three that, leveraged properly, can help you strengthen your reputation for fairness and win new talent in the process:

1. Interviews

When your recruiters and hiring managers interview candidates, most of what happens during these conversations is unscripted and spontaneous. As a result, interviewers sometimes use insensitive language, make misogynistic or ageist comments, and even joke about race or religion. 

Intentional or not, these transgressions undermine the perceived fairness of your employer brand and leave candidates with the strong impression that your organization condones this kind of thinking and behavior. Candidates may even assume they’re built into your culture.

One way to combat this is to have your interviewers attend diversity and sensitivity training. While this won’t eliminate every possible risk inherent in candidate interviews, it can go a long way toward creating a more fair and inclusive interview/experience. 

You can also boost perceived fairness by implementing structured interviews — that is, asking every candidate for a given job the same set of predetermined questions. Again, this isn’t a cure all, but it does help reduce the chance that interviewers will ask questions that come across as unfair, insensitive, or biased. Also, structuring interviews can help recruiters and hiring managers stay focused on what matters most about your candidates — their specific skills, qualities, and past experiences that will have a direct impact on job performance.

Talent Board’s 2021 research showed that the 10 companies providing the highest-rated candidate experiences in North America conducted structured interviews nearly 15% more often than the national average. And candidates’ willingness to refer others rises 74% when they’ve rated the fairness of their experiences highly. 

2. Feedback

Giving candidates feedback helps them understand why they’re progressing through your recruiting process or, perhaps more importantly, why they aren’t. When rejected candidates understand why you’re turning them away, it can help them pinpoint what to improve going forward, how to better prepare for interviews, and even how to find closure — all of which significantly reinforce their perception that you’ve treated them fairly.

Unfortunately, too many TA teams still aren’t taking advantage of their feedback opportunities, especially after the screening and interviewing stage. According to our 2021 research, an astounding 60% of candidates in North America received zero feedback after being rejected during this stage.

Tellingly, when recruiters and hiring managers did give feedback after screening/interviewing last year, not only did their perceived fairness go up but their willingness to increase their relationship with the company (apply again, refer others, make purchases, etc.) increased 36%. It’s worth noting that the 10 companies providing the highest-rated candidate experiences in 2021 all provided feedback to candidates.

3. Pay Discussions

Pay transparency is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. It’s essential for attracting new talent and retaining your current employees. Nearly two-thirds of adults in the U.S. say pay is one of their most important decision-making factors when looking for a new job. When pay transparency is lacking, employees are 50% more likely to leave their company, and those who stay are more likely to think they’re underpaid even if they aren’t

Failing to provide pay transparency is so detrimental to your company’s perceived fairness that nearly 60% of employees who are paid at their fair market value believe they’re paid below market, and 42% who are paid above market actually believe they’re paid below market.

Talent Board’s research shows that candidates who were told the salary of the job they were applying to in 2021 without having to ask for it experienced a 30% increase in their perception of fairness. When candidates were told about a job’s salary before having to ask, their likelihood to refer others to the company increased 132%.

While perceived fairness is ultimately a subjective matter, there’s no denying the fact that candidates’ perceptions can have a huge impact on your employer brand, your ability to win new talent, and how successfully you retain valued employees. Your perceived fairness determines whether candidates act as your brand champions or outspoken critics. In times like these, when good talent is so precious and hard to find, our employer brands need all the champions we can get.

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