COVID-19 Shifted Job Seekers’ Priorities. They Want Careers, Not Jobs.

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It’s no surprise the COVID-19 pandemic upset many people’s careers. Working parents have had to manage their job and family responsibilities in the same space and often at the same time. With our homes becoming our new offices, our physical workspaces are often less than ideal. Boundaries have blurred as “work life” and “home life” have grown less distinct.

Amid the chaos, many have made time to reflect on what really matters in their lives and careers. Do the average employee’s key motivators remain the same, or will the post-COVID job seeker have a new outlook on work?

To dig into this question, PAN Communications recently conducted a survey of US-based professionals to better understand what job seekers are prioritizing now and in the wake of the pandemic.

A Spotlight on Career Development

The biggest takeaway from our survey: Employees are strongly prioritizing career development. In fact, 74 percent of respondents ranked career development as “important” or “extremely important” when deciding on a new job opportunity. And according to a survey from Degreed, 46 percent of workers are more likely to leave their jobs when they feel their employers are not investing in their professional development.

Today’s job seekers want to know companies are serious about teaching them new skills. They want to be paired with managers who will help them define and grow along clear career paths. In short, they want a more customized, personalized approach to job design.

In response, employers will have to reevaluate how they invest in their employees. For example, our agency is having far more frequent discussions with employees about their passion projects, as we know meaningful work matters to them. You can also get ahead of the game by implementing career-coaching programs that pair employees with mentors who can help them achieve their personal and professional goals. In fact, 73 percent of the employees we surveyed said it is “important” or “extremely important” to have a mentor, which means coaching is a particularly effective investment.

Take a look at your training and development programs. Do they give your employees the chance to step outside their comfort zones and pick up brand-new skills? This is key. Gone are the days of the traditional career ladder. Today, upward mobility can come in many forms, and your employees understand that. They don’t just want to refine their existing skills; they want to branch out and learn in nontraditional ways.

You can build a pretty robust training and development plan if you leverage both external resources and your own internal subject-matter experts, who are often eager to help train their colleagues. Fostering this kind of peer-to-peer learning is a great opportunity to recognize your employees for their accomplishments while also supporting more collaboration and connection within your company.

What are your candidates looking for in their next role? Tell us about today’s job market in the April 2021 Recruiter Index® survey.

Personal Development and Well-Being

In addition to investing in their careers, today’s job seekers also want you to invest in their well-being.

Let’s face it: We were all stressed before the pandemic, and COVID-19 simply made it even worse. Burnout is real, and that’s why today’s talent is looking for employers who prioritize health and wellness. In fact, when asked about mental health initiatives and overall well-being, 77 percent of respondents to the PAN Communications survey said these were either “important” or “extremely important” to their decisions about new job opportunities.

While employee assistance programs (EAPs) have long been standard components of benefits packages, employers need to take more of a hands-on approach to supporting the well-being of their workers today. For example, at PAN, we built a resource center where we share articles, podcasts, and other information about cultivating mental wellness. We wanted to break the taboo and create a comfortable space for people to discuss mental health in the workplace. Thus, mental health has become a regular part of our dialogue, with employees taking the opportunity to share resources and educate one another. We also started a partnership with the nonprofit Minding Your Mind to bring more expert advice and best practices to our workers.

In a highly competitive market, employers need to work harder to differentiate themselves to attract and retain top talent. A good-paying job at a company with a strong financial performance is no longer enough for most job seekers. Employers must embrace the total employee experience, and that means giving everyone the opportunity to do work that interests them while enabling them to care for themselves as human beings.

PAN Communications found that employees want to have a more fulfilling experience at work, and they want the time to live full personal lives as well. It’s no longer one or the other — it’s both. While we all need to learn to adapt to the shifting priorities of today’s workforce, I firmly believe we are all going to be better for it.

Elizabeth Famiglietti is the executive vice president of human resources at PAN Communications.

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Elizabeth Famiglietti is the executive vice president of human resources at PAN Communications. She leads PAN's strategic people initiatives and oversees PAN's employment brand to attract great talent to our agency and has hired some of the best and the brightest in our industry. She is the key architect for PAN's award-winning culture, training and development, total rewards program, and DEI journey