Confessions of a Corporate Talent Acquisition Leader: The Great Job Exodus of 2021

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Oh, these pandemic times.

Throughout much of 2020, many of us were looking for ways to remain steady in an uncertain world, believing we would eventually find our lost certainty once again. But like Jack in the movie Titanic, no matter how much we begged, the old world couldn’t hang on forever. The way it was will no longer be the way it is. It’s time for us to accept that.

The reality is, no one really knows how this virus will continue to affect us in the long term. So, rather than wait for a return to normal, many people are seeking to create their own certainty. As such, we are seeing large-scale turnover within the corporate world. Today, nearly half of Americans are looking to change jobs. People are leaving to start their own businesses or pivot their careers; many are willing to take a lesser title and lower pay for more freedom. The terms “title agnostic” and “openness to pay” are consistently heard in the interview process. Graduating high school seniors are choosing to postpone college and take advantage of the jobs left empty by those who have rejected corporate life for one reason or another.

Companies must learn to adapt to this exodus of talent, as it shows no signs of slowing soon. To do that, organizational leaders will have to dig deeper into why people are leaving in droves.

Why Your People Are Leaving

Hundreds of articles have been written about why the Great Resignation is happening, but in sum, people are tired of allowing external influences to affect their decisions. Put another way: They’re tired of employers calling all the shots.

Prior to the global pandemic, people generally felt content in the monotonous day-to-day normality of life. I get up, work out, shower, drive to work, work, come home, cook dinner, go to sleep, and repeat times five.

Then the world stopped, and the world went remote overnight. This opened up a whole new way of working to millions of people — and now it all seems to be coming to an end. Companies are starting to implement their return-to-the-office strategies — and as a result, people are saying “no, thanks.” Remote work gave people a taste of true work/life balance; by comparison, the old way doesn’t look so contented anymore. Those companies that make a stand for remote will attract a broader pool of talent than those who limit themselves to geography once again.

According to Robert Half, 38 percent of workers feel stuck in their careers today; among workers between the ages of 18 and 24, the number skyrockets to 66 percent. Right now, these unfulfilled professionals are determining what to do next. Recruiters know that. They’re hunting for talent — including and especially passive candidates who already have jobs. Conversations are being had with your employees right now — even the ones you believe to be happy and content. They’ll leave for a better culture, more money, and jobs they love to do rather than have to do.

Many discontented employees are seeking opportunities to upskill. What is your organization providing them? Consider allowing these people to explore opportunities within your workplace rather than searching for them outside. For example, say you have a recruiter who is bored in their current role and demonstrates sales and business development competencies. They start seeking sales jobs outside the company, and you are shocked when they turn in their notice. You wish they had shared their desire for a new role with you — but now it’s too late.

That could have all been avoided if your leadership were open to supporting internal career pivots.

Many are seeking health and wellness at work; group exercise, health and nutrition coaching, and career coaching (outside of HR) are just a few ways to accommodate your worker’s needs in these new times.

That all works for getting employees to stay — but what about attracting new hires? Corporate recruiters will need to take a proactive approach that emphasizes employer branding and candidate outreach over incoming applications. This is a shift from administrative recruiting to true professional recruitment. Those recruiters who adopt an executive recruitment mindset for all talent — that is, start building pipelines and personal brands in the markets they serve — will have access to top talent for their organizations. They might even save their employers some fees that would have been spent on hiring an agency. Companies should, in turn, compensate their internal recruiters differently to encourage this type of outreach.

Stop Waiting for the Post-Pandemic — Pay Attention to What’s Happening Now

Are we in the post-pandemic period now?

Variants. Vaccinations. Hospitalizations. The post-pandemic is still way down the road. Instead of thinking about post-pandemic work life, focus on the here and now.

The great shift in employee priorities is here. It is no longer what an employee can do for the company but what the company is doing for the employee. How are you accommodating the need for meaningful work?

Companies need to provide their recruitment teams with branding and messaging that speaks to this new way of thinking. More importantly, companies must implement new programs to give their currently dissatisfied workers a reason to stick around. Take some of the money you saved on travel expenses in 2020 and invest it in employee engagement. Your people have multiple offers and opportunities right now. Why would they choose you?

Offer holistic wellness programs. Provide coaching. Create psychology safety for your employees. Whatever you do, do something. Rather than worrying about returning to the office, plan for what you can do now to increase employee engagement, trust, and morale. Create a place of certainty instead of uncertainty within your workplace — and see how that changes the exodus from your organization.

Laureen Kautt, BCC (with additional Career Coach designation), is a global talent acquisition executive and the founder and principal coach of Volitionary Movement, LLC. Confessions of a Corporate Talent Acquisition Leader is her recurring column on Recruiter Today.

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Laureen Kautt, BCC (with additional Career Coach designation), is a global talent acquisition executive experienced in creating and building talent acquisition functions for organizations through creating vision, driving strategy, and delivering solutions. By translating her decades of agency recruitment experience to corporate, Laureen grew the global talent acquisition function for a $1 billion legal technology firm from 4 to 28 over a 6-year period, leading and delivering recruitment practices and strategies in North America, EMEA, and APAC. Laureen is also the founder and principal coach of Volitionary Movement, LLC, where she is engaged for individual, group, and corporate coaching and consulting. She is certified in strategic intervention coaching methods and strategies from the Robbins-Madanes Training in Strategic Intervention Coaching.