The Great Recruiter Resignation: Why Talent Acquisition Teams Might Drive the Next Wave of Mass Turnover

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Recovering from a global pandemic is hard enough as it is. With millions of Americans quitting their jobs every month, many organizations find it difficult to staff all their roles, much less return to business as usual.

Luckily, C-suite leaders can always count on recruiters and HR pros to come to their rescue. Talent teams have been among the heroes of the pandemic . They’ve supported employees through the tumultuous transition to remote work and devised airtight safety plans to bring people back to the office. They’ve kept engagement high and mitigated burnout by spearheading new initiatives to support work/life balance and mental health. They’ve guided employers through one of the wildest talent markets we’ve ever seen.

But who’s there to help HR and recruiting pros when they need it? For many talent teams, the answer turns out to be “no one.” And that’s not just a problem for the recruiters and HR pros.

It’s a ticking time bomb for every company on the planet. If something doesn’t change soon, the next wave of the Great Resignation might be led by the very people charged with ending it.

The Great Recruiter Resignation

Burnout has been high among employees in general since the start of the pandemic, and it has only gotten worse. In one survey, employees reported a 21 percent increase in burnout and a 17 percent increase in physical stress symptoms between December 2020 and July 2021.

This is common knowledge by now. Yet, in our conversations about burnout, recruiters and HR pros only come up when we’re discussing how to combat the phenomenon. Rarely does the spotlight fall on how burnout affects them. 

As a result, we’re missing out on some crucial data, says Modern Hire CEO, Karin Borchert.

“As a function, HR and recruitment are at the front lines of dealing with stressed-out hiring managers across an organization,” she explains. “So, recruiter stress can be overlooked by colleagues, in large part because they are expected to be part of the solution to stressed-out hiring managers.”

The people tasked with solving talent problems have no organizational resources for solving their problems. C-suite leaders often miss this fact, and they have for years. According to Borchert, recruiters and HR pros have dealt with burnout since long before the pandemic. “It’s frequently a high-pressure job, whether there is candidate scarcity or an abundance of candidates, with high expectations for speed and quality,” she says.

As with so many other things, the pandemic has made the situation worse. Borchert cites a recent report that found that 70 percent of HR leaders feel 2021 has been one of the most challenging years of their career. Unless recruiters and HR pros get some support, 18 months of high stress might drive them right out of their roles along with the rest of the workforce.

How to Tell If Your Talent Team Is Burnt Out

Recruiters and HR pros are often hyperaware of how employees and candidates feel. It’s part of their jobs, after all, as they engage the employment market. It’s only by knowing what employees and candidates want that recruiters and HR pros can attract, hire, and retain top talent.

Borchert believes CHROs and other C-suite leaders need to take the same approach to their talent teams, paying careful attention to any possible indicators of burnout among recruiters and HR pros.

What should they look for? Burnout can present differently in different employees, but Borchert notes that common symptoms include a lack of motivation, stress, fatigue, and general apathy towards work. According to the Mayo Clinic, extreme cases of burnout can also manifest as:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness, anger, or irritability
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Vulnerability to illnesses

“After losing large numbers of employees over the last few months, organizations cannot afford to lose employees in HR and talent acquisition,” Borchert says. “It’s important to spot these signs as early as possible to help curb burnout and prevent further damage moving forward.”

Borchert also cautions against falsely assuming that your most enthusiastic and high-flying employees are safe from burnout. “Burnout can occur even in the most engaged, high-performing employees — especially recruiters and HR professionals, who are often tasked with helping their colleagues through their struggles with burnout and stress,” she says.

How to Support Your Recruiters and HR Pros

Preventing burnout and turnover among recruiters and HR pros don’t require a special initiative. The same things that stress other employees are the culprits behind HR and recruiter burnout. That means the same things that alleviate stress among the rest of your employees also work here:

  • Prioritize employee mental health through wellness programs and other benefits
  • Support work/life balance through flexible schedules, telecommuting, and generous PTO
  • Make sure employees have the tools and training to do their jobs
  • Ensure employees’ workloads are realistic
  • Reward and recognize employees for great performances
  • Solicit employee input on company initiatives — and actually listen to it
  • Offer feedback to help employees refine their strengths and address their weaknesses
  • Show employees how they’re connected to the organization’s mission and why their work matters

“Hybrid work environments, flexible schedules, PTO, and supportive management and colleagues will go a long way toward creating a work culture that values employees and prioritizes mental health, especially in the current high-turnover environment,” Borchert says. 

Given all the conversation around burnout since March 2020, your organization may already have many of these programs in place. That doesn’t mean you’re safe from the Great Recruiter Resignation. Your recruiting and HR teams have likely been tasked with creating and delivering these programs, but are they encouraged to make use of the programs themselves?

Moreover, does your organization allow your talent team to enjoy these benefits on a practical level? Sure, the PTO package is generous, but are you consistently asking recruiters to scale back vacation time so they can help you make more hires? Everyone has flexible schedules, but does your HR team routinely have to stay late to handle all the work on their plates?

The first step in fighting burnout is explicitly encouraging your talent team to prioritize their wellness. The second step is supporting them when they do.

“It’s important to remember that taking steps to reduce recruiter burnout and promote wellness is an ongoing effort,” Borchert says. “Employers should ensure that workers feel heard and connected to their teams regardless of the hiring landscape. Keeping a pulse on organization-wide stress is the job of everyone in senior leadership so that wellness initiatives are effective for all employees — and that includes HR and recruiters.” 

Make Recruiter Wellness a Top Priority

The C-suite has a lot to handle right now, and it’s understandable why burnout among recruiters and HR pros hasn’t been top of the list. But Borchert says those companies that don’t invest in recruiter wellness risk falling behind their competitors.

“Moving forward into 2022, it’s critical that CHROs and other organizational leaders prioritize supporting their HR departments,” she says. “With the increased pressure on these teams to fill open positions caused by the pandemic and the Great Resignation, burnout is likely.”

No business can succeed without supporting its employees — and no business can support its employees without first supporting its recruiting and HR teams.

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By Matthew Kosinski