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The Right Stuff
In the post-COVID workplace, employees are looking for a job that does more than pay the bills, posing significant recruiting and retaining challenges for companies.

by Liz Hunter

The Great Resignation. The Big Quit. The Great Reshuffle. There’s no shortage of monikers ascribed to the voluntary mass exodus of employees reported between late 2021 and present day, quantified as a 20-year high in the nation’s quit rate. No matter what you call it, this movement has forced companies to re-evaluate what employees expect from their current and prospective jobs, and to consider adopting policies that value their staff’s contribution to the organization.

“The pandemic caused people to re-examine their career and life. Many of them were on autopilot until suddenly they were working from home, the world was upside down and they started asking questions: ‘Do I like this job, this company? What’s missing? What more do I want?’” says Lisa Panarello, president of the Staffing Management Association of New Jersey, which provides professional development and support for those in the recruiting field.

According to a recent Pew Research study, workers had more than a few reasons for seeking employment elsewhere, citing low pay, no opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work as major motivators.

Michael Menzer and Wendy Tordilio, co-presidents of the New Jersey Staffing Alliance, an industry trade association representing members in all areas of personnel services including search, recruitment, placement and temporary help services, say workers have had an awakening. “The reality is that people understand they’re worth more. Life is life and your job is your job. Your job should not be your life,” says Menzer.

This has put the power in the hands of employees. Much like the real estate market has been controlled by sellers, it’s the candidates who are running the job market, explains Tordilio. “Previously they might have been applying to one or two open positions—now they have more than 20 opportunities readily available to them.”

So what do employees want exactly, and how can companies attract them? The answer may be in your company culture.

Culture means something different to each individual, Panarello says, however, in her experience, she sums it up as a desire for “meaningful work.” “After a day of work, even if they are tired, they want a sense of fulfillment that what they did that day had value, they contributed to society and they did so in a place where they matter and aren’t just a cog in the wheel,” she says.

It’s not always about the money, either. “When [employers] are advertising jobs, they need to stress more on their culture, their work-life balance and if they have a hybrid model that’s huge. It’s very important to job seekers post-COVID,” says Tordilio.

“This makes it challenging for companies who want people in the office, but I think they need to be transparent,” Panarello says. “Companies need to pay their bills and maintain their presence in a community, and if they need their employees in the office to do so, don’t just say it’s for collaboration … tell them it’s because your rent funds the local community and they are an important part of that.”

If remote work is not within your business’ parameters, Tordilio says companies should highlight other positive things they can offer, such as company swag, free lunches or potentially flexible work hours.

Health and wellness is more important than ever to employees, and incorporating some form of bonus (for lack of a better term) or credit for employees is worth considering, Panarello says. She knows of one company that offered each employee a bonus to use on approved health and wellness items or programs, whether it was equipment for biking, paying for a treadmill or supplies for hobbies. This can go a long way in not only attracting talent, but retaining it as well.

Companies should also be flexible when considering potential candidates. Post-COVID, there’s no such thing as the “perfect” candidate.

“We’re encouraging clients to be more flexible in terms of individuals. Pre-COVID, everyone had defined job descriptions, and if a candidate didn’t line up, then they weren’t the ‘perfect’ candidate. Now, because of changes in the market, we’re educating clients to be more flexible and identify their true must-haves and work with individuals who might be a fit even if it’s not 100% of what’s needed,” Menzer says.

“If they are hiring for a certain position and some skills are trainable, train on those and just require the skills that cannot be trained. It could open the door to more suitable candidates who fit the culture, rather than just rejecting someone,” says Tordilio.

This might also mean looking inward for candidates for internal mobility. “We’ve seen this from a number of companies who are having difficulties recruiting from outside the organization,” says Panarello. “In turn they reduce their recruiting budget but increase their budgets on training to widen the skills of current employees.”

And if the idea of slogging through résumés isn’t something a business owner has time for, working with a staffing agency can be a time saver, says Tordilio. “They know what the employer is looking for, they screen the candidates and suggest who they think will be a great fit beyond what’s on their résumé.”

As they seek to attract talent, companies also need to be aware of their online reputation. “Candidates are doing their due diligence in researching companies and looking at reviews. Companies should make sure they have reviews and a record of responding to those reviews, positive or negative,” says Tordilio.

Panarello agrees. “When candidates read someone else’s review, it now infuses in their mind what it would be like working there. They want to see how and if the company is living its mission,” she says.

And a lack of social media presence could be a disadvantage. “They must also have a strong presence on social media and their website. Approximately 75-80% of applicants have already made up their mind about the company before applying. Companies need to not only have a social media presence, but also have content with value,” Menzer says.

Businesses should look to strengthen their physical presence in the community. Attending chamber of commerce meetings, college fairs and community events makes you visible and introduces you to the market of candidates living in the area, Panarello suggests.

Ultimately, job seekers are going to do what’s right for them and their family, she concludes. “Companies are now faced with figuring out their employees’ needs, while being fair and not  giving in to every demand.”