A Turning Point for Talent

This article was originally published as The Wall Street Journal Custom Content.

The Great Resignation has become such a fixture of recent headlines that it’s easy to overlook the historic ramifications it’s had for the U.S. workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 3.98 million workers quit their jobs each month of 2021—the highest such numbers on record.

These trends reflect a fundamental change in workers’ perspectives, driven by factors ranging from professional burnout and opportunities for higher compensation to the rise of flexible work options. Some experts have their own term for this shift: “COVID clarity.”

“The social contract that exists between employees and employers has changed forever,” says Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). “As a result of COVID clarity, we have to rethink how we recruit, manage and retain talent. Everything is on the table.”

These changes to workers’ priorities are likely to outlast the pandemic. Today and in the foreseeable future, employers must take a different approach to attracting and retaining talent—one that has less to do with the office tennis tables and on-tap cold brew of the recent past, and more with the kinds of cultural, purpose-driven qualities that truly matter to workers.

“This is a wake-up call to show us how companies should have always operated,” says Sam Kaufman, chief revenue officer of Insight Global, a leading staffing services company based in Atlanta. “Creating a workforce of empowered employees requires having a people-first mentality. It’s about leading with trust and taking care of your workforce so they can take care of business.”

Rethinking the Recruiting Cycle

Insight Global has been on the front lines of the disruptions reshaping the job market. With a culture-oriented approach to recruiting, it’s helped employers navigate the talent wars by focusing on aspects of the employee and job-seeker experience—like ensuring interviews and onboarding processes create the right first impression.

The staffing firm has also encouraged employers to make creative pivots to their established recruiting practices, like considering how managers fundamentally approach interviews. Employers must rethink the interview process and need to be clear on why their jobs and company are attractive to the employee. Crucially, they also need to explain the company’s values and culture, and how joining their team will present growth opportunities for the candidate.

The same level of intentionality should apply to the onboarding experience. Making new employees feel taken care of, even before they begin work, is critical to the retention of talent. “If companies aren’t sure how to build interviews and onboarding programs, a partner like Insight Global can both help find the talent and help shape the experience,” Kaufman says.

Employers can also rethink their hiring practices by encouraging leaders to take chances on people, rather than getting caught up in the specifics of their work experience. The talent available for many skill sets is limited and often comes at a premium. Businesses willing to hire employees with less experience, but a genuine desire to grow their career, can find success in the current market. While this may require new interviewing practices and a greater commitment to training and development, the payoff can be an edge in the war for talent.

Recruitment manager shakes her hand with male candidate as he gets the job. Businesswoman handshake with a man in office meeting room.

Equally important are efforts that communicate organizational values to current employees and future ones—such as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs intended to broaden employers’ candidate pools and diversify workforces. These initiatives have a noted connection to a company’s reputation with job seekers; a 2021 Gallup report notes that most Millennial and Gen Z employees want to work for companies committed to building a diverse, inclusive organization.

“We need to change the narrative of what we’re offering in the recruiting cycle,” Kaufman says. “People want fulfillment, development, autonomy and trust from their leaders. We have seen our role shift from not only being a resource that can get great talent for our clients, but to also serving as shepherds of the experience for job seekers.”

Putting People First

The change in thinking among workers runs deep. Before the pandemic, research from SHRM indicated that job security was the single most important factor for seekers considering where to work. That has since been trumped by factors like better compensation, benefits packages and work-life balance.

According to Taylor, businesses must have a clear understanding of what workers expect from their relationship with employers—and recognize that today’s job seekers often gauge opportunities holistically. Taylor points to one former SHRM employee whose master’s degree was paid for by the organization.

“Two weeks after he graduated, he left us for another employer, essentially getting that job with the degree we paid for,” Taylor says. “I told him, ‘I thought we’d keep you for another three years because of paying for the degree.’ He replied, ‘You held on to me for two years because you were paying for the degree.’ So in his mind, he essentially factored the degree into his compensation package.”

While salary remains a core piece of the talent acquisition puzzle, retaining employees for the long run may have less to do with pay and perks than fostering a lasting sense of empowerment. Here, firms like Insight Global—which has been lauded as a top workplace—make an active effort to set an example for their employer partners.

Insight Global demonstrated its continued commitment to employees by finding ways to maintain the commissions of salespeople and recruiters during the pandemic, even when their sales dropped significantly. The firm also made 600 hires during this period, refusing to rescind offers it had put forward before COVID-19 hit. As a result, its sales organization has achieved one of the lowest turnover rates in its industry.

Altogether, these efforts speak to the company’s underlying philosophy: Don’t abandon people when they struggle. Rather, teach your leaders to show up for them in times of need, and watch these employees thrive once they get reestablished.

“From a recruiting standpoint, companies have to be very clear about what their values are and how they’re going to take care of their people,” Kaufman says. “You have to be honest in your approach and authentic in your promises. The more you do right by your people, the more you create strength and loyalty. In the end, that’s just good for business.”

Wall Street Journal Custom Content is a unit of The Wall Street Journal Advertising Department. The Wall Street Journal news organization was not involved in the creation of this content.