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5 Strategies to Attract and Retain Talent in a Tight Labor Market

April 05, 2022 Talent Management
scott clark
By Scott Clark

The Great Resignation is showing no sign of easing just yet. According to the latest figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.4 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs in February 2022, while companies hired 6.7 million workers in that same month. The result? For the foreseeable future, companies will continue to struggle to attract and retain top talent.

That's pushing some business leaders to rethink the employment contract and find new ways to improve employee experience in the quest to gain an edge over their competitors. From improved culture to new learning opportunities, boosting wages to renewed flexibility, there are many ways the race for talent can be won. Here are five strategies to help organizations stand out.

Strategy #1: Re-examine Job Requirements

Finding a candidate with the right skills and experience for the job is a challenging task in any labor market. In today's market, it's become a Herculean task. Understanding the skills that are teachable and those that aren't is crucial.

By being able to recognize soft vs. hard skills — or the natural disposition of a candidate compared to the person's knowledge base — and which are deal-breakers for the position, companies can fill open positions and build bench strength in the process.

Motivation and drive, for instance, are very difficult to teach. On the other hand, the ability to code, use a spreadsheet or write marketing content are skills that can be taught. Even for the most qualified candidate, a lack of motivation is likely to translate into a lack of productivity or diminished output. In contrast, a highly motivated candidate can learn the hard skills needed to not only do the job but do it efficiently.

For every job opening, HR leaders should seek to determine what the must-have criteria are vs. what can be taught. Is the organization looking for someone who can lead a team or someone who is able to write effective marketing copy? Is the must-have excellent communication skills or creativity and innovation?

For Scott Lerner, CEO of pet health and wellness company Better Choice Company, the connectivity of the team is paramount.

“Make it a daily job for people to connect. Encourage cross-functionality. Finance talks with supply chain. Marketing talks with HR. People don't just want to be part of a high-performing team; they want to be a part of a high-performing company,” Lerner said. “Create an HR department focused on culture and talent, not process."

Related Article: Do You Have the Right Collaboration Habits?

Strategy #2: Optimize the Employee Experience

If the process of hiring is a tedious task for organizations, the process of being hired is stressful for most individuals. That is unfortunate because this is the time when a company can introduce the new employee to the culture, values and leadership — and build a connection.

“Finding high-performance individuals is one thing. Keeping them is another. Leaders should take charge of the process for recruitment by creating a culture of connectivity,” Lerner said.

The onboarding process provides an opportunity for the organization to put its best foot forward while new employees get to know the routine, atmosphere, environment, technology and people they'll work with on a daily basis. An onboarding experience that increases the retention of top talent must be designed with diversity and inclusion at its core. It should also enable new employees to provide insights and perspectives and share their views. This helps them feel accepted and included, like a true member of the team.

MJ Langlais, vice president of people operations at ChaosSearch, said the focus should be on employee retention from the first interaction. She forecasts that the next phase of the Great Resignation will be the “Great Retention," which will motivate companies to better listen to their employees’ needs, accommodating different work styles and addressing inequities.

“For companies to be truly successful with long-term retention and employee happiness, retention should never be viewed as a trend to temporarily focus on," Langlais said. "Retention needs to be top of mind throughout every touchpoint HR has influence over — from benefits and competitive compensation to training resources and cultivating an inclusive workplace."

Related Article: 4 Things to Communicate When Hiring for a Hybrid Workplace

Strategy #3: Reskill and Upskill Top Talent

According to Langlais, organizations that are successful at attracting and retaining top talent put employees first, empowering them to grow and continually improve their skillsets. Reskilling and upskilling are two crucial ways to improve the employee experience.

Reskilling is a learning initiative that teaches employees new skills that prepare them to move to a different job within the business. This is often seen, in today's environment, at companies where technology is enabling the automation of certain tasks. To keep an employee whose job may soon be handled by new technologies, companies choose to reskill the individual instead of letting them go. Upskilling, on the other hand, improves an employee’s current skillset and adds to their capabilities and knowledge. Typically, companies will upskill employees to prepare them for greater responsibilities in more senior roles.

By fostering a culture of ongoing learning in the workplace, companies are able to demonstrate that they care about their employees as individuals and recognize the value they add to the business. Employees are able to see a path for career progress within the company. Along with giving employees a greater sense of self-worth and accomplishment, reskilling and upskilling help build a more unified culture of learning.

report from TalentLMS showed that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 42 percent of companies have increased their reskilling and upskilling efforts, and 74 percent of employees who did not receive any additional skill training indicated they would prefer to work for a company that offered it. Additionally, a 2020 survey from getAbstract indicated that over half of millennials and Gen Z feel that a successful career depends on frequently updating their skills and knowledge. 

Related Article: Career Development in the Remote or Hybrid Workplace

Strategy #4: Provide a Flexible Workplace

New research from Topia shows employees overwhelmingly demand flexible work arrangements — and will change jobs to get them. Forty-one percent say flexibility to work from home is or was a reason to change jobs, and 35 percent say more flexibility to work remotely is a reason to find a new employer. Additionally, 56 percent say the flexibility to work in whatever location they want defines an “exceptional employee experience.”

Amy deCastro, vice president of HR, global businesses at Schneider Electric, said to retain its top talent, her company is taking a progressive and supportive position through a hybrid working model that provides employees with options to balance their lives in a way that works best for them.

“As part of their mission to engage and retain the next generation of employees, Schneider offers many health-focused benefits, including the ability to seamlessly transition in their role between full-time and part-time to ensure better life balance without having to leave their career behind, a premium membership to Care.com and subsidized back-up care for employees with young children, aging parents or pets that need coverage if their care falls through,” she said.  

Offering the flexibility to work from anywhere, however, isn't just a matter of saying so. Companies must ensure that their processes, communications and overall culture are inclusive of any and all employees — regardless of geographical location — including providing the same opportunities for advancement within the company.

A recent survey from meQuilibrium shows that although many employees want to continue working remotely, they are concerned that doing so may limit their opportunities for advancement, promotions and bonuses; nearly half (43 percent) believe in-person work is best for their career advancement.

Remote/hybrid employees who believe that they’re receiving less support than on-site employees tend to struggle more with burnout and lower morale, which leads to a greater chance of resignation. According to the survey, 23 percent of those who believe they’re receiving less support indicated that they’re likely to look for another job in the next year.

“Leaders should address misperceptions that hybrid work is less effective for one’s career advancement and relieve uncertainty among workers who are trying to succeed in the new workplace by providing essential support for all employees, whether they are remote, hybrid or onsite,” said Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium.

As per Lerner, ensuring that remote and hybrid employees remain connected and part of the process is vital to correcting such misperceptions. “In remote working, isolation is the enemy — for business and mental health," Lerner said. "Leaders need to create authentic moments to connect with employees.”

Related Article: Does Your Company Have Proximity Bias?

Strategy #5: Cultivate a Culture That Resonates with Employees

Company culture plays a large role in the employee experience. The February 2021 Engagement and Retention Report from Achievers Workforce Institute indicates that two-thirds of employees planned to quit their jobs because of poor or negative company culture.

A poor or toxic culture typically comes from the top down. The pandemic cast a hard light on some corporate cultures; while some leaders stuck to their promises, placing the health and safety of employees and customers first, others laid off employees and micromanaged or burdened those left behind. The toxic atmosphere of these workplaces has caused many employees to experience depression, decreased productivity, declined engagement, feelings of being unimportant and unrecognized, to the point of having no choice but to leave their employer.

"Establish a culture of trust to empower employees," Lerner said. "Leaders must trust their workforce and treat employees like adults. The more you empower people to set their own schedules, the more you get." Better Choice Company adopted an unlimited PTO model to demonstrate trust, and no one has exploited it, he added.

In today's labor market, companies must pull out all the stops when it comes to hiring and retaining top talent. By recognizing the skills and talents that are most needed, enhancing the pre-screening, hiring and onboarding process, providing reskilling and upskilling opportunities, focusing on connectivity and providing flexibility, they can help create a positive employee experience, enhance employee satisfaction and increase employee retention.

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