Rick Grimaldi is a partner at Fisher Phillips and the author of FLEX: A Leader's Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace. Opinions are author's own.
These are strange times for employers. The constant refrain I hear is, "I have the work, but I can't find the talent and I am not sure what to do." After an unprecedented 15 months that took a significant toll on the market, the economy is primed to boom. But with workers re-thinking their career choices and some flat-out leaving the workforce, businesses are finding employees hard to come by. Employers are scrambling to adapt to this new world or be left behind.
The workplace may feel changed forever as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in reality, the evolution has been occurring for quite some time. The pandemic simply accelerated the impact. Those employers that have stayed nimble and creative have been able to attract the best and brightest.
Successful leaders must recognize that today's workers see their place of work differently than in the past. Job candidates now want a workplace that reflects the cultural norms they have come to know. Winning organizations build in rules and systems to remove inherent bias and promote healthy and flexible workplaces, where diversity can thrive. These businesses are able to not only adapt but also embrace the disruption caused by events outside their control — such as the pandemic, changing demographics and the increasing use of technology.
Employers need to go where the talent is. Look to recruit people with disabilities, an often overlooked group of workers, even in the most diverse companies. Focus on recruiting at historically black colleges. Use the Lavender Law Conference and Career Fair, which attracts members of the LGBTQ community. To reach millennials and Generation Z, maximize the use of social media and online job boards. In other words, tap into diverse and expansive talent pools.
But don't overlook more seasoned members of the workforce. Companies that have been able to integrate generationally by, for example, introducing "returnships" for older workers, or pairing more seasoned workers with younger workers through mentoring programs, have found that both groups are more motivated and more productive.
Do not ignore the growth of the gig economy and its implications for the workplace. Since the gig economy exploded on the scene during the Great Recession, it has reshaped the American workforce. Consider that today, more than one-third of Americans report that they are participating in one way or another, with 49% of adults under 35 "gigging it." Certainly, there are pros and cons to gig work and the subject is wracked by ongoing controversy as legislators and courts struggle to define what it really means to be an employee; regardless, companies can’t afford to ignore the powerful lure, especially among young people, of working this way.
Even as people become increasingly disenchanted with the harsher realities of gig work — the lack of benefits and protections employees enjoy, for example — they still crave many aspects of it. Young workers love setting their own hours, clocking in remotely, and being able to take off time to meet family obligations, especially on short notice. Companies that provide this flexibility are the ones that will thrive in the future. The idea is to give workers the best of both worlds: the financial stability that only a "job job" can offer, but also the sense of freedom that comes with gig work.
That is where remote work comes into play. Many workplaces got to test this in real time due to COVID-19 —and in many cases, the results were positive. Employers previously reluctant to offer such policies were surprised to see productivity soar. When working from home is done well, it can improve employee productivity, creativity and morale.
Total remote work is often not realistic or practical, but employers can attract talent by offering some form of hybrid work flexibility. Keep the No. 1 thing young employees want—work/life integration—top of mind. In one survey, nearly a quarter of respondents said it was the most important factor they consider when choosing a job — more than leadership opportunities, flexibility, professional development or other benefits. Factor this truth into every decision you make as you shape your workplace culture.
Consider allowing employees to work remotely part or all of the time. Remote work is the single biggest factor that gives employees flexibility. Quite often this eliminates long (and costly) commutes, child care dilemmas, canceled parent-teacher conferences and more. But be honest with yourself and with employees about what the job requires. If the remote option works, great, but if it doesn’t, both you and the employee will be unhappy in the long run if you allow it. Often, a hybrid work arrangement might prove to be a good solution.
Whether caused by the pandemic or the large and rapid changes in society, businesses need to lean into change to win the war for talent. Never before has business been disrupted the way it has been over the past year. Organizations that want to get ahead of the disruption curve must use creative strategies and flex to attract and recruit talent. If they do so, the market will reward them.