Coronavirus (COVID-19), Recruiting, Talent

COVID and the Future of Talent Management

In a recent survey conducted by Paycor, business leaders were optimistic about the future. Nearly half expect the economy to bounce back, 96% received some form of government aid, and almost half are planning to hire full-time employees this year. And yet the suddenness and volatility of the moment are causing real anxiety.


Nearly 70% said COVID-19 impacted team morale, and nearly 40% said it negatively impacted overall productivity. (All citations, unless otherwise noted, are from Paycor’s How SMBs are Managing the New Reality of Work, 2020.)

We’re all adjusting to a new reality of work, and even in good times, change can be tough. Look closer, though, and you’ll find hidden opportunities to better define your company, tell a more compelling story to candidates, build a pipeline of talent, and address some of the underlying workforce planning challenges that everyone else in your industry is ignoring.

Talent Management

Whiplash doesn’t even begin to describe the last few months. In January, there were more jobs than workers. By June, 10 years of U.S. job growth was nearly wiped out. There are signs of life, however. Nearly 45% of small businesses (SMBs) plan to hire full-time employees in 2020.

If Your Company IS Hiring

The fundamentals of sourcing talent haven’t changed; if anything, one component of successful recruiting has become even more essential: intentional messaging. The organization that can communicate its story most effectively and persuasively will attract the best talent.

What does your organization stand for? Why would someone who had never heard of you before want to take the leap and work for your company? Most importantly, what can you tell candidates about how your business handled the coronavirus? Were there layoffs, furloughs, or salary reductions? If so, how were those decisions made, and how did you go the extra mile to take care of the people you had to let go?  

If Your Company Is NOT Hiring

Now’s the time to build a recruiting pipeline, especially if your industry as a whole isn’t hiring. This is a golden opportunity to leapfrog your competition. If your competitors aren’t building a pipeline now, they might never catch up. Another thing to consider is that voluntary turnover will come back, possibly with a vengeance.

The reality is that no matter what an employer does to encourage career development and loyalty, there’s always going to be a certain percentage of people who start looking for opportunities when the clouds part and the sun comes out again. Prepare for turnover, and it won’t be a problem.

Workforce Planning

Nothing focuses the mind like a crisis. When businesses were suddenly forced to hibernate for weeks at a time, leaders became necessarily obsessed with cash flow. Seventy-one percent of SMB leaders said the first wave of the coronavirus was “moderately or extremely challenging,” more than half laid off or furloughed workers, and 20% cut pay.

The Next Big Challenge Will Be the Skills Gap

As budgets thaw and leaders begin to look forward, they’ll find the underlying realities of workforce planning have remained stubbornly the same. In 2019, the World Economic Forum reported that 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling in just 3 years. That hasn’t changed, nor have the stark demographics of an aging U.S. workforce.

More than half of HR leaders told the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) they fear a skills shortage and that they believe schools have done “little or nothing” to make up the skills gap. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t brilliant young people in the job market—clearly, there are. But attracting highly skilled young people, assuming you can find them, isn’t easy (just ask manufacturers). Net, even if there’s a short-term bubble of laid-off workers looking for a job, the long-term talent shortage is going to arrive right on schedule.

Organizations Will Look to ‘Create,’ Not Just ‘Recruit,’ Top Talent …

… which is just another way of saying that the most successful companies will build and nurture a “learning culture.” Especially in fields like health care and manufacturing, you may not always have the luxury to choose from a list of qualified, hit-the-ground-running candidates. So, winning the war for talent is going to mean building a learning infrastructure that’s accessible and engaging enough to grow talent from within.  

Over the years, employee development has evolved from basic instructor-led classroom training to full-on experiential learning. Self-directed, easily accessible training is a win-win. The win for your business is obvious.

What may surprise you is how much employees prize training and learning. A SAP Litmos survey found that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. The same survey found that, for candidates, training is a more compelling factor to join an organization than salary.

Employee Experience

Finally, give yourself a break. Slow down long enough to recognize that for many of us, everything’s changed in a very short time frame. We can forget what’s right in front of us: COVID disrupted everything, especially your employees’ relationships with each other, their managers, and the organization.

Global Workplace Analytics estimates that when the pandemic is over, 30% of us will work from home at least part of the time. Before the pandemic, less than 10% worked from home. Chances are, your employees are feeling the stress of change. Forty percent of businesses say their organization’s productivity took a hit since March, and 64% say team morale is down.

No matter if your company is on-site, virtual, or a little bit of both, your company culture is changing. The challenge here is that you’re just not going to know exactly how they feel—and they might not know themselves—until you ask.

I recommend surveying your team frequently. Ideally, surveys are anonymous because you’ll want to ask sensitive questions and track how sentiment changes over time. How engaged are they? How satisfied are they with their career growth, their job challenge? Are they confident in company leadership?You might even ask questions that, under normal circumstances, might seem too personal, like if they have the right support network outside of work.

Gather continuous input, and design interventions and communications based on data. Leaders need to inspire trust now more than ever, and listening is the first and most crucial step toward creating that high-trust environment.

The Only Way Out Is Through

Business leaders are cautiously optimistic about the future, but there’s a lot of anxiety about how to handle today’s challenges. I hope this article gave you some ideas of where to start—with your people and the company culture you’re building together.   

Nathan Peirson serves as Paycor’s Vice President of Human Resources. Peirson is responsible for scaling Paycor’s people practices and deeply held culture across a rapidly expanding geographic footprint. He is a skilled HR strategist, with a passion for high-growth companies that want to drive results through culture and talent.

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