In the Fight for Top Talent, Organizations Must Rethink Conventional Strategies

Regardless of industry, few organizations have been immune to the impacts of employee attrition, whether due to layoffs necessitated by the pandemic or subsequent voluntary exits as part of the Great Resignation. Across all industries, 4 million people quit their jobs in April 2021 alone, and July of last year saw another 4 million leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The sheer number of open slots makes the hiring market for HR—especially for top talent—extremely competitive.

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In the U.S. staffing industry, employee attrition is particularly acute, with a median annual turnover rate of 25%. However, within my own organization, which deals with the placement of highly skilled technology professionals, we have a turnover of less than 3%.

Why? Having a strong talent-retention plan for such in-demand workers is vital. It also requires rethinking conventional attitudes about the workplace to better align with today’s “new normal” for business.

More Than Money

Tech professionals are paid well across all industries, and before COVID-19, almost all talent negotiation of this type centered on compensation. But with the pandemic and move to a distributed workforce, worker expectations changed. Many IT professionals, as well as other types of highly skilled employees, found they enjoyed working outside the traditional office. Many also began looking for greater career satisfaction and quality of life.

If anything, the pandemic and its shakeup to how things were done gave these workers the opportunity to think about what they wanted most.  

Does the paycheck still matter? Certainly it does, especially when vying for highly skilled workers who are in limited supply. Today’s organizations must continue to offer competitive pay but must also examine other impacting factors.

Flexibility Is Paramount

Corporations effectively “got the memo” about their workforce’s having grown accustomed to the lifestyle associated with remote working during the first phases of the pandemic. To keep employees happy, some have attempted to put into place more flexible work options.

Even so, many of these organizations still place some measure of structure around this flexibility, such as allowing employees to work from home 2 days per week, work from home every other day, and so forth. These arrangements offer more work flexibility than pre-pandemic yet still allow some level of supervisory oversight.  

For highly skilled, in-demand professionals, however, such parameters may still be unacceptable. These workers are, by nature, self-starters who are motivated to perform, and they demonstrated during the pandemic that they can be just as fully productive outside the office. Oftentimes, they’re leaving or turning down in-office positions, even ones that pay quite well, in favor of jobs offering greater autonomy in when and where they work. In turn, compensation is provided based on performance, not time in the office or adherence to other conventional practices.

Many organizations remain reluctant to fully change how work is done, as doing so requires a major shift in processes and mindset. But those that can acclimate to this new mode of working will find they can not only better attract and retain top talent but also cast a wider net, as hiring is no longer restricted by geography.

Importance of Culture

A recent Pew Research Center survey indicated that after too-low pay, workers who quit their jobs in 2021 did so due to a lack of opportunities for advancement (63%) and feeling disrespected at work (57%). These reasons likely reveal a detriment in an organization’s culture in terms of how it treats its top asset: its people.   

In simple terms, an organization’s culture is its operating philosophy. Within my own company, our tenets are twofold: (1) Be a trusted advisor to the customers we serve, and (2) be focused on the career satisfaction and growth of our consultants. These objectives govern all our decisions and actions, both internally and externally, because we understand that without meeting our second objective, we cannot fulfill the first.  

Too often, an organization’s mission stops at “we want to reach $100 million in revenue in 5 years” or some other arbitrary number that glosses over the human element required to get there. Managing by the numbers down, as opposed to the people up, often leads to high employee churn that is both costly and a barrier to productivity.

Conversely, organizations with a positive culture continually invest in their talent through education and training; utilize transparency and open lines of communication; and recognize workers as valued individuals with roles critical to the business’s success.

Now more than ever, organizations must take a hard look at the culture they create for their workers—namely, whether it is one in which they can grow and thrive and whether it is properly aligned to the changing expectations of the marketplace. By focusing on pay competitiveness, flexible work structures that trust individuals to do their jobs, and a healthy workplace ethos, it’s entirely possible for organizations to attract and retain even the most in-demand talent for the long haul.

Michael Werblun, CEO of Consulting Solutions, is a thought leader and technology workforce solutions industry expert with more than 25 years of experience in building and growing high-performing organizations.

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