Is your employer brand ready for a labor shortage in 2021?

A recruiter told me last week that job ghosting has started up again, even after her company moved its pay levels to market competitive levels. The prediction I made to her is that by August, the US will have more job openings than unemployed. Turnover will also rise. I suggested she remember February 2020, when the US had a severe labor shortage and 23 consecutive months of more job openings than unemployed. “That market is going to come roaring back” I told her.

The pent-up savings from families cautiously hoarding cash during the pandemic and the federal stimulus in December and March are going to rock this economy and create unprecedented demand for labor. Many economists are predicting six percent growth this year, the highest in 40 years. Is your revised employer band up to the challenge?

For years, research has taught employers that companies with fantastic employer brands fare better in the competition of attracting and retaining talent. Traditionally, great employer brands have offered excellent salaries and benefits, supportive management, wonderful work experience with fulfilling work, and investments in employee learning and career opportunities.

But in 2021, the traditional definition of employer brand will not be enough to retain your best employees. The necessity of staying safe during the pandemic and the innovation it brought to the work experience adds a new dimension to employer brand competitiveness. Research shows that half of the office employees do not want to go back to the pre-pandemic office. They want a hybrid work environment that allows them to work at least half the week from home and allows more flexibility during the workday to reduce stress and burnout.

Fear of the pandemic, the isolation felt by working from home full time, and frustration has created a restless workforce. Research from Gallup shows that employee engagement fell in 2020, and when employees feel isolated and frustrated, as they do today, it can affect their personal and professional wellbeing. Frustrated employees who do not see career opportunities with their current employees or who don’t want to return to the office five days a week will look for new employers. Perhaps it is no wonder that reducing the levels of frustration and isolation is a top goal of many HR leaders for 2021, according to Gartner’s recent survey. Employers are moving away from the crisis management of dealing with the pandemic to transitioning to the future world-of-work.

The question for 2021 is how do companies switch from managing crisis to creating the flexible work environment for the future? And how do they offer a desirable employee value proposition in the post-COVID hybrid workforce model?

The Basics.

Employer brand must articulate an employee value proposition that goes beyond job pay and benefits. Does your brand express your organization’s purpose for improving humanity? The cool work your employees do. The long-term career opportunities available to them? Does your organization invest in learning and developing employee careers? Are you committed to innovation with a transparent, collaborative, and performance-based (meaning not overly political, hierarchical, and stayed) culture?

Your employees need to articulate your brand. Having statements and slick marketing videos on your career opportunities website did not cut it pre-pandemic and won’t cut it now. Whether in statements on company web pages or videos (videos work better), your company’s purpose, cool work, and career development opportunities need to be articulated by your workforce.  How has your organization digitized to smooth out workflows and reduce employee frustrations? Post-pandemic, you want to be sure your employees will fill inspired to articulate the emotional support they felt from management in the transition to remote work, the concern management had for employee safety and health, and how they continued to feel a part of the business through  a challenging year.

I know from first-hand experience that employees articulating their happiness with this transition is much better than a high-cost marketing video. The more heartfelt and genuine the emotion from your employees, the better.

Define your vision of the hybrid workforce and future office. Your current and future employees want to know how your work environment will change in 2021. Can employees still work from home? Will they need to come into the office one or two days a week? Will employees who are tired of remote work be able to return to the office four or five days a week. How will the office layout change? Will there be better distancing, changes to prevent constant interruptions, improved air exchanges and filtering, more and improve video conference rooms. How will the norms of working together change to adapt to the more digital experience?

Improve the experience of job candidates and employees. One of the first indicators of how well a company treats its employees is how well job candidates feel treated during the job application process. Candidates will drop out of an application process if they see warming signs. How is yours doing? Does it take five minutes to fill out a job application or an hour? Do job candidates learn by text or email their application status throughout the process or is the only email they receive the one saying we received your email? Can the machine learning of your applicant tracking system recommend other openings to rejected job candidates? Are you using validated skill assessments to select higher quality job candidates without bias? Have you trained your recruiters and management in structured interviewing to control their first impressions and biases?

For your employees, are you using digital technology to improve the experience of onboarding, to communicate benefits open enrollment, and to streamline the work processes? Does an intelligent assistant (or smart chatbot) answer most questions that come into IT, HR, or operations instantly, or do employees have to call those departments and wait for a call back or the ticketing system’s queue?

Get on social media. Where do your current and future employees hang out on the web? LinkedIn? Instagram? Reddit? Most job seekers begin their search on Google, Indeed, LinkedIn or Glassdoor, not your career site. Many companies will discover that engineers may be on Reddit chat rooms, and the marketing people on Instagram. Employees not actively looking for work may not be on LinkedIn or Glassdoor. The point is you need to promote your brand where current and future employees will find it. Many companies are taking their brand messages a bit further and providing helpful posts or short videos to potential job candidates on how to prepare for an interview with the company. This is a fantastic strategy to build relationships with job candidates you have not met.

The idea that August may have more job openings than unemployed may be hard to grasp now, but it is coming. As always, the company that sees the horizon and has vision and courage will be the winner?

Do you see the horizon? What changes to your brand will you make?

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at 

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