Hiring practices haven’t evolved with the times. Employers need to get creative


Our work habits and relationship to work have dramatically shifted over the past two years. Yet many companies are still trying to attract and retain people using the same approaches they’ve done during one of the tightest labour markets we’ve seen in decades.

Now we are seeing the fallout of such conflicting approaches in the ‘The Great Resignation’ that is apparently showing few signs of resigning itself.

We saw the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years in Australia back in June, down to 3.5 per cent, with some economists suggesting this could even fall below 3 per cent. Job vacancies have doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what’s an organisation to do when it desperately needs and is competing for excellent talent?

There are many other important and compelling levers that can be pulled that go beyond the obvious: competitive salary and bonus structures.

Indeed, one such lever is transparency and signalling active commitments to close the gender pay gap. We’ve seen examples of this recently among the big consulting firms, which have been publishing salary levels in a bid to attract key talent and help close gender pay gaps. PwC released such figures back in April, with KPMG  also emailing their people last month to reveal the lowest level of employee pay across each tier, all in a bid to help attract staff and show it’s serious about closing the gender gap. Deloitte followed a week or so later.

These are good examples of an immediate response across the professional services sector, which has thousands of jobs open across Australia right now.

All employers need to get creative 

Companies of all sizes and industries need to consider how they are retaining staff — in addition to retraining them — and put measures in place to ensure they are doing everything possible to provide a great place to work.

Most importantly, companies also need to ensure they are promoting such measures and walk the talk.

As our Family Friendly Workplaces research and data tell us, promoting great workplace policies and procedures can have to make a real difference in attracting staff and retaining team members.

We know that one of the first things a good portion of the talent pool will look at when considering applying for a role is what’s on offer to support their lives outside of work. This includes the ability to work flexible hours, have more autonomy over where they work and an acknowledgement that caring and other life well-being moments matter and need to be accommodated for and invested in

Reducing work-life conflict remains a common challenging issue many employees struggle to achieve and they’re looking for an employer who understands that challenge and is willing to help them attain greater work-life wellbeing.

Such candidates may undertake searches across LinkedIn and other platforms to see what other employees of the business are saying about their work: including how they are spending free time, the purpose they are pursuing, what they are saying about work-life balance, and any other hints that reveal their experiences around what it’s like to work there.

Candidates may look to diversity within leadership teams and on boards, and seek out publicly available information on gender targets.

But one of the first things they will do is aim to seek out just how flexible their work week will be. Given they may be leaving an existing flexible working environment for this new opportunity, returning to the workforce after having kids, or leaving an existing employer due to a lack of flexibility, what they discover on flexibility will be everything.

Candidate priorities matter

Ultimately, candidates will be looking at a potential employer who can meet their immediate life priorities and personal goals.

McKinsey recently released research on what such priorities may include, undertaking a global study of six countries (including Australia) to identify five distinct pools of talent and noting what the priorities are across each such pool.

The findings are fascinating. They highlight how employers need to take a multifaceted approach if they want to attract and retain great talent. There is no one-size-fits-all that will be enough to meet the talent market available.

The first thing to note from the McKinsey research is that the usual compensation and job advancement carrots are not enough. From there, they named a number of key categories (with detailed explanations of their motivations and what helps lure them provided here).

1. The traditionalists. This pool of talent is “career-oriented” who care about work-life balance but are willing to make tradeoffs for their jobs. Their motivations are competitive compensation, job title, company status and career advancement.

2. The do-it-yourselfers. This pool is about autonomy and covers the largest share of survey respondents. These workers value flexibility, meaningful work and compensation – but ultimately flexibility above all else. McKinsey concedes that attracting this cohort can be challenging for organisations, as in many cases they will need to show that what they offer will be better than what many of these workers have been able to create for themselves.

3. The caregivers and others. This pool is what McKinsey has described as the cohort that has been sitting it out at home. Some are actively looking for work, while others are passive job seeking and seeking the opportunity that can justify them re-entering the paid labour force. Still motivated by compensation, flexibility is a major priority, alongside employee health and wellbeing and career development. A huge portion of the group has caring responsibilities (for kids, parents or themselves) and needs more flexibility than has typically been offered in traditional employment. They may be lured by companies that are willing to work with their schedules: including part-time options, flexible hours and four-day work weeks.

4. The idealists. This pool is typically students and younger part-time workers, with a typical age of 18 to 24. They typically are free of caring responsibilities and mortgages. Compensation is lower down the priority list, with the cohort focusing on flexibility, career development and meaningful work.

5. The relaxers. This is the pool where career no longer comes first. A mix of retirees, as well as those who are not looking for work, this group could be open to opportunities, under the right circumstances. Now outside of traditional careers, money is less of a priority, so their motivations often centre mostly around the promise of meaningful work.

One thing that’s clear across at least four of these five talent pools is the need for flexibility. They are not seeking a traditional work week and environment. They are looking for some control over their time, and to be able to set upfront how and when they can work without needing to fill in an application form or ask for permission every time they choose to shift their work patterns.

It’s no longer as simple as compensation. Employers need to ensure the flexibility they are offering is real. That it’s actually being taken up and demonstrated by senior leaders and teams. They need to ensure that team members feel they can advance while working flexibly, part-time, or on four-day work weeks.

Also clear in this research is the value of meaningful and purpose-driven work, especially in ensuring jobs are “sticky” for team members and also for enticing more great talent into their organisations. McKinsey suggests that companies double down on what their employee value propositions actually are, get serious culture, purpose and values – and be “creative and authentic” in their outreach to the multiple talent pools because ultimately, “workers know the difference, and they are voting with their feet”.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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