As Dolly Parton sings, “Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living!”
Even before the pandemic hit, this notion of a traditional work environment where people went to an office every day with set hours was becoming outdated. Today, the definitions of “work,” “worker” and “workplace” have been forever changed by the crisis over the past year and a half.
With more jobs available than workers interested in filling them, it seems a growing percentage of the workforce has come to the same conclusion as the country singer, “It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it.”
Now that all the past realities have been upturned, who will do the work, and how and where will it get done? Is this a period of Great Resignation or Great Opportunity?
Expert speakers shared the latest in this constantly evolving conversation during a one-day online forum on Sept. 14, Future of Work (FOW21), part of IAOP’s Centers of Excellence (CoE) Series, presented with key sponsor, IBM.
With a theme of helping outsourcing professionals and organizations find clarity from the confusion, the panelists from leading companies involved in workplace topics came together to unravel pressing issues and helped provide a clearer vision for the future.
“This couldn’t be timelier as we push forward from what is hopefully the end of this pandemic and tackle the key issues that have arisen as a result,” IAOP CEO Debi Hamill said in opening the event.
The panel comprised of the leadership team of the Future of Work CoE discussed the talent shortage, Work from Home (WFH) and hybrid work trends, real estate and company culture issues, the increasing focus on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), generational changes in the workforce, the impact of automation and digital technologies, and more.
Lots of Jobs to Fill, Few Workers
To kick off the first session, Michel Janssen, Chief Research Officer, Everest Group, IAOP’s research partner, shared the latest statistics that show the talent supply-demand gap worsening in the U.S. for both entry-level hourly roles and high-skilled roles.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings are at a record high 10.9 million, which is 3.3 million higher than pre-COVID peaks. Currently, 2.5 million more job openings exist than people actively looking for work.
While many thought this was only a temporary phenomenon that would lessen when lucrative pandemic unemployment benefits expired that hasn’t happened and isn’t expected to. The average attrition rate reported by companies has increased 10.5 percent, the Everest Group found.
This trend is impacted by Baby Boomers retiring and dropping out of the workforce and people choosing not to return to work after taking a hiatus from full-time employment or changing their work arrangements during the pandemic.
“As the workforce isn’t growing as fast as the job opportunities are, those in the eligible workforce are participating at a lower rate than they were historically,” said Jim Bradley, Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, Kelly Services. “So even the people that can work are just not participating. It’s a bit of a compounding problem moving forward.”
Kelly Services is seeing the same difficult trends across all the sectors it provides staffing services for from professional jobs like engineers to industrial positions and substitute teachers in the education area.
“Our challenges are across the board – even hiring recruiters to recruit for jobs is a challenge and also hiring our own internal worker to hire workers so it’s a cascading challenge,” said Bradley. “It is certainly unprecedented in terms of demand.”
With employees having multiple offers, employers are looking at innovative solutions to access employees and get them onboarded in their roles as quickly as possible, Bradley noted. Companies who are forward thinkers are moving fast on background checks and streamlining the process, he noted.
Is Work from Home Here to Stay?
According to the research trends, WFH strategies will continue and eventually move to more hybrid models. But the panel observed the stance by global companies on these strategies vary widely with some being more bullish about sustained WFH than others.
Financial companies like JP Morgan have been more cautious about the approach long-term while Twitter has told employees they could work from home “forever.”
“Some are saying come back to the office and I know of some corporate offices that got built and never even got occupied,” Janssen said.
Is the WFH Appeal Waning?
Various questions have arisen in the WFH issue including fairness in pay, work-life balance, and work from home contributing to higher stress, video call fatigue among other issues.
Other factors causing companies to rethink hybrid work models include data security and access at 75 percent; compliance, 71 percent; employee burnout from overwork, 66 percent; and difficulty in team collaboration, 65 percent, according to the research presented.
Sustaining organizational culture is one of the top long-term concerns companies have to these new work models.
“As you balance your workforce, how do you maintain the culture you want to have?” asked John C. Maher, COP, President, JCM Associates. “More and more companies are looking at flexible solutions and companies are bringing employees back to the office but maybe not all five days of the week. How do we engage all employees?”
Companies that had playbooks that took into account individual market variations related to the pandemic have been the most successful, noted Maura Hudson, COP, Senior Vice President, Colliers International.
While at the start of the pandemic, some companies thought they could solve their workforce questions easily within weeks by simply dusting off business continuity plans, they have had to constantly pivot, Hudson said.
Added to that are recurring issues of racial inequity. “We also need to make sure discussions around work are equitable and inclusive,” she said. “It’s a pretty complex conversation that’s also about the society that we live in.”
With Baby Boomers leaving the workforce are increasing rates, the new generations of Millennials and Generation Z want to play a greater role in influencing corporate strategy. “Now that employees have much more flexibility and choice, they are feeling empowered to influence the direction of the company,” Hudson said.
Companies that do not offer flexibility risk the danger of losing their talented employees, including the digital natives who can deliver innovation, who have many other options in the marketplace, panelists noted.
A recent poll by FlexJobs found that 97 percent of workers want to work from home or have a hybrid solution but 42 percent of employers are requiring them to come back, Bradley said. As a result, they are changing jobs.
Will Higher Pay Win the War?
Companies are using higher wages to draw workers but this also raises other issues. As wages increase to attract new workers, the question of compensation for existing employees who stayed loyal to their companies arises of whether smaller merit wages are fair for seasoned workers when newcomers are getting attractive wages to join organizations. This will be an issue during the new budget cycles and into 2022, Bradley predicted.
Attracting workers by increasing compensation is one tactical strategy employers are using but it’s only part of the total picture, the panelists said. The overall employee experience and working for a company and with individuals and teams that are liked continue to be important factors.
Beyond compensation, the most common strategies companies plan to use to win the battle to retain employees are improving the employee experience, providing long-term work from home flexibility and employing talent in more locations, Janssen said.
Employees want to work for companies that meet their experiences as humans and allow time for them to pursue their passions and spend time with their families and the new flexible work arrangements are allowing them to do this, Hudson said.
In corporate real estate, this is translating into more open office concepts and programs that embrace the whole employee like walking challenges for teams, internships for family members and other human-centric benefits, she said.
In summarizing the many issues employers face, Janssen said, “The supply and demand gap is putting employees in control to a degree we’ve never seen before.
It’s not a one-dimensional problem that will be solved by HR or business unit managers. It will be really comprehensive and you have to study your needs and requirements and where you can find the talent and how you get more out of our existing staff and make them happier.”
Other topics explored during FOW21 included workforce strategies and a buyer-side panel on how organizations have been navigating WFH, talent, attrition and other top-of-mind issues.
Facing a Talent Shortage, Impact Sourcing Can Provide Solutions
As the world engages in a global war for talent, a solution lies right in front of us that is often overlooked.
Individuals from marginalized communities who are typically excluded from employment such as persons with disabilities, older workers, those living in remote, isolated or depressed areas, or people who lack access to education represent a massive potential workforce. These frequently overlooked groups can include veterans, refugees, native populations, the incarcerated and neurodiverse individuals.
Forward-thinking companies who are tapping into this talent pool through the strategy of impact sourcing are realizing substantial business benefits that include stable and engaged employees and long-term cost savings while also having a social impact as the icing on top.
A recent IAOP online forum, Future of Work (FOW21), identified impact sourcing as a growing approach by companies around the globe in both developing and established companies in diverse sectors.
With COVID-19 only widening the talent supply-demand gap as fewer people return to the workforce and this trend showing no sign of abating soon, now is the time for companies to explore alternatives like impact sourcing – the practice by organizations of intentionally hiring and providing career development opportunities to people who otherwise have limited prospects for sustainable employment.
“When we talk about the labor shortage, there are a huge amount of people left out of the statistics,” said FOW21 panelist Rita Soni, Principal Analyst, Impact Sourcing and Sustainability Research, Everest Group. “The conversation about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging can shift when we talk about impact sourcing.”
Impact sourcing has grown in recent years with more grassroots social movements calling for social justice globally, increased workplace DEI programs, and a push by the Gen X demographic that is seeking to invest in and work for companies that have a social purpose. Today’s pandemic-driven job crisis can further the impetus.
Three Myths Busted
According to findings by Everest Group, IAOP’s research partner, benefits of impact sourcing include having a more engaged workforce that is less likely to leave the organization, access to talented workers who can be quickly brought to speed with training, and long-term cost savings as companies reduce the time spent recruiting.
Common misunderstandings about impact sourcing were explored at the FOW21 event. The realities are:
- Impact Sourcing is not part of CSR and philanthropy – While an outcome of impact sourcing is social good, the impetus and reason for scale are business benefits
- Impact sourcing specialists are not too small for mainstream – Through unique partnerships between large providers and specialists and also with the public sector, impact sourcing is being implemented at scale
- Impact sourcing is not just developing a country strategy – Robust examples of impact sourcing are being seen in both established markets in the U.S. and Europe and emerging markets such as South Africa
“The bottom line is impact sourcing is tapping untapped talent, being inclusive and finding innovation,” said Soni.
Impact Sourcing Growing
As an outsourcing industry association, IAOP has been a pioneer in the impact sourcing movement. As CEO Debi Hamill explains, “we are committed to advancing impact sourcing as a transformative business model as well as supporting companies who are putting impact sourcing into action. We are proud of our members’ efforts and to be part of its progress.”
IAOP’s newly formed Social Impact Center connects the people and resources needed to excel at doing well by doing good through Impact Sourcing; Socially Responsible Outsourcing; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Women Empowerment & Leadership; Refugee Initiatives; Global Mentorship, and more. To get involved, visit IAOP’s Social Impact Center.