Birthing Tomorrow's Workplace is Painful

A formula for Filling the Many Open Jobs

So much of the current turmoil over unfilled jobs can be directly traced back to retrograde thinking and an attempt to return to the way things used to be: forty hours work weeks, eight hours in the office every day, lots of face-to-face meetings, and tough commutes.

There was simmering discontent over conventional work before the pandemic. Employees accepted the status quo for many reasons: because everyone else seemed to, for lack of confidence or skill, companionship, or security.

But, the pandemic unleashed a new type of worker - one that would rather have freedom, independence, and flexibility. Many workers gained confidence in their ability to find project work and changed living habits to reduce spending and have more family time. The shortage of workers enabled more people to pick work they found meaningful and customize work requirements to their own needs.

Employment is a relationship. Specifically, the relationship between an individual with changing needs, increasing experience, growing knowledge, and intellectual capital, and an organization that exists in a changing marketplace with ever-evolving needs. These factors have led to conflicts, tensions, and a lack of harmony. The Chinese believe there is a dynamic inherent in the universe that converts imbalance into balance, incoordination to coordination, and I might add, buyer’s markets into Seller’s markets.

Historically, the labor market has been a buyer’s market. The employee had to work hard to prove their worth and build and maintain a satisfactory relationship with the employer.  The successful employees, the ones who did not get laid off or fired, found a way to maintain harmony between themselves, their managers, and their work. The pandemic changed this.

In this seller’s market, the employer must now take the lead in building and maintaining the relationship to gain and keep good people. Employers have a huge responsibility to their stakeholders to do everything they can to hire and keep the most productive people.  They are responsible for finding and keeping the balance between productive yet engaged and content yet challenged employees. There is a new harmony emerging.

These are hard, new skills for employers. To do this well will require many changes in how managers think and will challenge misconceptions and beliefs. Conventional beliefs such that physical presence is required for innovation will need to be rethought. The workplace will never look like it did in 2019. There will be less need for fancy campuses and a multitude of perks to keep relatively unhappy workers somewhat engaged. It will be possible and even desirable to hire people anywhere globally and let them work remotely, reducing the need for politically difficult and expensive visa programs. Flexible working times, gig workers, remote employees, and virtual collaboration will be normal. And once this happens, the talent shortage and the unfilled jobs will mostly disappear.

What do employers need to do to fill their many open jobs?

#1. Allow New Ways of Working

Many employees who have been working remotely want to continue working remotely.  But it seems many firms are strongly encouraging or even requiring employees to return to full-time, in-person work. I hear many employees expressing a strong desire to get out of the full-time shackles of traditional work.  How do we get smarter?  At least to some degree, I think that our ability to accept new ways of work, hone and refine what we have, and be flexible in accepting alternative work/lifestyles are critical factors that recruiters and firms must accept.  

We need to let employees choose how they work but set goals and metrics to track performance. Become comfortable with various ways people work, with some returning to the office while others work mostly remotely and others completely virtually. Challenging? Of course, but ultimately the necessary basis for the future of work.

Forcing a return to the monolithic former work style will be destructive and set us on a retrograde path. 

#2. Accept a New Workforce

Full-time employment will become the smallest segment of the workforce. Teams made up of the skills and knowledge of permanent and gig workers, contractors, part-time and full-time workers, customers, service providers, strategic partners, and remote workers, partnered with automated tools augmented with A.I., will be the locus of productivity.

Transactional roles will be fully automated or outsourced within a decade. This process is already well underway and has accelerated because of the pandemic. A good candidate for automation is repetitive work or work that follows procedures or formulas.

For the past decade, at least recruiters and organizations have been fixated on finding and hiring hard-to-find deep technical experts. The need for these skills will decrease with automation, and many skills that cannot be automated will be outsourced to experts who work as consultants or on fixed contracts. While there will be a need for some of these experts as permanent employees, the need will decline.

The roles that will grow in importance and volume are those that facilitate communication, build and lead teams, design new products and services, and rely on relationships and connections to achieve their goals.

#3 Provide Opportunity

Education and development are the cheapest hiring and retention tools in your arsenal. Getting people into degree or certificate programs is almost a guarantee that they will remain with your firm until they complete the program.  Most will be loyal and thankful.  And all of them will be better-educated and hopefully more productive employees.  This is a BIG plus for large organizations, and you should be capitalizing on this right now.

But development can also occur through on-the-job development, rotations, and informal networks and conversations.  Every employer should encourage employees to transfer to different positions frequently and reward managers who let their people go and who try and develop their staff.

Many employees who leave organizations are simply looking for a bigger challenge or the opportunity to use new skills or degree.  Smart organizations will encourage this and motivate managers to source and hire internally whenever possible and even require training.

#4 Help every employee build a social network.

As we move to a distributed workforce, communication and networking will become the glue for innovation and productivity. We know how powerful networks are. Companies that actively promote employee interaction and teamwork have less discontent and less turnover than those that keep employees apart or at odds.

Virtual or in-person networks can include all types of employees, whether permanent, remote, contractor or part-time. Association with others, building friendships, sharing project work all tend to reduce turnover and raise the level of commitment to the organization. Sharing ideas and experiences are powerful binding devices. 

There is nothing that I have written here that is new. Employee attraction and retention are about creating harmony and reducing discord. It’s about accepting new styles and ways of work, thinking, communication, and sharing. As recruiters or HR professionals, we have a responsibility to influence leadership to adapt to the changing work scape.

Adopting these strategies will begin to restore balance and harmony and lead to leaner and productive organizations.

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