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How The Hiring Landscape Has Changed Since 2020


Follow this link to the full recording of the fireside chat!

Work and workplaces as we knew them ceased to exist in early March 2020.  

Workers were sent home and offices were shut, students were sent home with little or no plan for how they would continue to learn, and overnight people had to move their lives online and deal with competition for resources in homes that had limited bandwidth, lack of privacy, and conflicts between work and school hours.  Overnight, companies and teachers had to figure out how to move operations from brick-and-mortar methods with varying levels of success.  


Companies used to like to brag that they wanted people to “bring their whole selves to work” but didn’t really mean it.  


Covid forced the issue, giving management and labor a level playing field where they could see each other in the personal setting of their own homes, albeit virtually.  


Economic disparities were highlighted as we peered into the backgrounds of each other’s Zoom environments and leaders finally were forced to deal with the reality that workers had families and things going on that could not be compartmentalized when they walked through the front door and punched a real or virtual time clock each day.  


Work/Life balance became Life/Work balance and our relationship to work, and the workplace, will never be the same again.  


As companies slowly tried to return to normal towards the end of 2020 and early 2021, it soon became apparent something was going on. 


The unemployment numbers looked weird and could not be explained away by suggestions that it was just because there was extra money being given out. 


“Essential” employers had hired a lot of people during 2020 who had found themselves unemployed for many reasons. 


They gave them bonuses and high pay to make up for bad hours, overwork, and possible health risks and hired people in droves. For example, in SE Wisconsin, Amazon warehouses hired a lot of people to keep up with the demand caused by everyone relying on online shopping for the basics of life since stores were closed. 


Additional workers were often sourced from local service industry jobs like restaurants and stores that didn’t need them since they were closed due to the pandemic and as in-person activities reopened, the workers didn’t want to go back to the old jobs and that started the labor shortages on Main Street. 


At the other end of the economic food chain, large global companies – especially in tech – struggled with timelines related to if or when they would go back to offices and the sprawling campuses of Silicon Valley while keeping the backbone of banking, online commerce, data centers, telecom, and everything else that we needed to survive the pandemic like Netflix and Zoom running.  


Since most of these Knowledge-Economy jobs only require a laptop and a phone, they were well suited for working remotely which meant that labor pools and talent markets were no longer tied to geography so a worker anywhere could work for a Silicon Valley tech company and enjoy higher wages and benefits than they could get from local employers.  


During this period, death rates from Covid continued to rise as did the number of people with “long haul” complications that have prevented them from returning to work.  

According to the BLS, there are over 1M open jobs in the US currently with 18% of those jobs being open due to Covid-related deaths or Covid long haulers who are unable to return to work.  Of the 800k+ people who died of Covid, 300K were in the 18-65-year-old labor force. 


Additionally, some people left the workforce to start companies of their own or took early retirement, neither of which is reflected in job or unemployment numbers.  


Taking all of this into account, this set us up for what the media has been calling The Great Resignation. 


So, what is “The Great Resignation” 


In 2021 an average of 3.95M people – or apx 3% of the workforce – quit their jobs each month.  


The media likes to find hypothetical reasons that fit their narratives, so they tell us it’s pandemic-related or because people don’t want to wear a mask or get a vaccine.  


Sure, maybe there are grains of truth, but the result is that we have a very strong candidate market for the first time in a long time and that is driving huge changes across all sectors as people level up from Mom-and-Pop shops on Main Street, as is the case with people who have moved to national chain restaurants and global e-commerce and tech companies.


As each rung on the ladder is climbed, there are not enough workers to fill in behind, so we have labor shortages at service and low-wage jobs.  And many of the people in the market at those levels are poorly prepared for the workforce and lack basic knowledge of how to write a resume, do an interview, and show up to work. 


We are also seeing mobility in people willing to make lateral moves to join companies that better align with personal values, missions, and interests.  There is more choice than ever before, and job seekers know that.  


Economic Policy Institute president Heidi Shierholz said “Workers being able to quit their jobs to take better jobs is a very good thing and signals an economy with healthy dynamism…The dynamic we are seeing of a high quits rate combined with strong job growth is absolutely something to celebrate.”


But it does make it hard on the employer side of the equation. 


What exactly is a “candidate’s market”?


When there are more jobs than people and companies are paying premiums in terms of salary, bonus, or benefits (or all three) and job seekers are in the power position, often fielding multiple offers over a very short time, then we are in a candidate’s market.  


In a candidate’s market employers cannot rely on old methods of attracting talent.  And they absolutely will not survive if they have an “everybody is replaceable” mindset.  


Job seekers have choices and even trade and service industry workers are being headhunted and approached by recruiters.  


I’ve had people tell me they are getting over 100 pings/week from recruiters via LinkedIn.  


It’s all noise to them at this point but when they want to make a move, they will find a new home quickly.  


Granted, this presumes they have skills (interpersonal as well as job-related) and ironically those with outdated skills or underdeveloped interpersonal skills are finding it hard to find work regardless of all the openings.  


To be competitive, employers will need to think about hiring on potential and training people who show an affinity for the job.  


And contrary to popular belief, people don’t change jobs just for money alone.  


If they love the work, the leadership, and the culture they won’t change jobs no matter how much money they are being lured with.  


So where did people go when they quit? 


Most took other jobs where they could call the shots in terms of better pay, working conditions, a more interesting or better-aligned job, or any number of intrinsic motivators.  


As I mentioned before, some people used the pandemic to start new businesses or monetized a hobby and don’t want to return to being an employee.  Some went back to school.  Others took early retirement.  The answer is as varied as the people involved regardless of the story the media would like to believe is true.  


The question now becomes, how can a company hire and/or retain workers during the Age of Resignation? 


If we acknowledge that money is not the sole reason people change jobs, then what can an employer do the attract and retain talent? 


The ability to hire and retain talent lies in leadership.  


Does your company invest in making sure managers have the tools to do the job?  


I’m not just talking about things like budget and headcount or the latest MacBook Air, I’m talking about soft skills.  


Do they know how to develop people so that everyone from the rank newbie to the experienced pro feels challenged and engaged?  


Can they have a crucial conversation properly where a situation is managed compassionately and respectfully while still being effective? 


Do they have the EQ to recognize when someone is doing a better job than they are and help them connect to the proper level of role or do they hold them back? 


Do they create supportive and inclusive environments, or do they create a culture of fear and run a team that looks like Lord of the Flies?  


Retention starts with good leadership.  


Hiring starts with good leadership.  


And in the era of social media and experience surveys for everything, word gets around fast and soon everyone knows if you are a good place to work or if you are a “churn ‘em and burn ‘em” employer.  


Even if you are a small, local employer don’t underestimate how even the local tavern community spreads the word about the quality of workplaces and leadership. 


Big companies are not exempt from this.  In fact, I think big companies are the worst.  It’s easy for bullies to hide and bad managers to be promoted to increasing levels of incompetence while they leave a path of destruction while getting transferred across the org because nobody has the guts to exit them.  Sites like Glassdoor are great places to learn which companies are guilty of this, and it impacts hiring and retention.  


I can tell you hundreds of stories where candidates have backed out of a conversation about a company after reading Glassdoor reviews. 


I realize that there may be other reasons you can cite to tell me why people quit or why you can’t hire.  


Yes, they are probably tangentially valid, but at the core, it all goes to mindset and leadership.