6 Ways the World of Work Is Changing for HR and Talent Acquisition

July 16, 2020 John Rossheim

6-minute read

empty office

A pandemic, a surge for racial justice, and a stressed-out economy: In the early 2020s, employers find themselves inundated by a sea of disruptions demanding a different future for their businesses, starting now.

What are the chief challenges for talent acquisition and human resources? We’ve gathered perspectives from experts in areas ranging from remote recruiting to inclusive professional advancement.

A globalized talent market offers opportunities while posing a threat.

With tens of millions of professionals newly working from home, hiring managers and recruiters are opening their eyes to new possibilities.

“We'll likely see companies that were previously committed to recruiting in their own geographies open up their pipelines to include remote candidates from other parts of the country – and possibly the world,” says Beth Perkins, director of people and culture at digital product firm O3 World.

That suddenly globalized talent market cuts both ways. “If your talent pool is limited to the city you're in, but companies from all over the country are now interested in that talent pool, it could be difficult to stay competitive,” says Perkins.

Most recruitment activity will be conducted at a distance for the foreseeable future. Even “the majority of final interviews will still be completed through technology” rather than in person, says Reneé Zung, vice president at Keystone Partners.

Diversity will take a great leap forward – or not.

The surge for social justice has swiftly expanded to encompass more than the urgent issue of police brutality against people of color. Economic justice, including career opportunity, is receiving much-needed, renewed attention.

Some companies will act to increase the diversity of their workforce. “Employers who shift to a more inclusive hiring model will start to consider students from community college,” says Steven Rothberg, president of College Recruiter. “Those candidates will bring a perspective on issues never before heard within the walls of that employer.”

But it remains to be seen how many organizations will feel new motivation to modify their hiring practices to reduce pervasive unconscious biases, which cannot be eliminated by training or by conscious intention. “I've heard of only a very small number of employers who are masking candidate names or other such personal information that might imply gender, race or socioeconomic status, and none masking the names of schools or banning video interviews,” which reveal skin color, says Rothenberg.

How do you onboard when the ship has only a skeleton crew?

Despite tens of millions of job losses through the lockdown recession, companies are still hiring – and onboarding many new employees who will continue to stay home. Pre-employment form-filling will remain where it has been – online. But much else about a worker’s first days and weeks on the job will feel different.

“The virtual onboarding process will definitely feel different,” says Peg Buchenroth, senior vice president of human resources at recruiter Addison Group. “Managers need to make sure their direct reports are best set up to succeed, regardless of their locations.”

At countless employers of many sizes, new hires can’t be brought around physically to meet folks at various levels of the organization. But HR or the hiring manager can organize a series of brief, informal Zoom chats, acknowledging they may feel more awkward than in-person. In the cyber workplace, it’s impossible for newbies to make friends with workers in neighboring offices or cubicles when there are none. This makes it all the more important for companies to fortify buddy systems, mentoring, and other critically important informal relationships that don’t show up in the org chart.

There may also be life circumstances that pose special challenges to some new hires’ ability to work from home – and those employees should not be compelled by their bosses or by HR people to divulge information about their private lives. “The pandemic has really done a number on mental health and affected people with substance abuse issues. So you may be dealing with those problems or with domestic violence,” says Tamara Rasberry, a consultant on diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging.

Employers say they’ll do more to further inclusion. Will they really?

Inclusion is one key area where coronavirus and the movement for racial justice intersect. In particular, COVID-19 has disproportionately afflicted African Americans – a group that has long suffered from healthcare disparities.

Rasberry is skeptical of some employers’ vows to work harder for inclusion, by providing more support for the professional advancement of people of color, for example. “I take a lot of this sudden turn to social justice with a grain of salt, because it’s nothing new,” she says. “Companies tend to run the way they want to run. It’s great for companies to make grand statements and donations, but do they have any Black executives?”

One strategy for promoting inclusion is to turn to objective measures of management potential. “Companies should be using more assessment to select and develop inclusive leadership,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Ph.D., chief talent scientist at Manpower Group and professor at Teachers College at Columbia University.

Compensation could be turned upside down.

With a global recession colliding with new calls for economic equity, employee compensation will be a hot-button issue for years to come.

“Compensation strategies will careen wildly, following few predictable or consensus patterns, as employers of all types and sizes jostle each other for advantage in a disrupted world,” says consultant E. James Brennan.

Just one recent development: Facebook announced that it plans to reduce the salaries of employees who choose to work from home in an area with lower cost of living than the companies’ offices. How will the social giant’s workforce react? It will depend on how much leverage the rapidly shifting labor market gives them.

Recognizing everyone’s contributions could fix what’s wrong with the work world.

Out of our concurrent crises, there is a rising wave of resolve to do better – from looking out for each other’s physical, mental, and financial health, to refusing to accept the destructive status quo of race relations in America. That resolve is being recognized in many forms, such as the words “Black Lives Matter” painted in giant letters on the streets of Washington and New York.

It’s crucial that workers recognize not only the value of each other’s work products, but also the moral courage to take action against racial disparities in the workplace, whether it’s physical or virtual. “Praise and recognition can help to make everyone in an organization feel valued,” says Susan Kuczmarski, a management consultant and author of “Lifting People Up: The Power of Recognition.” “Personalize praise – match the right kind and amount of praise to each recipient. Use written and other tangible forms of recognition, not just verbal praise; praise both the effort and the outcome.”

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About the Author

John Rossheim

John Rossheim writes about healthcare, diversity, recruiting and human resources.

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