Talent Board Going Back to Work Research: Candidate Experience Is Sliding Back to 2019

How many more times are we going to say we’ve never seen this before, that we’ve never been here before? Probably a lot. For the rest of this year and for much of 2022 for sure. Probably even longer than that. This continues to be a sentiment we keep hearing at Talent Board from our CandE community. People who have been in recruiting and hiring for over 15-20+ years have never experienced this kind of frenetic and volatile environment before.

As of the end of June in the US, there were over 10.1 million job openings, but only 8.7 million people looking for jobs. Wages are up in America and the UK as well, especially for low wage workers.

But the surging COVID-19 Delta variant continues to impact how companies are recruiting, hiring and retaining their employees. More companies are requiring getting vaccinated, proof of vaccinations and masking indoors. And we put money on the fact that once the FDA fully approves coronavirus vaccines, the vaccine mandate floodgates will open, something that unions want to see before they agree to back mandates. For now, many employers are highly recommending it for their employees.

And whether workers are quitting to find better, flexible work, or want better pay, or don’t want to be forced to vaccinate, or whatever the reason, they are quitting. Or thinking about quitting. When we wrote up our last Going-Back-To-Work update, we found evidence that employees were quitting their jobs in the highest rates seen since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began to collect this data in 2000. Many are also burnt out and tired and don’t want to go back to the world of work pre-covid.

Organizations big and small across industries continue to deal with this frenetic and volatile environment real-time. In April, we conducted a brief “Going Back to Work” survey of over 100 companies about going back to work. We then updated it in June, hearing from over 110 companies, and now in August we conducted another follow-up survey hearing from over 160 companies with similar and new questions. Here’s what we found:

Job Growth

We saw an 8% increase in hiring from June to August from the companies that participated, going from 50% that said they increased hiring significantly and moderately, to 54% (see Figure 1). Plus, the July jobs report revealed continued strong growth.

Most of this increase from our latest research came from healthcare, education, technology, manufacturing, consumer goods, finance and insurance, and from companies over 500 employees (however, nearly 40% were smaller companies of less than 500 employees).

Figure 1.

Remote, Onsite and Hybrid

This continues to be complex for many companies, since there are only so many jobs that could remain remote or hybrid (some remote and onsite) depending on the job type and type of business. Most significantly this time were those going back to work with some remote and mostly onsite, which increased dramatically by 77% (see Figure 2). Staying mostly remote with some onsite also increased again 16%, from 25% to 29%. Remaining all onsite fell dramatically as well. While the companies participating in this research vary each time, it’s clear that this is indicative of the challenges employers are facing hiring and retaining people.

Most of the above increase to some remote and mostly onsite came from consumer goods, healthcare and education, industries that have higher onsite populations, and from companies over 500 employees (again, 40% were smaller companies of less than 500 employees).

Figure 2.

Requiring Proof of Vaccination

Not surprisingly, requiring proof of vaccination has increased 34% since June, from 29% to 39%, for those employees working onsite (see Figure 3). Most of this increase in our latest data comes from education, healthcare, services, technology, consumer goods, energy and utilities, food and beverages, manufacturing and transportation. Nearly 50% are companies with less than 500 employees.

Also of note is the fact that 57% of participating employers said that masks will be required indoors at work.

Figure 3.

Recruiting and Retaining in a Hybrid World

Employers continue to be worried about retaining and recruiting critical employees who may have more flexible remote opportunities elsewhere, especially if business leadership is requiring employees to be onsite (see Figure 4). This is up 10% from June, from 52% to 57%. And as we wrote last time, this is more impactful with job types that can work remotely and have more leverage to negotiate this requirement.

However, now less than 50% of the responding companies also believe how they go back to work will impact their diversity and inclusion efforts, which is down 35% from June, from 69% to 46%. Again, when you think about what we found in our latest research with iCIMS titled The State of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace, the fact that C-suite leaders rated their organization’s hiring diversity 74% higher than recruiters do, that gap will definitely impact D&I recruiting and retention. Whether or not this means that D&I has truly lost long-term prioritization and internal resource investment remains to be seen.

A new question we asked in June and again in August relating to retention was whether or not organizations were investing resources and staff to improve internal mobility and retention. That decreased dramatically by 38%, from 56% to 35%, but those who said they’re working on it increased by 250%.

Figure 4.

Recruiting and Retention Incentives

We again asked what incentives, if any, are organizations considering to offer potential new hires and current employees in the next 12 months to attract and retain (see Table 1). The top three this time are flexible work schedules (remote / hybrid) at 46% (up 10%), higher salaries and hourly pay rates at 35% (up 21%) and now bonuses and other monetary incentives is third (up 30%). Stronger covid safety protocols dropped to fourth at 28% (no change from June).

Also, 49% of companies up to 500 employees said they were considering higher salaries and hourly pay rates and increased bonuses monetary incentives as well. That includes industries such as technology, healthcare, consumer goods, finance and insurance, education, services and transportation. As we referenced at the beginning of this article, wages are already higher than they’ve been in 10 years, especially for low-wage earners.

Childcare benefits are top of mind for many working people, but now that school has started and many children are back in person, this employer incentive has dropped 29% in our data and may continue to drop.

Table 1. What incentives, if any, is your company considering offering potential new hires and current employees in the next 12 months to attract and retain? (select all that apply)

Communication and Feedback Are Always Competitive Differentiators

We’ll be working on our 2021 candidate experience benchmark research reports next (this year’s program deadline is August 31), and the bad news is that candidate resentment in North America has already increased by 75% since 2020 (from 8% to 14%). Candidate resentment meaning a job candidate’s unwillingness to every apply again, refer others, have brand affinity, or make purchases from consumer-based companies based on a poor experience.

That’s a reverse course from what we saw in 2020 and back to pre-covid resentment rates. Last year employers communicated empathetically more consistently, and candidates were more forgiving. Hiring freezes, furloughs and layoffs were common last year as well, but now hiring is humming along, applications are down, candidates and employees are demanding more from employment on their terms, and more employees are quitting (or at least thinking about it).

Since this is the first year we’ve asked candidates to self-identify race and ethnicity, this is what we see so far in breaking out resentment rates (see Table 2). All of these resentment rates are higher than the overall resentment rate of 8% last year.

Table 2. 2021 Candidate Resentment Rates by Race and Ethnicity

These days we’re all just trying to figure out what to do next, how to go back to work, and what do we offer our new hires and current employees to keep our companies sustained and growing. Exciting economic growth, a continuing pandemic, recruiters carrying way too many job requisitions, not enough job candidates and candidates and employees demanding more are indeed the stark realities.

These days clear and consistent communication and feedback with your candidates and employees are just as critical as they were last year. In fact, they’re always competitive differentiators in candidate experience regardless of what the world looks like. Unfortunately, based on what we’re seeing in this year’s benchmark research, consistent candidate communication and feedback loops are sliding back to 2019.


Be safe and well.

Kevin Grossman, Talent Board President

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