Before COVID, the biggest challenge on the HR side was usually high employee turnover. Today, in stark contrast, people are clinging to their jobs, afraid to lose their livelihoods. Thus, amid this long-term turmoil, many refer to this shift as one, or perhaps the only, positive development in the HR sector. But what you see from the outside is very deceptive, and it is worth diving deep into this seemingly objective data!
The Unemployment Wave
Who would think of leaving their job now that unemployment is running rampant everywhere? The clear answer to the question is no one! At least that would be the “reasonable” answer.
High-level consulting firms are experiencing quite different trends during reorganisation projects, recruitment, and headhunting! It is interesting and perhaps surprising that amid such chaos, more candidates are interviewing while still employed. Then, when you think about it, the situation is not surprising, since the crisis triggers different reactions in humans. The situation is easier in the recruiting market today as well, with far more people applying for one advertised position than ever in the last ten years. Of course, a significant portion of this increased number are workers who have lost their jobs. Nothing is surprising about this. But there is also a considerable share of those who want to take advantage of the crisis to find a better job. When we ask the standard question, “Why are you looking for a new job?”, there are two types of respondents. The first explains that their former company’s management could not handle the COVID Crisis and, therefore, they were disappointed. The second sees how the consumer and B2B markets are reorganising, and they want to find a new path, because their current one will not be successful in the future — even if their management does not perceive this yet. Just for the sake of a clearer picture, I would note that these colleagues are usually among the best at their current jobs. Sure, as a business development professional, you’re shocked when a particular employee tells you how to restructure your current operations or just your product portfolio. Still, management, top executives, or HQ don’t have time to deal with them, as they’re so committed to protecting their own positions. So, these workers are not afraid to leave their current jobs. In fact, they don’t have to be afraid, because their employers want to retain them, but they just aren’t strong enough.
Before the Crisis, a significant part of employee turnover stemmed from unprofessional HR work. This was, of course, not communicated in this way, because HR managers had a generally accepted excuse: market demand for employees outpaced supply. But interestingly, some companies had almost no turnover. Inadequate profiling of a given position was the primary cause for high turnover rates. In general, it was not possible to perform in this area because profiles should be based on personality traits, but most HR workers focused only on job skills. They could rarely articulate the expectations of a specific, identifiable characteristic. But even if that happened, when it came time for the recruitment phase, HR should have determined the extent of those personality traits in each candidate in advance. This is no longer a problem for HR professionals, but it is for tools that cannot provide reliable or accurate assessments. Tests or other tools that can accurately measure well-defined traits based on a person’s personality profile are rare. But let’s not go deeper into this issue now, it’s not the subject of this article! On the other hand, turnover is skyrocketing because there is a glut of workers, but they do not have the right qualities for the position. Thus, they become dissatisfied, and eventually, the dissatisfaction reaches a level that the employee, or even the employer, no longer wants to manage. Of course, we can create motivational systems that help such employees reach this point sooner rather than later, but this only accelerates the natural consequences of inappropriate hiring decisions.
The Invisible Turnover
However, the tides have turned in this area! The pandemic has rearranged the work of HR professionals in many areas. One of the biggest challenges was the shift to the home office. Many business leaders feared most that it would be difficult to manage this transition, and somewhere along the line, everyone was reassured that it would not cause particularly significant problems. People work even more in most places because they do not have to deal with useless “time suck” activities in the workplace. Yes, social contact requires significant time. While we are human, and such contact is important, we have to admit that based on the experience of the last 7-8 months, it is not very practical for work. However, there are also serious dangers of the home office that managers did not think about during the initial panic. Employees certainly became less controlled. They have become invisible to employers in several ways. We cannot see their daily reactions, which is dangerous because our reactions to new situations show our behaviour. For HR, tracking employee behaviour is a safety net that protects them from entirely unexpected events. The employer can intervene in time to stop unwanted processes at the sight of changed behaviour. This is not possible now! And surely, surprising layoffs have already begun around the world, for which employers are not prepared at all. Even if the first reaction is “now I’ll find something else” — which is true — we’re still talking about key people in the company who would be important to keep. HR is not grasping this progression enough, because it is precisely during such a market reorganisation that there is a real risk of losing the key people of a company. Very few company executives and HR colleagues can tell themselves that they know their people so well that they are immune to such a surprise. And there are even fewer who not only think this, but whose reality actually looks like this!