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Where has all the talent gone, Part 2: Employee expectations have changed

Vaco Blog Graphic - Where has all the talent gone part 2

In the first article in this series, we examined how the shrinking labor force in the United States has contributed to the hiring struggles employers are experiencing in the post-pandemic world. In today’s installment, we’re examining how candidates’ behaviors, expectations, and priorities have changed over the past two years.

Despite the sizable role our shrinking labor force has played, it is far from the only reason qualified candidates seem to have evaporated from many companies’ applicant pools. 

In the post-pandemic world, the average job seeker is fundamentally different than they were in the pre-2020 job market. The challenges and circumstances created by a years-long—and still ongoing—global health crisis have pushed workers to reevaluate and realign their professional priorities.

It isn’t just that people are now deeply contemplating what they really want out of their jobs; they’re also reevaluating what kinds of jobs they want to have. 

The pandemic fundamentally changed how employees view work

The pandemic created unprecedented challenges and stressors for workers in every industry, at every professional level. These stresses turned into a kind of litmus test for the culture of their workplaces and the values of their employers. Companies that provided support, resources, a positive work climate, and transparent communication saw their team members’ happiness, engagement, and loyalty strengthen. Companies that failed to adequately respond to their workers’ needs during the pandemic saw loyalty wane and resignations spike. 

Our authors

Rusty Williams, Senior Director, Technology Solutions

Mike Christoferson, Senior Director of Sales, Technology Solutions

As employees gained insight on what they don’t want in their jobs and employers, they also reprioritized the things they do want.

In a 2022 Gallup poll of over 13,000 U.S. workers, respondents listed pay and work-life balance/wellbeing as the two most important factors when considering a new job. Job security, COVID-19 policies, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) were also listed as top priorities. 

In past versions of Gallup’s survey, pay and work-life balance were not as important to job candidates. Additionally, the 2022 survey marked the first time diversity, equity, and inclusion was given as an option; nonetheless, a staggering 42% of respondents selected it as important to them in their job searches.

The conditions of the market and other changes brought by the pandemic have clearly shifted job seekers’ expectations and values when considering potential employers. Candidates are now holding hiring companies to a different standard as they consider new roles. In a labor market as tight as the one we’re currently in, candidates have the power to be selective—and they’ve shown that they will quickly screen out the roles and organizations that don’t measure up.

Most employees want flexibility; many employers want to return to the office full-time

Among the most obvious changes to employee expectations in the post-COVID work climate, remote work has to be at (or near) the top. 

remote work statisitics graphic

When pandemic lockdowns and workplace mandates forced thousands of companies to go remote, their employees found themselves working from home on a full-time basis—many for the first time ever. 

Over two years later, the majority of employees who were able to work from home during the pandemic consider it an overwhelming success, and they don’t want to go back.

In a Pew Research survey from 2022, 64% of remote and hybrid workers said their main motivation for working from home was a better balance between their work and personal lives. Another 44% said working remotely made it easier for them to get work done and meet deadlines.

Remote and hybrid flexibility (or lack thereof) is also a critical consideration for job seekers, and a key reason why many employees have resigned as of late: in a survey of workers who left their jobs in 2021, nearly one-quarter said their main reason for quitting was a lack of flexibility. In a 2022 survey from ADP Research Institute, two-thirds of the 32,000 workers surveyed said they would consider looking for another job if their employer demanded that they return to the office full-time.

The flexibility gap

While employees clearly value flexibility in their jobs, employers appear to have more reservations about adopting permanent remote and hybrid work models. 

A recent survey from Microsoft reported that around 50% of companies already require or have plans to require a full-time return to the office in the near future. In the same survey, 52% of employee respondents said they are considering switching to jobs that are fully remote or hybrid.

Employees don’t just want flexibility in where they work; they also want flexibility in when they work. In the Future Forum Pulse Report from January 2022, 78% of the 10,000 knowledge workers surveyed said they wanted location flexibility, while a staggering 95% of respondents said they wanted flexible scheduling

This desire for a flexible work life is evident in the kinds of jobs that get the most applicants. Job postings that reference remote or hybrid flexibility get seven times more applicants than those requiring workers to be on-site full-time. 

In the current hiring landscape, job flexibility is a deal breaker for many candidates. Companies that maintain strict on-site work policies, despite being able to provide remote and hybrid options, may find themselves struggling to hire for the next several years—if not indefinitely. 

How can hiring companies meet candidates’ new expectations?

  • Consider adopting policies that provide employees with flexibility in where, when, and how they work: Pay and work-life balance are listed as the top priorities for job seekers in multiple post-pandemic surveys. Organizations that cling to traditional work models and policies will not only fail to attract candidates, they may also struggle to retain their own top performers.  
  • Assess your compensation and benefits: Total compensation—including bonuses, stock options, benefits, and commissions—is one of the most important factors for job seekers in the current market. Companies in the hiring arena should be aware of the fair market value of the skills and experience they’re seeking and should be prepared to offer salaries that measure up. At the same time, it is critical for companies to evaluate the salary trends among their current staff. When new hires with less experience are given salaries that are the same or more than existing team members, it creates pay compression—and gives current staff members a big reason to start planning their exits.
  • Highlight your company’s culture and values: Today’s job seekers care deeply about the values and culture of the companies they work for. They want to do their best work in an environment that values their happiness and well-being, and they want hiring companies to display a commitment to these things from the beginning. 
  • Open your talent pool to remote and hybrid workers: Millions of job seekers in today’s market will only apply to jobs that offer remote and hybrid flexibility. Companies who restrict their applicant pools to local candidates are eliminating thousands of potentially outstanding job seekers.

In this labor market, successful recruiting and hiring looks different than it did just a few short years ago.

To be effective in the current hiring arena, companies must revise the ways they attract, engage and hire new workers—and refresh their strategies for engaging and retaining their current staff. By embracing the changes to worker expectations, hiring companies can transform the candidate shortage from a barrier to success into a happier, more engaged and more productive workforce.

Check out the other articles in this series to get even more insights on the current talent shortage:

The hiring and recruiting experts at Vaco help companies of all sizes find top talent for a variety of roles, whether they’re remote, hybrid, or on-site. Learn more about our expertise or reach out to our talent specialists to see how we can transform your hiring efforts. 

If you’re a candidate searching for your next dream job, Vaco is here to be your partner and career advisor throughout your professional life. Explore our job seeker resources for interview tips, advice on writing your resume, and downloadable resume templates to help you put your best foot forward in your job search. If you’re ready to work with an experienced career expert during your job search, reach out to us today

Learn more about our authors:

  • Rusty Williams, Senior Director, Technology Solutions at Vaco in Atlanta
  • Mike Christoferson, Senior Director of Sales, Technology Solutions at Vaco in Atlanta


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