Do Millions of Job Resignations Mean Recruiters Got it Wrong?

According to the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), Covid took 225 million people out of the global workforce last year. That we understand.

This year we saw a new twist. In the US, 20 million walked away from the job they had, joined by millions more in Europe, Latin America and China. It is the year quitting became honorable. Covid and its resulting stress no doubt play a role but this message is more personal: “I’m in the wrong place.”

Are recruiters a part of the problem? Today’s professional is increasingly absorbed in ensuring the fit is optimal between the job and the job seeker. Did they get it wrong – 20 million times? An understanding of the recruiting industry would say no.

The recruiting business divides naturally in two depending on outcomes. One pursues lower levels of employee and middle management. It is being transformed by technology that aids in the identification, attraction, engagement, and nurturing of candidates into applicants as rapidly as possible.

The other half, often described as executive search, concentrates on high value leaders and managers. Since these represent critical and costly assets to the employing company, there is more personal involvement. The search process and the skills required to conduct it, are many times more complex. 

They left miserable jobs

Most, if not all, the resignations come from the first group. The majority of quitters (they are actually labelled “quits” by the US Dept of Labour) left miserable jobs in miserable front-line sectors such as health care, restaurants and food services where they worked long hours for sub-standard pay in highly stressful and often abusive environments. (Servers working for tips can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour in wages)

These are jobs unlikely to attract more than a resume submission from a recruiter. Deep background and compatibility checks are absent. So the extraordinary level of dissatisfaction cannot be laid at the recruiter’s door

But if the hiring process has little to do with where we are now, it is likely to have a greater impact on where we go from here.

If you think of the Great Resignation as a cry for attention, you would not be wrong. But that cry comes from a wider source of frustration than just the abused front-line workers. The face of work has become increasingly impersonal and the attitude of employers (and most recruiters) has been one of: ”This is the job. If you fit it, we’ll look at you”

Job seekers want more 

This year has told us this is not enough. Workers, especially the young, want more than just a paycheque for spending half their life in your service. They care what you do with the labour they are giving you. They want you to share their social concerns – for the environment, for the less fortunate, for equality of opportunity.

They view mankind as custodians of the welfare of the world we live in and want you to play your part.

Perhaps this is the idealism of the Sixties working its way through the fabric of society. Whatever the source, it is here and changing the employer-worker relationship in a profound way.

The restoration of the individual impacts both sides of recruiting. The volume merchants will continue to benefit from AI and best-to-fit technologies but will need to bulk up on more personal treatment of candidates. They will have to learn to listen.

The executive searchers, too, will have adjustments to make. They must look more closely at leadership profiles in search of empathy and a heightened sense of talent management. Team building abilities have always been high on the chart but now may have locked in first place.

Let’s blame Covid

Incumbent leaders will be forced to reflect. Reportedly, some senior managers do not believe the massive turnover is a matter of significance but regard it as an anomaly related to the pandemic. Some are unaware of the culture experienced by workers in all parts of their organization. They assume that since their own relationships are collegial, the same is true for all employees.

Leadership candidates hopefully will reach a more responsible conclusion – that the working environment is deficient. Employees walking away from a job without another one to go to are voting with their feet.

Both the candidate and the executive search professional will be looking harder than before at non-financial criteria — the quality of the current management, the company culture and the company mission, or purpose. Financial success and stability will be dependent on getting these right first.

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