Harnessing the Dreams of Employees

The Shifting Talent Marketplace

By Ed Nathanson, Founder, Red Pill Talent

Editor’s note: Ed Nathanson is the opening keynote speaker at our Boston Workplace Innovation Summit on October 27th.

The world of work has changed in many ways over the last 50 years. We went from rolodexes to LinkedIn, rotary to smart phones, business dress to “office casual,” newspaper want ads to social media based job searches – the list goes on and on. One element in particular has recently changed and dramatically impacted the world of work: tenure. Not long ago, longer tenures at companies were the norm. It was not uncommon for people to work at a company for 20 or 30 years, grow their careers through promotions and advancement at the company, and then retire with the proverbial “gold watch.” However those days are gone. Long gone.

The “war for talent” is over, and employers lost, big time.

Now we live, in what some are calling “the gig economy.” What does that mean? Shorter tenures. As someone who has been in the world of HR/Recruitment/Employment for over 20 years now, it is now far more common (and acceptable) to see 2-year stints on a resume than it is to see 20-year tenures. While employers once looked at these shorter stint resumes as “job hoppers” and candidates to be cautious with – the tables have now turned. What used to be valued in longer term tenures (loyalty, consistency) is now looked at by a lot of employers as “risk averse” or “coasting” and “comfortable”.

From the employee side, there is a seismic shift in this perception as well. What used to be valued by employees (loyalty from employer, promotions, relationships, consistency) is now pushed somewhat aside for faster career advancement, increase in pay (quicker than staying and getting 3- 5% increases every year) and simply more career and job options to choose from. Also – let’s be honest – come layoff or downsize-time that “company loyalty” isn’t worth anything. Each side of the coin is seeing the other in a different light, and as a result the world of work is seeing significant changes. Unfortunately, most companies want their proverbial “cake” and they want to eat it too. They expect loyalty from their employees AND want to attract new hires to them based on their own specific values and goals. That approach won’t necessarily work anymore. The power dynamic has changed. The “war for talent” is over, and employers lost, big time.

Today, candidates not only have more job opportunities, they have more information than any job seeking populace has ever had. With tools like Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn, and others — companies now need to market themselves as an employer of choice.

Candidates are behaving like any consumer would – they are looking online, reading reviews, looking at LinkedIn profiles, reading your content (or lack thereof), and networking with other interviewees, as well as current and past employees, long before they even consider applying. A recent survey by CareerArc showed that 75% of candidates consider a company’s employer brand before applying, and a recent LinkedIn survey stated that a company’s “employer brand” (what it is like to work there) was twice as likely to drive job considerations than what the company does.

Let that sink in for a second.  

Like it or not, this is the truth of today’s job seeking marketplace. The mistake employers make is thinking people sign up for the company’s goal, mission, and dreams when they take a job. This is fundamentally untrue. In a world where employers are bending over backwards to win talent, designing crazy/futuristic offices, providing doggy daycares on site, unlimited vacations, and other new perks — the truth is that’s all surface level for the real motivator for candidates: themselves.

Most employers simply don’t understand what is driving the “gig economy” today — it’s the candidate’s own dreams, goals, and ambitions – not the company’s goals and dreams. Companies like to believe new hires are joining because they believe the company makes an awesome (insert your product or service here), but the truth is they are joining because they can advance their career faster, make more money, learn a new skill, lessen their commute, or get that title they couldn’t get at their last company. I am not saying your products or services aren’t important, but rather they’re second to the individual ambitions of your employees or new hires. In the past people stayed because the options for these advancements weren’t nearly as in abundance as they are in today’s world of work. Trust me, if our parents and grandparents could have left their jobs every 2–3 years for more money, better work/life balance, or to learn new skills, you bet they would have.

The question then becomes “what do we do as employers to address this?” The answer is not simple, but can be broken down to two main ideas:

  1. Invest in your current employees. Give them the opportunities they are leaving your company to find. Promote from within. Post your jobs internally first. Give them the learning opportunities THEY want – not what you want. Ask them what their goals and dreams are and create a path for them to achieve them with YOU – not some other company.
  2. Share your employee’s stories. Your employer brand IS your employees – what they do, think, and share about working at your company. Let people see what working at your company is like, and market the opportunities you provide directly to prospective employees. Speak to your audience in real, non-corporate terms, and let your audience decide if they can see themselves achieving their goals with you. What matters is what your employees say about working at your company, NOT what the company says it is like. Let them share, in their own words, what they like and don’t like about your company culture.

There is obviously a lot more to all of this — to hear the good stuff you’ll have to come see me talk about this (and more) at the Design Museum’s Workplace Innovation Summit in Boston on October 27. Hope to see you there in October!