TalentCOVID-19: Will coronavirus cause a talent exodus?

COVID-19: Will coronavirus cause a talent exodus?

Experts are predicting that the coronavirus pandemic could result in a 'talent exodus'. How can HR weather the storm? Sam Alberti and Suki Sandhu OBE, Founder, Audeliss, examine the state of talent after COVID-19.

With the skills gap widening and the expectations of employees changing, talent acquisition and retention have become two of the most pressing challenges in the world of HR of late. One survey even showed that 80% of CEOs are either extremely or somewhat concerned about getting access to the skills their business needs.

However, with the world being blighted by what is arguably the greatest corporate crisis for two generations, this issue is now becoming more pressing than ever before. Not only will employers find greater difficulty in acquiring talent, but the case may be that keeping their current workforce intact will be just as challenging.

What’s more, there is substantial evidence to suggest this could happen. A McKinsey report cites a scenario in a European industrial company, whereby 104 people were deemed ‘likely to leave’ during a major relocation. Among them, 44 were considered ‘critical for the success’ of the company.

The knock-on effects of this are not to be underestimated. In one way or another, turnover ultimately translates to loss and expense. One study showed that it costs roughly $15,000 to replace an employee earning a median salary of $45,000.

However, what the study also concluded was that 75% of these turnover cases are preventable.

To find out more, we spoke to talent expert Suki Sandhu OBE, Founder, Audeliss, about the likelihood of COVID-19 impacting the talent space.

“Out of the blue, organisations have been thrown into a significant period of uncertainty where they are having to review how they engage, support, hire and train their talent,” Sandhu said.

“I do not believe that ‘business as usual’ is a phrase we will be hearing for some time now, as the full force of this shift filters down through companies.”

It is clear, as is the case in every other corner of business at present, that talent will be heavily impacted by the current disruption. For instance, according to one study, 38% of workers said they became frustrated and disengaged due to anxiety caused by the introduction of new processes. Some are suggesting that an ‘exodus’ of talent could result, and so in order to cope, companies must adapt to survive.

“We were already seeing an erosion of the barrier between remote and office working, but suddenly the walls have been removed,” said Sandhu.

“As a result, employees are rightfully prioritizing the things that are important to them and trying to balance work with family. Some organisations will be well equipped to deal with this, but others less so, especially if they are caught with too much of a traditional culture.”

Sandhu cites this as one of the key ways in which employees’ attitudes could alter as a result of the crisis, and explains how this could affect retention.

“This is where employees get a glimpse of the true motivations that are leading their organisations, and this will very much determine their future career decisions once the dust has settled,” he said.

So, with the potential outlook laid bare, senior leaders must ask themselves what they can do to appropriately manage the situation and navigate through it.

Increased communication, recognition and forthrightness are surely are all crucial to this. One study even noted that out of 1000 employees, nearly two thirds had considered quitting solely because of a lack of workplace communication.

Sandhu acknowledges the importance of this, pointing out that communication is always one of the fundamentals of any workplace year-round.

“Without communication you lose trust and that is very difficult to win back,” he said.

“Many companies will have had their communication and engagement measures based around an in-office environment. These companies need to innovate fast to make sure that organisational structures and communications are meeting the current needs of employees. A one-size-fits-all approach to anything is now likely to be less effective.”

We can take from this that a mere lack of communication, or lack of an engagement initiative, is not necessarily the issue. More specifically, employers will find that adaptiveness and flexibility is what they are currently lacking.

What’s more, and as is the case with every coronavirus-related workplace issue, employers have to consider how this is going to impact them in the long term. These obstacles cannot be seen to exist in a vacuum – rather, they could be industry-altering problems that change the landscape forever.

“Once this is all over, employees will begin to question why they are putting on a suit every day and fighting their way through the commute,” said Sandhu.

“This is especially important with regards to talent, particularly those individuals in the early years of their careers. They were already a generation that was driving a change in how work and life interlace, and this experience is only going to speed up that transition.”

It is clear from this that the coronavirus-induced talent retention problem is multi-faceted. Firstly, poor communication and disengagement may cause employees to question the integrity of their employers, particularly during a time where they are prioritising health and family. But in addition, the current disruption could change the talent landscape for years to come, with workers beginning to question why they are not being afforded the flexibility and work life balance that they had before.

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