How to find good talent, and make sure they stick around

Experts discuss how to attract and retain talented employees.

Recruiting and retaining talent in the new world of work

Finding good talent can be difficult. Keeping good talent can be even harder.

So how do you build a solid workforce while also taking care of the whole person, not just the employee in the job?

Protocol’s Amber Burton spoke with Brian Elliott, executive leader of the Future Forum and SVP of Slack; Jennifer Kim, founder of the Startup Recruiting Bootcamp; Zohra Yafai, vice president of Global Talent Acquisition at Cisco; and Anna Fraser, chief people officer at Sonos, about the best ways to recruit — and hold onto — talented tech employees.

Here are some of the key takeaways.

The Great Resignation is more than a trend.

Elliott prefers to call the Great Resignation “The Great Rethink.” Employees are reconsidering what they want, with flexibility of where and when they work being a major factor in deciding to leave their jobs. In a 2021 Future Forum survey of 10,000 office workers, 58% of employees said they were open to new opportunities, with flexibility of schedule and work location being the second-most-important deciding factor after compensation, Elliott said.

“People's expectations around work have changed,” Elliott said. “Not only in terms of the purpose of their organization, not only in terms of career development, but most critically around flexibility.”

Employees also have more bargaining power. Long gone are the days of employees believing that they need their employer more than their employer needs them, said Kim. The pandemic has created an environment in which the worker is essential, giving them more leverage to move to a workplace that respects them and gives them what they need. The Great Resignation is “exposing the ways that employers have been failing employees: [They’re] not adapting quickly enough to this world,” said Kim.

The employers that’ll beat the odds are the ones that have their ears open, according to Yafai. Leaders need to listen to the changes their employees want, especially as needs evolve amid an ever-changing pandemic.

“We have to build this organizational culture of listening, because this is something … that’s going to stay,” said Yafai. “Hopefully a positive thing that can come out of it is continued listening, adapting and being realistic about expectations.”

Employees want more than just extra zeros on the paycheck.

Along with shifts in the power balance between employees and their companies, the needs of employees are changing as well. Accelerated by the pandemic, employees are looking for more than just compensation, said Fraser. They want meaningful, purpose-driven work and career development as well. To do this, companies need to be “valuing the human, not just the person in the role,” said Fraser.

“Employees want to pursue passion; they want to have impact,” said Fraser. “They want to work in organizations that are going to develop them, not just give them a paycheck.”

And of course, they don’t want to be worked into the ground. Yafai said wellbeing benefits — i.e., gym memberships, 401K matching and stipends for remote work — aren’t just “cool benefits,” but rather they’re “core benefits” that, though they can be costly for companies, are necessary in supporting the overall health of the employee. These can help avoid “mass scale burnout,” Yafai said.

Employees also want openness, honesty and vulnerability from leadership, said Fraser. Because workforces are often working thousands of miles away from one another, it’s less common to connect with your boss over a coffee or a beer. Having open conversations and getting to know each other to the best of your ability is critical.

“Be vulnerable and get to know one another in a way that's going to drive that connection and that purpose to the organization as a whole,” said Fraser

A focus on diversity, equity and inclusion helps everyone.

Having a focus on diversity in recruiting shouldn’t be thought of as a reaction to a major crisis or event, said Kim.

“I think, given the events of the last few years, the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, that was a very reactive moment in some ways,” Kim said. “And while it was very important, I do think that the misconception around DEI is that it's purely reactionary.”

She looks at diversity, equity and inclusion as a “forcing function” to make sure that hiring processes work for everyone. This means looking at hiring processes to see where people drop out and who is dropping out to discover what is exclusionary. Kim gave the example of a lengthy test given in an application process: People that have less time to to spend on that application are often caregivers or those with extra responsibility in their personal lives.

“That doesn't mean, ‘Oh, I guess the people from underrepresented backgrounds are just not a good fit for us,’” said Kim. “It means your process needs to be worked through.”

The same goes for deciding how much flexibility of work times and locations to give employees, said Elliott. Employees from marginalized backgrounds often value more flexibility at work than their white counterparts, according to the Future Forum survey.

“A sense of belonging that grew over the course of the past two years, especially among Black employees and Hispanic Latinx employees, is in part because you reduced the costs of code switching and the impact of microaggressions at work that are in a continuous work environment,” said Elliott.

Women with children, Elliott said, were found to value more schedule flexibility. But the risk of this ends up being proximity bias. To avoid this, Slack implemented what Elliott called “speed limits,” with its executives agreeing among themselves to only come into the office a maximum of three days a week. Slack’s CTO and chief product officer also moved all of their review meetings to Zoom, he said, “as a way of making sure that you didn't have this pressure for people to show up in the office in order to be ‘in the room where it happened.’”

This story was updated to reflect that Slack executives agree agreed to come into the office a maximum of three days a week.


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