Together, the record 47.4 million voluntary quits in 20211 and the current (as of February) 3.8 percent unemployment rate2 are leaving organizations short staffed and scratching their collective heads. Maybe the combination of the gig economy and the COVID-19 pandemic is to blame for the surplus of open positions. Or maybe Americans are just burned out by the grind and looking for a different approach to work.
The term “forward fill” describes an alternative approach to filling jobs. In contrast to the usual backfilling strategy, which involves filling a position after it has become open, forward filling requires thinking about open positions with an eye to the future rather than to the past. With the Great Resignation exacerbating the staffing shortage, this is the ideal time for organizations to implement a forward-fill strategy that emphasizes five key areas.
Today’s employees desire and require more flexibility in their work arrangements, starting with the locations of their jobs. Once the pandemic started, “searches for remote work on LinkedIn tripled”3; during its first six months, remote job listings on Linked increased sixfold.4 Clearly, there’s been a shift, and organizations must now meet workers where they are and where they want to be. The pandemic has proven that, thanks to technology, employees can be productive without having to be in the office. Workers want flexibility not just in job location, though, but also in areas such as working hours, benefits plans, technology choices (for example, whether to use a Mac or a PC), and PTO policies. The organization’s goal should be to meet each employee’s individual needs and also maintain equity among workers.
Employers must approach marketing job openings more as if they were marketing products: they must present a value proposition, entice job seekers to apply for a position, and be able to deliver on the promises made in the recruitment process. The high number of openings and the shortage of workers give job seekers lots of choices; therefore, companies must outcompete other employers to land quality hires. Hiring managers must be creative in their candidate sourcing, and consider strategies such as offering referral bonuses for existing staff and writing clever and unique copy for job advertisement placements that go beyond LinkedIn and Indeed to include social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
During the pandemic shutdowns, many companies had to rethink how they interacted with clients, how their employees did their jobs—pretty much how they did everything. As they innovated new practices, organizations often found that those new approaches were actually better than their old ways of doing things. For example, companies that had deployed their sales forces geographically before the pandemic found that when salespeople lost the ability to call on their customers in person at their offices, being in the same city as clients and prospects became less important. As they assessed sales territories and industries, organizations that were willing to let go of their past ways of doing things often found that aligning salespeople around verticals produced higher close rates and more sales than aligning around geographies. This major shift enabled organizations to focus on hiring salespeople with industry experience regardless of where they lived, which in turn opened searches to national candidates with deep expertise in critical verticals. By reengineering the approach to their sales teams, those organizations boosted sales, attracted better candidates, and increased margins.
Over the past two years, the leadership trait that has grown in value the most is empathy. During these professionally and personally challenging times, the best leaders have been in tune with their employees and the evolving needs of the business. Many of the workers who have resigned have done so because they did not feel valued, were treated poorly, and worked for rotten bosses. With more choices as to where to work and what to do, job seekers are being much more selective. Leading with empathy is critical to building the trust that can attract and retain top talent, and leaders who lack this skill must prioritize developing it. “Would I thrive working for me?” is a good starting point for leaders who want to measure their own empathy.
Every organization is not a good fit for every person. Every organization must be true to itself, then to its current employees, and finally to its applicants. By being clear and authentic about who it is, an organization gives candidates a realistic preview of what it will be like to work there (and why they should want to work there). An assessment of why people are leaving is a good starting point, because a revolving door for talent could indicate a toxic culture. Being honest with the candidate about what they are walking into—sharing the good and the bad—increases the likelihood of finding someone who is a good fit and ensuring that they are not surprised once they start the job.
Organizations that seek to forward fill their roles need to be flexible, creative, ingenious, empathetic, and authentic. They also need to be consistent: each team member must buy into these behaviors and model them for candidates. Companies with strong core values that are lived out every day tend to have fared better through the pandemic and have seen lower turnover rates. That said, turnover is inevitable, so organizations should forward fill roles as much as possible. By thinking about their future needs—rather than focusing on the past—companies can mitigate the effects of turnover and the Great Resignation.
1 O.C. Tanner. 2021. “2021 Global Cultura Report.” www.octanner.com/global-culture-report.html.
2 Mat Bush. 2021. “Why Is Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace Important?” Great Place to Work blog, April 13, www.greatplacetowork.com/resources/blog/why-is-diversity-inclusion-in-the-workplace-important.
3 Juliet Bourke. 2021. “The Diversity and Inclusion Revolution: Eight Powerful Truths.” Deloitte Review, issue 22, www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/deloitte-review/issue-22/diversity-and-inclusion-at-work-eight-powerful-truths.html.
4 Dominique Fluker. 2021. “12 Companies Ramping Up Their Diversity and Inclusion Efforts—and How You Can Too.” Glassdoor for Employers blog, May 8, www.glassdoor.com/employers/blog/inspiration-for-ramping-up-diversity-inclusion-efforts.
5 Kiely Kuligowski. 2021. “6 Examples of Diverse and Inclusive Companies.” Business News Daily, November 19, www.businessnewsdaily.com/15970-diverse-inclusive-companies.html.
6 O.C. Tanner. 2021.
7 Julia Taylor Kennedy and Pooja Jain-Link. 2021. “What Does It Take to Build a Culture of Belonging?” Harvard Business Review website, June 21, hbr.org/2021/06/what-does-it-take-to-build-a-culture-of-belonging.