At Navigate 2022, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr, CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), joined Somit Goyal, Pluralsight’s President and COO, for a thought-provoking fireside chat. They discussed the current and future state of work, including hybrid culture and the war for talent.
Below, you’ll find some of Johnny’s biggest takeaways for HR leaders, people managers, and anyone interested in retaining talent and moving the future of work forward.
What is the war for talent?
The war for talent refers to the competition between organizations to attract, develop, and retain highly skilled employees. In the tech industry, widening skills gaps and limited talent pools have made the war for tech talent a pressing issue.
The future of work: SHRM’s top three challenges
“I often ask people to think about where [they] were on Friday, March 13, 2020, when the entire globe essentially said, ‘We're going to change the way we work,’” Johnny said. “The pandemic accelerated a lot of what we already knew was going to come down the pike, such as questions about remote work, how people are going to work, and if people want to be employees in the traditional sense.”
The war for talent is one of SHRM’s top three challenges for the future of work, alongside outdated frameworks and workplace culture.
The Fair Labor Standards Act was created in 1938 and hasn’t been modified significantly since then. Employers are still trying to guide employees and operate under a framework that’s over 80 years old.
Meaningful workplace culture
Workplace culture has historically been a “soft word.” Leaders thought popcorn and Foosball machines represented their organizational culture. That’s no longer enough for top talent, and hiring managers struggle to describe their culture in a way that attracts applicants.
Skills gaps aren’t the only thing driving the war for talent. It’s also a sheer numbers game. During the pandemic, the American birth rate dropped by an additional 4% in 2020. As Johnny noted, America simply doesn’t have enough bodies in the workforce to support the future of work.
How is the war for talent connected to the rise of remote work?
In any economic environment, money matters. Employees are juggling student loans, high gas prices, rising interest rates, and inflation.
“We used to say, ‘People don’t work for money,’” Johnny explained. “[But] they do, and they want a lot of it—particularly the younger generation. There’s a certain point where someone will always chase your top talent down with a check. That’s where culture comes in.”
Prior to the pandemic, organizations relied on people within their office walls to create workplace culture. With remote work, organizations are dealing with two cultures: people who work in the office and people who work remotely.
How to engage remote employees and reduce proximity bias
These dual working cultures can lead to proximity bias, a phenomenon in which managers overwhelmingly bias people who work in the office. Think of the old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Organizations must equip people managers with the tools they need to overcome this bias and engage employees regardless of their working location.
Organizations should also consider remote work’s impact on their ability to retain talent. Many people don’t want to come into the office, but those who do are more likely to develop work friendships and stay with your organization as a result.
Overall, Johnny stressed that remote work is still a great experiment. We’re still trying to figure out if remote work is effective and optimal.
Do people prefer work from home or hybrid work?
Since remote work is still emerging, Johnny explained that there isn’t enough data to provide a definitive answer. But certain trends exist.
First, women and people of color have shared that they prefer to work from home to avoid microaggressions. People also want to have a reason to come into the office. In other words, hybrid work needs to provide value to your employees. Finally, there’s the cost factor. In times of rising inflation and fuel costs, asking employees to commute to the office can be an unnecessary, and unwelcome, expense.
Yet despite these drivers, Johnny advised companies to avoid committing to “full-out remote work,” especially when it comes to recent college graduates. In a recent study, SHRM found that new college graduates value the ability to form relationships through work. It’s where they build their network and foster key connections.
They aren’t just asking for remote work—they’re asking for flexibility. Diversity, equity, and inclusion also matter. Employees want to be a part of a culture that embraces differences rather than merely tolerates them.
How is the role of HR evolving for the future of work?
“For years, HR wanted a seat at the table. Now we’re in the middle of the table, and there’s a lot coming at us,” said Johnny. “In the past, HR was very administrative and compliance-oriented, which is important. Now we are being asked to do more with big data to understand satisfaction and engagement, while using it to predict employee behavior.”
Empathetic people management
Today, people want empathetic leadership, and HR plays a role in talent transformation and equipping managers with this skill. Most people become managers because they’re good at what they do, not necessarily because they have people management skills.
“We focus on someone's technical aptitude, and we forget that leadership is largely why people leave,” explained Johnny. “The data tells us that 60% of employees say, ‘I didn't leave the company. I left my people manager.’ Yet we blame the people manager, forgetting that we didn't train the people manager to be a people manager.”
Tech skill development for retention
In their 2022 survey, SHRM found that job security isn’t the primary concern for the emerging workforce. Instead, these workers want career development. Organizations no longer have the luxury of only investing in their top talent; all employees are looking for career and skills development as part of their hiring package.
Why is the war for talent focused on developing and retaining talent?
“In order to get through the war for talent, we have to get rid of our own biases. We need the talent. And if the people are available, let's figure out how we invest in them by using technologies and retooling people who could actually do this work,” advised Johnny.
Four non-traditional pools of talent for the future of work
Here are four underrepresented groups that can help leaders hire and retain talent:
Consider the 750,000 people per year who come out of prison. Train them up so that when they’re released, they can serve as a pipeline of talent.
Avoid making assumptions about people who are differently abled. Open up roles to these people and avoid excluding talent that’s equipped for the job.
Reconsider people without a college degree, or consider upskilling non-tech employees for tech roles. Too often, HR leans on selecting candidates from certain schools, which isn’t always an indicator of success.
Rethink people who are 55 or older. According to the Department of Labor, this age category will take up half of the jobs in America in the next decade.
Shaping the future of work
You can navigate the war for talent with meaningful workplace cultures, valuable hybrid or remote work models, and innovative talent transformation.
“We’re requiring our virtual employees to come in person, whether it’s once a week, a month, or a quarter,” stated Johnny. “It’s difficult to expect someone who was recruited, hired, and trained remotely to have the same feeling, understanding, and commitment to the organization. You’ve got to train your managers to be mindful about including remote people whenever possible. When we have an all-employee lunch in the office, we’ll send lunch to all of the people working remotely so we can replicate the in-person experience virtually as much as we can.”
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