Recruiting in the Great Resignation

The Middle Market Edition

The pandemic has created a significant shift in the relationship between employee and employer. During the height of the pandemic, a large segment of the working population was furloughed or experienced compensation cuts. Some organizations laid off large portions of their workforce, expecting remaining staff to pick up extra work without extra pay. Feeling they were being treated unfairly, employees began to exit en masse—trend referred to as the Great Resignation.

As hiring freezes are released and the world starts to reopen, there are significantly more open roles than qualified candidates. The result is a job market that heavily favors candidates, who are feeling empowered to demand more. This is true at all levels, from entry-level employees up through the C-suite.

Because candidates can be pickier with their job prospects, many small and mid-sized businesses are struggling. And companies that don’t alter the way they recruit and retain employees won’t be able to keep up.

Employees at all levels are demanding more

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the way we work. This is true across industries, geographies, and roles. While some discovered they could accomplish their responsibilities from the comfort of their own homes, others were forced to work in suddenly dangerous and life-threatening environments for little to no pay. And that has created a significant shift in what employees perceive as fair working conditions.

  • Entry-level employees: During the pandemic, few groups were talked about as much as “essential workers.” While some of these essential workers were well compensated, others like those working in factories, on the roads, or in the office were not. Sick of poor working conditions, minimum wage, and limited protections against COVID, many of these people left their jobs, knowing there must be something better out there.
  • Middle management: In the early days of the pandemic, people in middle management and sales roles got a glimpse of what life could be like—working from home, no commute, minimal travel, and more flexible hours. These mid-level workers were trusted to perform, and they did. Now they want to maintain their ability to work from home, skip the suit, and complete their work on their own time—just as they have for the last two years. Because these jobs look fairly similar across the board, flexibility is becoming a distinguishing factor for these candidates.
  • C-suite: For many who were on the edge of retirement, the pandemic was the push they needed to step down. Not wanting to work for less or be exposed to the virus, many executives went into early retirement in 2020 and 2021. Even those who didn’t retire were working from home and had the opportunity to spend more time with their families. As people come back into the office, companies are struggling to coax this group out of retirement or ask them to give up time with their families to put in the long grueling hours once associated with C-suite work.

How to attract and retain talent

Employee and candidate expectations and behaviors have changed across the board, and the balance has shifted, putting the power in their hands. If companies want to fill vacant roles and hire the best talent, there are a number of changes they need to make.

1. Understand the dynamic

Candidates have options, so they’re the ones sitting in the driver’s seat, and recruiters need to be prepared for a role reversal. Candidates are no longer writing notes to recruiters thanking them for the opportunity to interview. It’s now the candidates who expect a thank you note for giving up their time to meet with a company. Realizing and accepting this shift will help you woo candidates in a way that other companies are—putting you at the top of candidates’ list.

2. Be more upfront about salary and benefits

Many workers were frustrated by pandemic-induced pay cuts and furloughs. Now, candidates aren’t wasting any time getting to the big question. It’s not uncommon for candidates to ask about salary and benefits at the top of the call, not wanting to waste their time or yours. While this might feel off-putting for those who have worked in recruiting for decades, it’s the new norm and is ultimately meant to save you the effort of interviewing a candidate who is unwilling to work for what you’re offering.

3. Listen to your staff

To attract top talent, you need to find out what they want. And the best way to do that is to ask. Conduct internal surveys or hold town hall meetings to find out what it is your employees want and where they feel like their needs aren’t being met. You should also conduct exit interviews and really listen to what people are saying. If you’re able to offer what employees are asking for, do it. Managers who think “I had to put up with this when I was in your role, so you do too,” are going to lose people—fast.

4. Separate HR from finance or legal

At small and mid-sized companies, the CFO or someone from the finance or legal departments often takes on the HR function. But the skill set needed to work in HR and recruiting is quite different than that needed to work in finance and legal, and it’s very hard to find one person who can do both well. When companies merge HR and finance roles, that person often manages people like they would numbers on a spreadsheet. Remember not to take the “human” out of “human resources.” During a time when people are leaving jobs because they feel they aren’t being heard or treated fairly, one of the most important qualities a recruiter can display is empathy.

5. Offer flexibility, especially when it comes to working from home

Many workers are sick of the rat race, and the pandemic has proven people can get their jobs done, often more efficiently, while working comfortably from home. There has been a massive push from both employees and candidates for more flexibility in terms of working hours, wardrobe, and the ability to work from home. The organizations refusing to budge on these issues are losing people left and right, so it’s essential to make sure your working hours and management styles are competitive.

6. Assemble a better benefits package

During the pandemic, benefits were one of the first things to go for many. So, it’s now topping the list of things candidates care about. Look at your insurance offering, health benefits, mileage reimbursement, and days off to make sure your benefits package is competitive. One of the easiest ways for middle market companies to make it more attractive is to offer more time off—ideally five weeks a year, though some offer unlimited vacation time (and no, it isn’t abused!). This is an easy way to entice candidates because offering more time off doesn’t cost much. Some middle market companies also shut down the office for the week between Christmas and New Year’s—a week you traditionally don’t see a lot of business anyway—or do Summer Fridays.

Finding the right candidate can be a challenge, but you don’t have to do it alone. The advantage of hiring FortéOne for C-Suite Interim Leadership services is that we help your HR team develop the job spec, review candidates, and craft an offer package for your eventual permanent hire (which we’ll help train and transition). We help remove the stress of “putting a person in the chair NOW,” so businesses can get still transformational leadership while finding the best permanent executive for their company.

If you need help an unexpected C-Suite transition or temporary leadership for a special initiative, contact us today to learn more.


Contributor: Simon Ferns, Consultant Relations


At FortéOne, we’ve been on the forefront of change as thought and implementation leaders for more than 20 years. Our mission is to help Family and Privately Held Business owners as well as Private Equity and Family Office investors become performance leaders in their respective industries. We are more than consultants—we are problem solvers who work side-by-side with you to deliver a business transformation that improves performance and accelerates change in your middle market company.