As we embark on a new year in 2021, it is important to examine the employment trends I have observed and experienced from the past unprecedented year that I believe will carry over and perhaps, even strengthen in the forthcoming year. Employment trends in the employment market tend to change gradually over time based on a variety of both external and internal social, political, legal and market-driven factors.
The following are the employment outlook and trends as I foresee them in 2021:
- Hiring Activity: For most professional, managerial and executive level career opportunities, I forecast a continuation of steadily “active” hiring activity in 2021. A new administration in Washington, D.C. is likely to have little effect on employer hiring activity in the immediate future. Long term, this could change.
- Hiring Cycles: This process will continue to be more “protracted” especially for higher level positions in management and executive leadership. While not by design, employers are slow to fill these positions out of fear of making incorrect hiring decisions. Participation in this process for these opportunities will require greater patience by candidates. In some cases, the hiring cycle has become an extended “courting process” for both employers and candidates.
- Hiring Path: More candidates for professional, managerial and executive leadership positions are now being hired via personal referral and recommendations based on professional networks versus direct online applications. For candidates, this trend makes "professional networking and relationship building" even more critical as a requisite business skill and career management activity. And, this trend is true for candidates regardless of their present employment status.
- Reference Checks: These appear to be on the path to being extinct or at least, passé. Employers know you will not supply them with poor professional references. Instead, the hiring process and candidate due diligence will be more protracted with more interviews and screening tools such as skill tests, personality and work style assessments. Unfortunately, these assessments are often improperly used by employers in hiring decisions. An exception to this trend is when you have been referred to the hiring manager by someone in their professional network that they know and trust.
- Salaries: Generally, employers will continue to be generally conservative with starting salaries for new employees. However, salaries will continue to be "negotiable" based on business need, perceived labor shortages and critical mass. In other words, the more critical the need to fill the position and the more urgent the position is to the “bottom line,” the more liberal the organization will be in salary negotiations at the time of hire. A sound “salary negotiation strategy” is a requisite skill in these market conditions.
- Employee Welfare Plans: Employers continue to pass along more of the cost of these plans to employees, especially for health care. Plans have continued a trend of being less generous on coverage and out-of-pocket expenses for employees. Do not expect this trend to change in 2021. Any alteration in this trend may be affected by the actions of the United States Congress going forward. “National health insurance” may be on the legislative agenda. If passed, enacted and implemented, employer sponsored health insurance would end in favor of a “single payer” system. Opposition to such legislation will be strong in the private sector.
- Search Firms: Employers continue to make every effort to avoid the expense of the use of search firms in hiring cycles for most positions filled. However, based on business need, critical mass and the availability of directly referred and trusted candidates as noted above, employers will use search firms during the hiring process, especially for managerial and executive leadership positions.
- Candidate Age: While “age discrimination” in the hiring process is far from dead, a growing number of employers have moved past their obsession with youth [see lower cost] in candidate selection decisions. Mature workers who possess the requisite skills, display energy during the hiring cycle, demonstrate the ability to add value and communicate a mature work character during the selection process are being hired for career opportunities. The expected longer service longevity of mature workers is now very attractive to some employers based on their frequent turnover experiences with more youthful employees.
- Employer Expectations: Employers continue to have high expectations in terms of time and energy for the employees they hire, especially for managerial and executive leadership positions. While specifically company culture dependent, there has also been a trend for greater “work life balance.” In fact, some organizations now require employees to use all earned annual vacation time in response to this trend. This is likely in response to the near 24/7 nature of the global economy.
- Office Location: Many larger employers with multiple office locations in different markets now will now hire people in leadership and staff level positions and allow them to have their office location away from company headquarters. This trend opens the candidate pool to a larger market area based on specific skill requirements and this trend saves employers money on what can be costly facility and relocation expenses. Based on the status of COVID-19, expect this trend to accelerate in 2021.
- Bonus Eligibility: Generally, more positions in organizations are now “bonus eligible” based on specific work performance objectives and quantifiable measurable results. Inclusion of more employees in the “bonus pool” serves to create greater employee incentive to produce tangible results, stronger employee loyalty and greater income potential for critical employees. Bonus eligibility is typically closely tied to a combination of individual, team and company performance objectives.
- Diversity: Comes in many forms based on protected classes under Federal law. Employers have continued to actively diversify their workforces based on changed demographics and the global nature of economic activity. More women are being hired into to senior management and executive leadership based on their accomplishments and contributions to business outcomes. In some business sectors, diversification of the workforce has been slow to progress. However, the workforce is more diversified with each year and this trend will continue in 2021. The new administration in Washington D.C. will place a focus on diversity in the workforce.
- Pay Equity: Gender based compensation inequality continues to be a hot topic, socially and politically. This inequity is “systemic” within corporate culture and the employment market and is most prevalent in higher level professional level positions and in senior and executive management whereby females only earn $.77 for every $1.00 earned [up $.02 from last year] by males in similar level positions. A number of states and municipalities have now passed statutes and ordinances that have made it illegal to ask candidates their “salary history” on employment applications. Expect this trend to expand rapidly and continue, as it should. No employer has any right to your earnings history.
As long term outcomes, I expect these trends will continue through 2021 and even beyond. Navigation of these hiring trends in the marketplace can require wise and experienced counsel. I would be honored to serve you in this capacity.
Please accept my best wishes for a healthy, prosperous and successful year!