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Adapting To A Changing Workforce

Since Covid-19, the shutdowns, and the subsequent Federal recovery efforts, I’ve been keeping up on the job market, nationally and here in McDowell. And I’m not just reading the news stories and taking note of the job numbers. I’m talking to our members, I’m seeing them struggle to find workers, posting their jobs on our website, and reading their job postings.

Searching for employees is (or should be) a constant in any business, regardless of size and economic climate. Typically there is someone on your staff that isn’t cutting it that could be replaced. So it makes sense to “always be hiring.”

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that the culture and makeup of the employee base has changed dramatically in the last year and half. Potential workers are dealing with things they’ve never had to deal with on this scale before such as childcare, eldercare, and their own health. Job seekers have been introduced to remote work, contract work, and flex hours at a greater degree as well. And they like it.

Another aspect of today’s worker pool is that they are more discerning about the type of work they are willing to do and place a different value on work than the generations before them. Back in 2016, the Harvard Business Review published an article revealing that 9 of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work.

This shift in how people view work from generation to generation isn’t new. It’s just that in the current economic, political, and social climate, it’s gotten a booster shot in its evolutionary speed.

The article goes on to report, “Current compensation levels show only a marginal relationship with job satisfaction. By contrast, since 2005, the importance of meaningfulness in driving job selection has grown steadily. “Meaning is the new money, an HBR article argued in 2011. Why, then, haven’t more organizations taken concrete actions to focus their cultures on the creation of meaning?”

Human Resources is no different that any other area of your company that needs to be managed and updated. Much like when new technology is needed in a department in order to function in today’s market, you invest in new technology. Similarly, the HR department is working with a new type of workforce, which will require the investment of time and planning to bring it back to optimal performance levels.

Most large corporations have kept in step with these philosophical changes of how people view and value work (have you seen Google’s recreation room?). After all, they have the resources. Most companies don’t have the same luxury, but what I’m seeing is that the way in which most companies search for employees hasn’t kept up the pace.

Take about an hour one afternoon and scan through the job postings on sites like Indeed or LinkedIn. Read through the job descriptions. Forbes ran an expose on the subject in 2014, Why So Many Job Postings Are So Ridiculous. One job seeker expressed frustration saying, “It is almost laughable the list of demands they are placing on one person. I can’t count how many full-time jobs are contained in this ad.”

A large part of human resources is in effect marketing. You’re trying to attract a certain type of person and sell, hopefully, not just a job but the whole culture of the company. In this dire hiring situation, I’ve heard managers say things like, I just need warm bodies. But that’s not sustainable, nor is it cost effective and it’s not really what they want.

For HR professionals (and in general) knowledge is power. The more information we have on a given subject, the better we are able to make solid decisions. It stands to reason that the more companies know about the motivations and desires of the available workforce, the more equipped they are for future workforce planning decisions. That includes both hiring criteria and messaging as well as creating workplace culture that will appeal to their target market.

Here are a few things that companies should consider when writing job descriptions for this new generation of the workforce.


Schedule a strategic planning meeting with key staff to review:

  • Identify Staffing needs
  • Identify retention issues (come back and brainstorm solutions)
  • Review mission and core values-do that need to be updated?
  • Define ways you and your employees live out your core values in your day-to-day work. Be able to explain that to potential employees.
  • Identify top 5 reasons to work for XYZ, Inc.
  • Identify character traits desired (Check out these great short videos from National Business Coach Bill Gulliland on Finding Great Help, Hiring Top Talent Step 1, Hiring Top Talent Step 2.)
  • Be realistic about job descriptions in relation to capacity and ability. It might be more cost-effective to hire two part-time employees for one labor-intense job.
  • Identify target market (where are those people likely to be)
  • Create messaging that is genuine and has the voice and tone that will attract your market.
  • Evaluate the jobs you are advertising. If it seems extreme to you, potential workers are not going to apply.
  • Consider creating apprenticeships where younger workers can come alongside experienced workers and learn. This creates a pipeline for quality workers as the Baby Boomers age out of the workforce.
  • Create or update your HR system to ensure you can deliver what you promise.
  • Do you currently or can you offer remote work or flex time?
  • Consider creating a childcare benefit as an option for working parents. (If one of the parents has healthcare with their job and childcare prevents the other from working, offering the option of a childcare benefit may remove a barrier for that potential employee.)
  • Consider involving employees (where appropriate) in brainstorming sessions monthly on ways to improve the company. Employees that feel valued will be more loyal and engaged.
  • How is your company making a meaningful impact in the community? Can you add monthly volunteer days to offer community investment as well as team-building among the staff?
  • Can your company partner with a local nonprofit that aligns with your mission and values? Find creative and engaging ways your company and employees can participate. This creates a sense of community spirit and meaningful work.

This work takes intention and time but the ROI is valuable human capital. It will prepare your company for the reality of a changing workforce. Since 2020, our businesses have had to deal with more change than most see in their lifetimes. Getting positions filled and people back to work is going to take a collaborative effort. We all should be embracing a marathon mindset as we build an environment conducive to an evolving workforce.

The McDowell Chamber of Commerce has the resources and connections to help your business transition to meet today’s market needs. Contact us at [email protected] or call 828.652.4240.