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Employment is Broken…if it Had a Name, it would be Sybil

Installment one in an eight-part series by Kim Shepherd, CEO, and Jeff Bloch, CMO, Decision Toolbox

In case you haven’t heard, employment is broken.  Like the tormented Sybil in the book and movie of the same name, the world of employment is currently exhibiting multiple personalities.  We have a candidate rich environment, a talent drought, available jobs, high unemployment, and a communication revolution, to name a few, all playing out simultaneously.

At this point in history, the combined effects of downsizing, unemployment, underemployment, off-shoring, outsourcing, technology, telecommuting, social media, increased competition, and good old fashioned denial have rendered the processes of recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees – as we’ve known them – virtually useless, and it’s being felt on both sides of the fence.  Let’s review.

Chaos on the Hiring Side

If you’re a hiring manager in 2011, your team has inevitably been cut in the last few years and you are being asked to do much more with much less.  You are stretched and really don’t have the time needed for effective recruiting, interviewing, on-boarding and retention efforts.  At the same time, the clock is moving at warp speed and competition for A-players is fiercer than ever.

Adding to this unwieldy mix is the use of social media and the Internet in employment.  Which sites to use for recruiting? Should I investigate job candidates’ personal Facebook profiles? What if candidates are on Facebook during work hours, does this mean they would do this at my company, too? What if their jobs require their use of the Internet every day – how should I monitor and manage its use?  In the past, one could post a position and a reasonable pool of the “right” people would apply for it.  With the explosion of the Internet, jobs are exposed to innumerable job seekers, and attract many people to your pool who are “not right” for the job.  The system is so clogged by unqualified and overqualified potentials, it’s extremely difficult and time consuming to sift through and find the A-players, those who are right for your specific job, amidst all of the other “noise”.

The Gen Y crowd is further muddying the employment waters.  Having seen their parents diligently work their tails off for years only to be unceremoniously dumped by their employers when the economy tanked, they’re jaded and are in no hurry to enter the workforce.  Though Gen Y is the workforce of the future, many are still living at home, making pocket money and going nowhere fast in menial jobs with no opportunity.  Why risk venturing out into that employment mess when things are pretty comfortable as they are?  Those Gen Yers who do have their eyes on the future are also a breed new to the employment scene.  Their idea of success is work-life balance and a low carbon footprint. Gone are the days of proving yourself for years and working your way through the ranks and up the career ladder. Ambitious Gen Yers move in, take what they need, and move on – quickly. Thus, companies are no longer hiring to groom future leaders, as they know their younger workforce will probably turn over within two years time.

These days, employees of all generations are wary.  Always on the lookout for new opportunities, they expect the house will crumble at any time and leave them in the financial lurch.  Ours has become a “Me, Inc.” world, where companies and employees are only looking out for “number one”.  Workers view themselves as entrepreneurs choosing to work for a time under a corporation’s roof.  Ethics and integrity – on the employer and employee sides – also seem to be a thing of the past. Employers aren’t offering severance pay to downsized employees, candidates aren’t showing up for interviews, but at the same time, many workers are underemployed, and are willing to do any job below their typical station because a paycheck is attached to it.  It’s Sybil all over again.

Turmoil in the Trenches

As on the employer side, pain and confusion is rampant among job seekers as well as those who are working.  MetLife’s Ninth Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends finds that employee loyalty, like employee morale, has reached a low point. Forty-seven percent of employees surveyed say they feel very strong loyalty to their employers, down from 59 percent three years ago.  And while many employers saw productivity gains over the past year, 36 percent of employees hope to be working elsewhere in the next year.  In a discussion about employment trends today, one cannot omit the effects of outsourcing.  These days, there are a gazillion businesses that can do anything that a company needs – any function can be put out to bid for a small fee – yet another trend making internal employees less valuable, less comfortable, and less loyal.

Being “let go” or downsized and subsequently unemployed is a severe blow to one’s confidence and financial security.  Yet, according to UCLA researchers, there’s an even more degrading downside to going jobless in the Great Recession, proving once and for all that a wannabe hard-working American just can’t win:  “We found that individuals tend to make negative associations with those who are unemployed, which often leads to unfair discrimination,” says Margaret Shih, co-author of “Reconnecting to Work: Consequences of Long-Term Unemployment and Prospects for Job Creation.”  In other words, no matter why they’re out of work, unemployed job applicants are more likely to be tagged no-good slackers, and therefore are less likely to be hired.  With today’s reported(read: inaccurately low)unemployment rate at 8.8%, this is a daunting realization for literally millions of out of work Americans.

Finally, topping off the mayhem, every day we hear in the media that the economy is picking up and hiring is improving – the unemployment rate is slowly declining.  However, the unemployment rate does not take into consideration the hidden unemployed – those who have given up, are no longer looking and have come to the end of their unemployment benefits.  Then we have the underemployed – they are officially employed, but are taking home a fraction of their previous earnings – should they really be considered gainfully employed?

As with Sybil, a healing of the wounded employment arena will take getting our heads out of the sand and directly addressing all of its current personalities.  Change needs to happen, and real creativity is needed to see order through the chaos.

Creativity is the Key

The preceding review of the employment landscape has set the chaotic stage for the next seven installments in our series – The 7 Stages of Engagement:

1) Attraction – how to bring potential candidates into your pool;

2) Selection –how to decide who to spend your time on;

3) Interviewing – how to spend your time with promising candidates;

4) Hiring – how to hire;

5) On-boarding – how to effectively bring new hires into your company;

6) Retention – how to keep your strong employees, and

7) Development – how to make your good employees even better.

We’ll look at the seven stages of the broken employment process, and will provide understanding and creative tips for winning at each critical stage.

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One Response to “Employment is Broken…if it Had a Name, it would be Sybil”

  1. June 24, 2011 at 8:36 am, Kalena Bess said:

    In counting the unemployed, no one seems to mention those who are not eligible for unemployment and therefore never apply and never get counted. These are the self-employed, independent contractors and consultants who may be out of work because in the downturn, their consulting opportunities have dried up. I wonder how much their numbers would add to the unemployment percentage?


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