When 5,000 resumes don’t get you what they used to: How to avoid “motivated hiring” in a demotivated labor market

How to avoid motivated hiring when workers are quiting in record numbers. This Burger King sign says it all.

As businesses reopen nearly as fast as they shut down due to the pandemic, the demand for workers has skyrocketed thereby creating risk for what I term "Motivated hiring." A reasonable assumption would be that most workers displaced by the pandemic will return to their previous employer and job. That’s not what’s happening. In fact, the reverse is.

Workers are quitting.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, four and a half million people quit their jobs in November 2021 in what has been called, "The Great Resignation." This stubborn labor market isn’t just unmotivated, it’s actively demotivated. Estimates are that one in seven individuals comprising current unemployment numbers is not seeking (traditional) employment at all. Those 4.5M signing off in November? They didn’t just quit jobs, they quit work.

That’s A problem.

When people are voluntarily out of the workforce, traditional models of supply and demand falter. The things that used to work to find and employ talent don’t work as well. Five thousand resumes don’t get you what they used to (apologies for the sarcasm). So, what do organizations do when standard practices aren’t working?

They “double-down.”

Bigger signing bonuses, higher salaries, free beer (I am not making this up), organizations are doing “whatever it takes” to hire the talent they need to keep the business going. But in times of “whatever it takes,” sometimes “whatever" will do.

That’s THE problem.

And don’t think this is someone else’s problem. Not all 4.5M that quit left jobs in hospitality and healthcare, although the effects of the pandemic have been especially devastating to these sectors. Many more are simply NOT going back to the job they quit, or that quit them.

This isn't called, “The Great Resignation” for a couple of front line industry sectors. The quits span industry sectors, and all levels.

The Brutal Truth.

When people flat out quit without another job or plan, they quit to escape bad. Fixing bad is much harder for organizations than maintaining, or even adding, good.

When fixing wages, benefits, hours, etc. doesn’t work, hiring managers and organizations “fix” themselves. Without knowing it.

That's THE REALLY BIG problem.

Cognitive dissonance, or motivated reasoning, occurs when irrational thinking, or behavior is justified by adding more illogical thinking or behavior. Here’s an example of what that sounds like: “Sure, plastic is bad for the environment, but burning gas is worse and I drive a Prius -- besides, I planted a tree the other day.” Neither your Prius nor that tree you planted has anything to do with the plastic – it only makes it SEEM less bad. And you drive away in your toy.

“Motivated hiring” is the term I use for the organization- or individual-level hiring equivalent of cognitive dissonance. It’s not the same as panic hiring or working harder to hire. It’s the opposite.

Adding resources to your recruiting and hiring efforts is logical, if not necessarily productive in today’s labor market. It’s what happens when you can’t, or don’t want to fix things anymore that motivated hiring enters the situation. Without knowing it, individuals and organizations start to justify loose hiring practices. They start making excuses for hiring candidates that aren’t “fully” qualified. Hiring what you want to believe instead of what it is and being okay with that -- that’s motivated hiring.

At the individual level it may sound like, “… I can coach them.” At the organization level, it might be changing job titles to feel like hiring for something different, and differently.

It’s mind games, fooling ourselves, and it happens to the best of us when we’re not at our best.

It's a business decision.

Without flight attendants, planes don’t fly. Without teachers, schools don’t teach. Sure, that's business.

Interim hires, substitutes, contract hires – right?

These are the decisions that keep business going when there’s no better option. And it feels okay. Actually, it may even be a good “business decision.” Sometimes “business decisions” are a convenient way of passing blame.  “I know better, but you know, it's a 'business decision'.”

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Meaningful work has never been so important

World of people doing meaningful work

I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.  - The Coca-Cola  Company (1971)

Thesis: In response to a convergence of existential threats, we are now living in, and living out, an age of transcendence. Meaningful work has never been so important.

Key points:

  1. This author has seen a surge in demand for “meaningful work.”
  2. Research supports anecdote with constructs such as “calling” in career counseling.
  3. {Of note, I/O psychology terminology and research have evolved along an increasingly spiritual journey.}
  4. Transcendence, the core of meaningful work, is argued to be the current Zeitgeist, supported by four examples:
    1. Global stressors have led many to re-examine their lives and values.
    2. The pandemic, via WFH, has led many to take a critical review of their job.
    3. Millennials want jobs that provide a sense of purpose, value.
    4. Technology is now replacing knowledge workers driving the workforce toward humanistic jobs.
  5. Meaningful work must keep pace with global and individual needs and trends.
  6. This is not only being done (see #4), it’s doable. (No grammar issue)
  7. Most of the time, it’s up to leadership to make this happen.

A confluence of forces has led to radical change with exceptional impact on the world of work. Some, including myself, find the term “change” -- at least as a matter of degree or evolution -- to be completely “off mark.” We’re living in a new world, not a changed one as evident in so many ways.

One work-related result of this ‘break’ is less obvious due to its covert, psychological nature. {But not to me, mostly because people tell me so.}

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Our need for team building is high, the risk may be higher.

When individuals need special attention is not a good time for team building
I been in the right place but it musta been the wrong time - Dr. John

People are social animals with a fundamental need to gather and socialize. For many, their primary social environment is at work. When the pandemic sent people away from the workplace, it sent away with them the opportunity to socialize and use their social skills. Teams are likely to have lost strength and solidarity. Individuals will be less socially confident and competent. Leaders will reasonably -- and rightfully -- decide that the need for team building is high, if for no reason other than to simply come together. It’s obvious. Or is it?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, …”

This opening line from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities captures the paradox of team building. Just when the need for team building is greatest, it may also be the worst time to do it. The potential for gain is great. Team building can do wonders to give people the time and opportunity to share their personal experiences and gain the insight of the team. But the same conditions raise the risk of two unwanted outcomes:

    • Crop dusting. Individuals have been away from each other so long they may be shy and literally have little to give the session the energy expected. and may hold back on their true selves resulting in "meh" team building.
    • Complete disaster. It will be especially difficult to predict where things may go. Some participants may be experiencing pent up aggression, others, compromised resilience (or even mild depression). The mix can be explosive.

So, what’s at the root of this paradox?

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