What We Learned in 2021 and How it Will Impact the Future of Work

We entered 2021 with apprehension, but also a sense of anticipation that our lives would return to normal as Covid-19 receded.

The first quarter began well as we started to regain our personal lives and momentum started to build. The second quarter was exhilarating as we experienced re-connection with family and friends and ventured back to vaguely familiar routines. The third quarter started well, but as the quarter unfolded, momentum slowed and that halting anxiety started to re-emerge. The fourth quarter saw the full realization that we were not returning to old normal soon and that once again we would need to protect ourselves and the most vulnerable.

Demand for permanent placement and interim staffing of finance and accounting professionals was remarkably strong throughout the year. Here are some observations regarding talent acquisition for you to consider.

Demand for talent continues at unprecedented levels. We saw explosive growth in 2021 and expect that this will continue for the foreseeable future. We expect economic activity to continue to be strong driving demand for talent. We also expect labor force participation rates to continue to be subdued as baby boomers exit the workforce and families continue to negotiate the challenges of life in a Covid-19 world.

High-quality candidates are in an enviable position. We have seen candidates accept a position, only to withdraw that acceptance 24 or 48 hours later. We have seen many situations where candidates are considering multiple offers. We have seen candidates stipulate remote work (either completely or in some hybrid format) as a requirement for acceptance. We have seen multiple candidates negotiate around all elements of compensation including base, incentives, vacation time and other fringes. Candidates believe they have the upper hand and are not bashful about flexing their muscles accordingly.

PREMIUM CONTENT: US Internal Compensation Estimator: 2022 Update

Prospective employers must move quickly and with aggressive offers. We have advocated that prospective employers streamline their hiring processes and bring their A game when extending an offer. The old truism that “time kills all deals” was never more true than in 2021. For the hiring manager caught up in corporate bureaucracy, this market proved challenging at best. We see no change in this phenomenon and continue to advocate for the most efficient process a prospective employer can design coupled with aggressive offers to attract candidates.

In many cases, employers are no longer constrained by geography. We have seen several instances where companies have selected out-of-market candidates for roles in their organizations. This was unthinkable prior to 2021, but technology makes this approach feasible today. It also gives employers access to talent anywhere for compensation levels that are potentially attractive. We have seen employers use this as an effective strategy for expanding the pool of applicants.

Personal stress remains a primary concern. We see no quick end to the primary drivers of the tidal wave of anxiety people are experiencing. Economic growth in many areas likely will continue while employers will likely continue to experience challenges in hiring additional staff. Perhaps most underappreciated, individuals will continue to try and negotiate a much more complex family, day care, school and work dynamic. We continue to believe that helping our people through these challenges will remain at the top of the management agenda.

Are we moving too fast on the remote work model? We conclude with one cautionary note regarding the speed to embrace remote work. In 2020 and 2021, candidates wanted and employers were obligated to provide a remote work option for their teams. This was possible due not only to the technological infrastructure we all enjoy, but also the connections established within teams prior to the onset of the pandemic. Those connections were in many ways the pillars on which the remote model operated. As new additions to teams join, those pillars of connectivity will no longer be as sound. Perhaps more importantly, our ability to reinforce those pillars by creating connections with new teammates will be sorely tested. Digital interactions work with teammates who have worked together for years. How will they perform with teammates who are rarely if ever in the same place? Will we still be as comfortable having our teams all over the place? This vast experiment will be tested in a big way in 2022.

Mark Bealin

Mark Bealin
Mark Bealin is managing director at UHY.

Mark Bealin

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