Only one-quarter of surveyed workers prefer to be in the office full time

Job seekers are holding potential employers to higher standards in workplace health and safety efforts, diversity initiatives, and flexible work arrangements in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest of 2020, according to a recent survey.

Recruiting software company Jobvite's 2021 Job Seeker Nation Report examines the concerns, challenges and priorities 1,500 U.S. workers and job seekers have about their job search experience one year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was conducted by Zogby Analytics for Jobvite in February.

Most respondents (69 percent) believe getting a job this year will be more challenging than it was before the pandemic, and 64 percent of job seekers say the job search process is more stressful than it was pre-pandemic, especially for working parents.

"Being exposed to COVID-19 is the biggest stressor for job seekers, followed by mental health struggles and caring for children and at-risk family members at home," said Kerry Gilliam, vice president of marketing at Jobvite. "It's a reflection of what everyone is struggling with, not just job seekers."

The past year reminded managers that job candidates and employees are humans too, said Ben Eubanks, SHRM-SCP, principal analyst and chief research officer at Lighthouse Research & Advisory, a human capital research and advisory services firm. "They're not just a bundle of skills. As employers try to hire and keep their talent, they must see them as people with all their needs. I don't think that with as tight a labor market that exists, and with all the choices candidates continue to have, that companies can treat people as expendable or not take their needs seriously."     

Amber Ferrari, marketing manager at Jobvite, added that the bottom-line takeaway from the survey is that recruiters and employers must continue to personalize the candidate and employee experience if they want to attract and hire the best talent.

The issue is increasingly critical as employers nationwide say they're desperate to fill a record-setting number of open roles.

Fear of COVID-19

Exposure to COVID-19 is a principal concern for job seekers. Nearly 60 percent of respondents would turn down a job if the employer did not have clear health and safety protocols related to the virus in place. The same percentage of job seekers have inquired about prospective employers' COVID-19 safety measures. About 55 percent said they have or would decline a job offer if the employer did not require employees to wear masks at the workplace.

Vaccines are a divisive issue: About half of respondents think employers should require employee vaccinations, while 36 percent are opposed to mandating the vaccine. Half of those who disagree with a vaccine mandate would not get a vaccine even if it was incentivized by their employer.

"Job seekers are feeling empowered to ask about these things," Gilliam said. "They know they have a choice of job, and it shows they will do what's right for them and their personal situation."

Flexible Work  

Job candidates value flexible work options and prefer a hybrid in-person/remote-work arrangement once the pandemic subsides, according to the survey. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of surveyed job seekers said the availability of remote work figures highly in their decision to reject or accept a job offer, and 35 percent said they have declined or would decline a job offer that required them to work only in person. Just one-quarter of surveyed workers prefer to be in the office full time.

Shawn Tubman, head of talent acquisition at Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston, said the pandemic forever changed work/life priorities. "Job candidates are re-evaluating their positions, industries and benefits as they look for more autonomy over their lives," he said. "Prospective talent that may have asked about office amenities in the past are now asking about an employer's plans for a hybrid work environment, paid time off and flex work arrangements. This can be extremely challenging for hiring teams to manage, especially for businesses that had become accustomed to a rigid in-office schedule for some jobs."

Eubanks said a talent acquisition leader told him that he "fully expects" a sizable percentage of the workforce to leave if the company he works for requires its employees to return to the office this fall. "If the labor market remains as it is today, with all of these open jobs, then absolutely people will bail on their jobs for other jobs which may be a better perceived fit," he said.

Gilliam added that "some employees want to come back to the office at least a couple of days a week, and some people are better suited to work in the office full time—the question is how to optimize the workforce so each and every person is able to do their best work." 

Workplace Culture and Diversity

The importance of company culture and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts play a big part in the decision to apply for a job. About 86 percent of job seekers say workplace culture is somewhat or very important, and 49 percent inquired about the employer's goals and efforts around improving diversity in the workplace during their job interviews. Forty-two percent said they would reject a job offer if the company lacked diversity or clear goals for improving diversity in hiring.

"Everyone wants to belong," Ferrari said. "That's clear in job seekers wanting to understand the culture and asking about DE&I."

Tubman said more job seekers and hiring managers are having conversations about DE&I at Liberty Mutual. "Consequently, we have built a variety of programs that focus on increasing the diversity of our workforce through how we source, screen and select candidates, as well as throughout the talent life cycle within the company," he said.

The company's multiyear DE&I plan includes goals to increase representation of women and people of color at all levels in the U.S. by 2025, provide greater transparency into employee demographic data, and implement new programs that hold stakeholders accountable for making progress toward DE&I objectives.

"We outline these goals clearly on our website, in our materials outlining career opportunities and when discussing our culture with prospective talent," Tubman said. "The talent acquisition team also leverages many available talent pools to source candidates, including maintaining a wide variety of partnerships with organizations to access new talent, employee resource groups and databases that reach talent of all backgrounds." 

DE&I leaders have told Eubanks that they have begun training recruiters and hiring managers on how to respond to candidate questions about DE&I priorities and how the organization is acting on those priorities.