Employers Are Hiring but Many Have the Same Pre-Pandemic Problems

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The labor market is stronger, tighter, hotter than it was before the pandemic but the problems faced by employers in hiring staff remain persistent, says John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey.

With surveys and focus groups of employers in New Jersey before, during and now post-pandemic, the Association is presenting a compete overview at its Annual Meeting on May 18th.

Just before the pandemic, the state’s unemployment rate had fallen to a record low – 3.5 percent. According to Sarno, most employers report that they are concerned about employees leaving for other jobs. While this concern was spread among employers of all sizes and industries, the most acute concern was among employers with 50 or more employees.

Six out of ten employers expected a talent shortage and seven in ten expressed concern that experienced staff would quit for other jobs.

Even so, three-fourths of employers stated that they had no talent management strategy.

“It is a complicated picture. Job dissatisfaction was at record high and morale was at a record low and HR managers recognized that a positive work culture was the best way to retain valued employees.  But for many, fostering a positive work culture was derailed by the pandemic,” says Sarno.

Lacking a pre-pandemic strategy, employers’ primary method to retain valued employees relied on raising pay.

Focus groups during the pandemic showed more than half of employers laid off workers, reduced hours or cut pay.  Stress levels that were high before the pandemic skyrocketed during the pandemic, remaining high for nearly two years.

“Employers said that workers felt isolated and fearful and having a safe, positive workplace became a top priority,” says Sarno.

Presently, 99 percent of employer respondents to the Association’s most recent survey say they are or plan on hiring this year.  

And nine of ten are concerned about skilled and experienced employees quitting. And seven out of ten say they are facing the same recruitment problems as they were facing pre-pandemic.

“Again, the default retention strategy seems to be raising pay.  But as the only strategy, employers are tapped out, they are at a loss now without an alternate strategy,” adds Sarno.

So, what has the pandemic taught employers and can they learn new recruitment and retention strategies from the experience?

The Association’s Annual Meeting on May 18th will begin to answer that question.