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What isn’t news is that the pandemic changed the way we work. What is novel is the way it’s changed how, and when, employees look for work — and what organizations have done to help in retaining employees.
Bear with me as I recount a bit of history first, because the journey is important to remember. The September Surge is a product of our history. The good news is that unlike The Great Resignation and The Big Stay, you can get ahead of it by using some of my recommended best practices.
What is the September Surge?
The September Surge is the post-Labor Day peak in job opportunities and hiring activity. It’s a concept that has been recognized among HR professionals for years and has gained recent popularity through social media.
Why is there a hiring surge in September?
Hiring opportunities and open positions tend to be more abundant after the summer vacation season. Hiring managers and recruiting staff are back in the office and schedules are easier to coordinate for identifying talent gaps and to begin interviewing. It’s also a time when HR looks to beat the holiday rush and perhaps get ahead of the end of the organization’s fiscal year, when annual budgets are set.
Retaining employees during the Great Resignation
In the early months, employees were expectedly anxious about their job security, and for most, looking for new job opportunities wasn’t on their radar. Fast forward a couple of years into the pandemic, as workplaces began to transition back to our new normal, we saw a new trend emerge — the Great Resignation, a trend in which employees resigned in record numbers in search of better benefits, compensation, and flexibility.
HR leaders worried about retention — could they hold onto their best employees at a time when the organization needed them most? Organizations made adjustments to their in-office policies, ramped up employee wellness initiatives, and looked for creative ways to keep their people engaged. Despite that, the trend prevailed for a time.
Expectation of The Big Stay
The effects of the Great Resignation trend led to a shift in job seeker activity.
In the first half of 2023, HR leaders faced challenges around balancing employee expectations and organizational needs in the midst of an economic downturn. Employees, feeling a sense of uncertainty about the future, were less likely to job search — although remained unwilling to compromise on job factors such as flexibility and career progression. This era was known in the industry as The Big Stay, where employees halted their job hunt.
While most HR leaders expected The Big Stay to stick around a while, few were prepared for the September Surge that was hot on its heels.
An unexpected September Surge
Today, top talent is both actively and passively looking for new opportunities. A pivot that was largely unexpected during a recession.
This is a very real trend, and one that we see annually. We’re coming out of a time when mid-year reflections have concluded, and many employees have been told that their skill sets need improvement or that they aren’t quite ready to be awarded a promotion. This creates situations where employees may feel unhappy with their performance reviews and frustrated about career advancement, ultimately leading them to look for opportunities elsewhere.
Employee movement also occurs as some companies look ahead to the new year, ramping up recruitment efforts at the end of Q3. Similarly, departments may have budget for a new hire and decide to use it before it’s lost at the end of the quarter or fiscal year.
Each of these scenarios contribute to a September surge in job seeker activity.
Are we in an employer’s market?
Recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows there’s currently 1.6 job postings for every job seeker. While that would lead you to believe that we are in an employer’s market, there is a discrepancy between sought-after skills and the individuals looking for jobs. The reason for this is complex and there are a few theories.
For example, the roles eliminated in the first half of the year were ones deemed not to be mission-critical to organizations. It could also be that organizations are creating new roles that didn’t previously exist before organizations evaluated their needs to dig out of a recession. Here at Achievers, the number of net new jobs we’ve posted for in the last four months is staggering. We’re looking for people who bring a combination skill set to help us be more innovative, agile, forward thinking, and competitive.
Leveraging recognition to combat the recession
Attracting valuable talent at this time is more complex than during more predictable times.
Leaders continue to worry about the health of the business, and each new hire has to be justified. Consider adding business metrics and successes to your early interview stages. Candidates too are getting more savvy in this space. By getting ahead of these questions and highlighting your employer value proposition (on top of the great rewards and perks you offer to employees) you’ll be seen as a top employer.
It’s also critical not to forget about your existing talent. You can support or transform your people strategy by leveraging an employee recognition program to improve engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction greatly. A key pillar within your employee engagement program should be ongoing and frequent recognition.
Through our Achievers Workforce Institute research, we know that recognition can outweigh the negative impact of necessary business decisions and keep your current employees inspired, productive in their role, and reduce their desire to job hunt.
What follows the September Surge?
If you’re concerned about losing talent during the September Surge and its aftermath, use your employee engagement platform to analyze engagement scores against retention rates.
If you see a big difference between engagement or intent to stay (being low) and your retention rates (being high) then you’ve got a clear signal that people may be unhappy, but not moving yet. These are the people window shopping for their next move. We know that manager effectiveness has one of the strongest influences on an employee’s propensity to leave, now is the time to double down on transparency and open communication, to provide the forum in which managers can catch some of these early signals of potential resignation.
While we watch it unfold in real-time, it’s my prediction that the September Surge will be short-lived, as job seekers begin to shop around and are met with few opportunities align with their skill set. Although keep in mind that your best talent will always be met with ample, great opportunities. That said, it’s always best practice to keep your talent engaged, despite the employment landscape. They are after all, one of an organization’s biggest investments and most valuable assets.
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