As Vaccines Roll Out, Unemployment Lines Continue to Grow

Despite more states and cities lifting restrictive business measures amid a decline in the number of coronavirus cases, the jobs economy continues to struggle to get back on track. Let’s take a look inside the latest unemployment figures released by the Department of Labor this morning as search professional Abba Manchanda of Cognitive Talent Partners shares her views on what’s next.

February 18, 2021 – The Labor Department reported this morning that 861,000 more Americans filed new claims for state unemployment benefits. That was above the Dow Jones estimate for 773,000 but a slight decrease from the previous week’s upwardly revised total of 793,00.

The feds have now reported about 77 million initial jobless claims over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic — a number equivalent to roughly 47 percent of the nation’s workforce. Since February, the United States has lost 9.8 million jobs.

The figures continue to far exceed their pre-crisis levels as the resurgent pandemic leads to more stringent business restrictions and raises people’s fears of infection. Vaccine distribution is expected to restore economic activity later this year, but the rollout has been slower than expected and is limiting the speed at which the job market is able to recover. President Biden recently released details of his $1.9 trillion economic relief plan. If approved, it would provide $400 per week in supplementary unemployment benefits through September, aid for state and local governments, and direct payments of $1,400 to individuals.

“Unemployment claims really have been at an elevated level for a long time,” Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton, told the New York Times. “What’s going to be key going forward is do they plummet at some point in time or are there some longer-term issues?”

AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the career site Indeed, said retail job postings on Indeed were up 2.6 percent from February 2020. Over all, job postings on the site are up 3.9 percent. “We’re making progress, but there’s definitely still a ways to go,” she said. “What needs to happen is they need to be up and elevated for a while to pull all of those people back into the labor market.”

During the week, 51 states reported 7,685,389 continued weekly claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits and 51 states reported 4,061,305 continued claims for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits. The highest insured unemployment rates in the week were in the Virgin Islands (6.6), Alaska (6.4), Pennsylvania (6.4), Rhode Island (6.1), Nevada (6.0), Connecticut (5.3), Illinois (5.1), New York (5.1), New Mexico (5.0), and Massachusetts (4.9). The largest increases in initial claims for the week were in Ohio (+92,667), California (+28,688), Georgia (+5,171), Mississippi (+3,796), and Colorado (+3,045), while the largest decreases were in Florida (-47,430), New York (-17,407), Maryland (-16,585), Kansas (-12,376), and Arizona (-7,478).

Veteran Search Consultant Weighs In

Abba Manchanda is a partner & head of U.S. operations at Cognitive Talent Partners, a boutique executive search firm specializing in technology, private equity, retail, healthcare, banking and financial services. She works closely with the Cognitive Talent Partners team in continuing to build the firm’s retained executive search presence in the U.S. and around the world. Ms. Manchanda is based in New York and splits her time between the firm’s clients in the U.S. and other global markets.

Ms. Manchanda recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss the pandemic, hiring, and to forecast her expectations for 2021. Following are excerpts from that discussion.


     Abba Manchanda

Abba, what are some new strategies your firm has deployed to weather the effects of the global pandemic?

The COVID-19 crisis has brought about years of change, in a matter of months, in the way organizations operate. We were no different, the impact has hit home for us as well and we have systematically deployed specific strategies to weather the pandemic. The priority of our organization during the pandemic has been the safety and well-being of our workforce. Employees are unable to focus on work responsibilities when their or their family’s well-being is in peril. Therefore, the critical question our firm assessed at the onset of the pandemic was the safety of our employees, followed by whether they were available to perform key functions. It remains vital to our operation that we continue to monitor the situation, provide a safe workplace, and offer our employees the assistance that they need – be it time off, mental health support or childcare resources, to name a few.

How have you adapted?

Our firm has adapted to the new culture of remote work seamlessly with our business continuity planning team. Our technologies and processes were designed for crisis planning and to help continue the work we do for our partners. Employees have adjusted to meetings going completely online, office work shifting to the home with new emerging patterns of work. Our ability to rely on digital technology and cyber security systems has made it seamless for employees to work via their smartphones, laptops, and personal computers. Meetings are held online through various platforms like Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, etc. Our firm has developed a clear organizational communication system and collaboration strategy for leadership and employees across all levels. It is imperative to establish a consistent chain of command and rapid response process to ensure swift and decisive action. Talent pools and leadership talent are most imperative in an ever-changing and expanding workspace. While preparing for recovery in a post-pandemic world, leaders can make the most out of this new landscape of change by focusing on hiring top talent during these times. When it comes to recruiting and retaining talent, businesses need to adapt to a new dynamic to compete with other companies for quality candidates. The most profitable businesses are those that are customer-centric and we put a strong emphasis on that and to excel at co-creating with, and listening to, consumers. This lets us evolve products and services swiftly to meet rapidly changing needs, a trait that has been essential to resilience through the coronavirus pandemic. The end goal for a customer-centric business such as ours is the customer relationship. A dedicated customer base is key to surviving disruption, as they will continue to depend on our services even in challenging climates. But true customer-centricity is no set-and-forget solution. Retaining loyalty is about adapting our offering depending on the changing needs, and in some instances, knowing what our customers want before they do. This is where the modern reality of customer-centricity starts to connect operations with experiences, creating new dimensions of customer excellence.

“The COVID-19 crisis has brought about years of change, in a matter of months, in the way organizations operate.”

What are some obstacles that CHROs and senior leaders facing today? What have you seen being done to overcome these obstacles?

Various obstacles are impeding the duties of CHROs and senior leaders. The unprecedented times COVID-19 has created have impacted these positions in crisis management, flexibility, and adaptability. This has resulted in a greater need for difficult decision making on health and wellbeing, redundancies, compensation, and capital preservation. CHROs and senior leaders also have to handle these issues from a ‘working from home’ context. It should be noted that this impacts their work-life balance, especially for those with children. Working from home is challenging; however, it has overcome a great deal of stagnancy resulting from COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns. This new structure has opened pathways to more effective digital communications and globalization, connecting employers to more employees. Employee relations are being processed through this digital world, encompassed by video broadcasting and chats. Now we are witnessing a more transparent ability to assess employee engagement. High attentiveness to the wellbeing of employees has overcome problems affecting mental health. A healthy work environment creates an effective work environment. Online workers now, however, no longer commute to the office or experience the social aspects of lunch breaks. Although some employees have found this preferable, the transition has become a challenge to many. Those lacking technology proficiencies face the most significant difficulty in coping with these developments. CHROs have established norms in these digital structures that foster all employees’ engagement and inclusion based on what talent is needed and role importance. During the pandemic, it has become crucial to retain top-performing employees. A reliable team can be the deciding factor as to whether a business survives post-crisis systems.

What do you see going forward?

This year was a major obstacle for the organization and its executives in the area of HR. COVID-19 has facilitated dramatic and multifaceted changes in the workplace. Although surprising, not all of these changes were unforeseen as technology innovation, company efficiency, customer interface, employee wellbeing and lifelong learning are not novel concepts. The time for a transformed work environment is no longer a trend that will arrive sometime in the future. The pandemic has expedited a colossal shift in the workplace. Businesses are discovering that adapting to a remote work environment has led to employees finding new levels of satisfaction, efficiencies, and productivity. Businesses that take the time and effort to understand the COVID-19 era work environment may be better positioned to find and retain the best possible talent for success and longevity. The crisis will end, however inappropriate decisions or actions by business executives can have a permanent negative effect on an organization after the crisis. The biggest benefit a chief human resources officer can bring to an organization, is to be willing to advise the CEO and board of directors on a plan for crises and then work together to meet and resolve these problems. As HR professionals, it is imperative that we be nimble and responsive to factors like the economic landscape, shifting job-seeker behavior and more. The pandemic is the latest thing we need to respond to and, while it has not come without challenges, it has encouraged and forced us to think beyond our creative scope and innovate at a faster clip.

Related: Major Paradigm Shifts Coming Out of the Coronavirus Crisis

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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