Pandemic Pause: Job Change Reluctance & Realities in the Age of COVID-19 

According to executive recruiters, it is a great time for companies to leverage top talent. But Dr. Russ Riendeau of New Frontier Search Company reports that job change reluctance is hampering the growth efforts of companies as people stay in place and consider more options.

September 28, 2021 – Some say that what a high percentage of workers want most is job change. Still others are suggesting that unemployed workers are not even looking for a new job. Confused?

According to a new report from Russ Riendeau, senior partner and chief behavioral scientist with New Frontier Search Company, job change reluctance is hampering the growth efforts of companies, as well as those trying to fill 150,000 roles in sales, marketing and senior management.

There are many stories in the news calling this time “The Great Resignation.” It appears that more people are leaving their jobs to find something better. But is it true? “People in lower paying jobs, routine jobs in hospitality, manufacturing facilities, retail are always looking for something better,” said Dr. Riendeau. “Workers who have been laid off, working two or three jobs to make ends meet are looking for something better. People that see their job being eliminated are looking for something better. Under the stress of working in a pandemic, we all are looking for ways to reduce anxiety, the confinement of working remotely or at least not being able to travel easily. People are retiring sooner because they are exhausted by COVID-19 and decide to not re-enlist in the work world and use energy they need to stay healthy.”

Dr. Riendeau says that with all these realities ongoing, there is still that next level of business professional who has more authority, more responsibility and accountability to his or her company, and is making more money. “They are not looking for a new job as earnestly as the latter group,” he said. “It is very different world for the higher wage earners. In the rank and file of those business professionals currently earning over 100K and up in positions such as CEOs, GMs, controllers, sales, and marketing leaders, as well as key leaders in manufacturing, most are less likely to consider job changes in the middle of COVID-influenced world right now for one key reason: They don’t have to change jobs.”

Why? Dr. Riendeau points to these possible reasons:

  • Top professionals in their respective fields are employed and can afford to be patient about when to consider a change.
  • With decision-making for predicting future job paths hindered, workers will err on the side of caution and stay put for now.
  • There are not as many compelling job openings right now that have a predictable future compared to pre-pandemic.
  • Top leaders are in critical roles, paid well and take their job seriously. They are less likely to abandon their post with uncertainly looming, and they hold trust and ethics in high regard.
  • Show me the money. Many top professionals are waiting/expecting larger performance bonuses and incentives as a result of their commitment and work they’ve invested in.
  • Non-compete agreements are just intimidating enough to create pause when considering a jump to the competition.
  • Stress stalls decisions. Under stress and having options, emotionally intelligent and resilient people will postpone decisions until they have more data.

Russ Riendeau, Ph.D., is senior partner and chief behavioral scientist with New Frontier Search Company, a retained search practice specializing in senior leadership, sales & sales management. The author/co-author of 11 books, numerous TEDx Talks, and a highly regarded keynote speaker, he also consults and writes about behavioral science topics and peak performance.

Self-Reporting Surveys Challenges

Dr. Riendeau says that while self-reporting surveys give a snapshot into a very small sample size, they can also mislead and create false positives.

  • A sample of 600 executives, for example, asked about job change motives, job stress/satisfaction, etc., don’t represent the other 15 million executives that were not surveyed.
  • Most of these randomized surveys don’t flush out the specific demographics of the surveyed, according to Riendeau. Thus, the survey may suggest 66 percent of workers are looking to make a job change for more money, benefits, and promotions. However, the majority of the 66 percent could be earning $30,000 a year. Wouldn’t you be looking for a better job if you were earning $30,000 and were in a dead-end job? Of course. Yet a higher paid professional may not have the same needs or motives to change jobs.
  • Response bias, overinflated income reporting, generalization of ranges and response options, poor question design, as well as education levels of respondents lead to inaccurate results.
  • The reality of business is that nearly 100 percent of us would leave our job if we were presented with a better job. “I would and you would too,” said Riendeau. “That’s reality. Any survey that tries to show a certain percentage of people saying they are planning to look for a new job should be read with much skepticism because it doesn’t tell us anything factual—only opinions.”
  • People that say they are planning to look for a new job or are actively looking for a new job are typically more passive than active in securing new employment in or out of their respective fields, according to Riendeau. Looking at job postings is more passive than proactive. Creating a defined job change plan with research, goals and evaluation of one’s skills, income needs, geographic location and education levels is the best way to determine a candidate’s genuine interest in changing jobs.
  • The first question every interviewer should ask, says Dr. Riendeau, is “What would you look for in a new job that you don’t have now?” The second question should be “Can you show specific examples of why you can attain these goals in your current job and what are you doing to find a better opportunity?” If the job applicant can’t showcase their written and definite job search plan, this demonstrates a far more passive candidate and to be cautious to their true motives to change.

Observations on the Pandemic World

“As a search professional and psychologist, I see opposing forces creating challenges for hiring managers to accept and search firms to educate and gain commitment from clients to move forward,” said Dr. Riendeau. “Every person is concerned around catching the virus, spreading it to loved ones, dealing with the pressure or stigmas of not being vaccinated or hanging with people that are not. Travel restrictions, mandating vaccination presses and stress when traveling, kids at home, in-laws at home, spouse at home—all contribute to availability bias factors that tell the brain, ‘I think I’ll not do anything until the dust settles.’”

“Thus, senior leaders, in secure roles, being paid well, and now waiting for Q4 bonuses and combat pay for leading the company through tough times are wreaking havoc with search firms finding candidates with true commitment to change and compelling enough reasons that will hold up to the counter-offer or the tension of actually interviewing in COVID,” Dr. Riendeau said.

Company leaders are taking an excessively long time to vet viable candidates and are thus losing candidates’ interest or allowing competitive interviews to enter the picture, according to Dr. Riendeau. “Also, the lack of expeditious interview processes makes viable candidates believe it will take acts of Congress to get decisions made in the company, so they withdraw from the race, or they stay in and try to hold the company hostage by demanding extreme compensation plans with guarantees. “Companies are expecting three to four viable candidates,” he said. “Nope. Today’s market means one, maybe two viable candidates that are committed to leave their company is the new norm. Companies waiting to find three to four viable candidates will lose the top ones that have to wait for a nice table, when they can go across the street and sit down with a nice view. Fear of making a bad hire and stress factors in COVID world is altering how company leaders make decisions and are overly cautious.”

Not the Best Fit, But Good Enough

Dr. Riendeau has been advising clients to use the importance scale – on a scale of one to 10 how important is X experience/knowledge for this person to do the job – in filling roles. “If leaders are able to really evaluate the top three skills/experience needed for the role, the differential in a value on the scale should be able to be shored up with current employees,” he said. “For example, if we find a viable candidate for a VP of sales role that the client rates a seven on the scale, we then start to examine how we can capture two to three more points on the scale to support whatever omissions the candidate has. Industry knowledge, light financial skills, no MBA, manufacturing vs. distribution experience, etc. – all areas that current employees may be able to help cover for, train the new person, even outsource.”

Related: Five Leadership Attributes Essential for 2021 and Beyond

“This collective scale mindset allows more candidates to be considered for the role and speeds process, brings new ideas and even boosts morale with more involvement from the team,” Dr. Riendeau said. “And the compensation could be more competitive. Importance scales can be very objective, so it is critical to be sure the key decision makers are in accord with this in the vetting process. Giving permission to hiring managers to think and hire outside of pre-pandemic habits of hiring is critical and can be challenges in the stress of COVID-land.”

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“Every firm on the planet brags they have the best database, best candidate pool, best resources. It’s not true, we don’t,” said Dr. Riendeau. “And we don’t know when the best candidate will appear, and we still promise three to five qualified candidates in the middle of a pandemic. It is a lie. Set expectations from day one: If you see one you like and he/she is the first of second candidate, you better make a move and make an offer. There’s no guarantee the more you see the better they get. Clients have been conditioned with marketing promises to see a larger pool. It’s a pandemic. Not going happen.”

Gathering the Best Candidate Pool

So, what can corporations do to expand candidate pool to fill critical roles? Dr. Riendeau lays out eight key points:

  1. Re-examine the open position’s top three requirements and deliverables that need to get done. Dr. Riendeau says to strip down the job spec to increase the slate of candidates that could have the skills, expertise, and intelligence to do the job.
  2. Engage an importance scale to highlight the critical skills/experience levels needed to do a job and then evaluate who and where in the organization they can pick up the remaining points in the scale to create a 10, said Dr. Riendeau. Not every candidate needs to have all the wish list items to succeed in a job.

Related: C-Suite Pain Points and Opportunities on The Road to Post-Pandemic Recovery

  1. Remove consensus-based hiring protocols. Dr. Riendeau says to allow the hiring managers to decide on the candidate they believe is best suited for the job. “Allowing nearly equal voices from too many other workers dissolves accountability and even impedes hiring managers from choosing the best person,” he said. “Not everybody has to like everybody in a company. Consensus interviewing can create group-think mentality and restrict new ideas.”
  2. Improve training and your onboarding program. Dr. Riendeau says that this allows more candidates to be considered outside the competition and enhances the possibility of more creative talent being hired. This also improves success rates and takes pressure off current employees that have to cover for the new person trying to get up-to-speed.
  3. Move the interview process along quickly. Stalled interview processes allow competitive offers and interviews to enter the picture, according to Dr. Riendeau. Candidates will watch how decisive your company is in how you interview and advance the ball.
  4. Be prepared to create a compensation plan that may be more than you believe it should be. Dr. Riendeau says that in a pandemic people will not be willing to accept more risk and promises of “future pay” when no one really knows what the future holds. Budget accordingly.
  5. Remember: You are not the only game in town. Dr. Riendeau says to assume that any candidate you meet is pursuing other jobs and using the interview with you to build confidence, urgency, and leverage.
  6. Provide interview training for hiring managers. “Those with weak interview skills will not see viable talent in a tight market and will also turn off viable candidates that perceive the hiring manager as incompetent in assessing them or others in the organization,” Dr. Riendeau said.

Related: Setting the Pace for Virtual Outplacement

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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