A reluctance to move is one of three major challenges when hiring
By Paul Pompeo
Earlier this year, we had one client company—a successful and niched southeast lighting design firm—seeking a senior project manager. They were justifiably proud of their culture and main office and had taken great pains to make their headquarters a fun place to work. Our team was excited to work on the project, thinking it would be one with many highly interested candidates, but we were soon in for a surprise. Because a relocation was required, we found very few takers. Potential candidates were, for the most part, working remotely, so regardless of how exciting a company and/or potential opportunity was, moving to another city (or part of the country) and transitioning from working at home to working in an office environment mid/post-pandemic was not appealing to the vast majority of candidates.
When we first took the assignment, we missed a precursor to the challenge the firm would face, which arose when we asked why the position was open. About three weeks prior, the company—which had most of their employees working from home—ordered everyone to return to the office. Two weeks after that, their employee resigned. While we eventually found a candidate who was hired by the firm, the search wasn’t easy, and it opened our eyes to the fact that we are now in a very different work environment—what some might call the “new normal.”
MANY HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT THE new normal, and while the phrase may be sorely overused, it still applies today. What comprises the new normal in relationship to the workplace and interviewing? Before we give our two cents, let’s first look back:
In 2020, lockdown requirements due to COVID-19 forced people to work from home—if their jobs allowed it (many people in manufacturing roles, as well as some in operations and engineering roles, didn’t have that luxury). One can look back in irony to the time when we thought the initial stay-at-home orders would only last two weeks. Remember those memes that circulated during that period with sentiments along the lines of: “So I’m being asked to sit on my couch for two weeks and watch TV? I think I can make that sacrifice.”
As that two weeks was extended to a month, then two months, people across the country (and throughout the world) tried their best to work from home—setting up a make-do desk or establishing a home office—while we all collectively tried to understand and navigate the scope and length of what was happening.
Then a curious thing happened: employees, for the most part, began to like working at home. As time progressed, they got used to it, and an increasing number of employees began to prefer it. This happened just as company leaders were watching the calendar and the news to see how soon they could begin moving their employees back into the office—which brings us back to today.
At this point, we, as recruiters, see three major changes creating the new normal for the office work environment:
- 1. Remote Work. Most employees that worked in an office environment have been working from home and, for the most part, have found it more comfortable and enjoyable, and that it provides a better work/life balance.
- 2. Video Final Interviews. In 2020, we saw the video interview almost completely replace the in-person interview. (This change, however, is the least likely to be permanent, or long-lasting.)
- 3. New Job Relocations. The third major change was candidates’ willingness to relocate, especially if they were working remotely in their current assignment, but we also found it affected candidates working in an office. Relocation has become an endangered species.
THE RELUCTANCE OF CANDIDATES to relocate is a new phenomenon. While not every candidate in the past was open to relocating, there was a much greater openness to do so with many lighting and electrical professionals given the right opportunity. That has now changed significantly. Relocation searches have become a real “needle in a haystack” affair.
Just as the Great Depression forever affected people who experienced it, the pandemic has, in our opinion, had a similar life-altering effect on professionals today. The pandemic made many people re-examine their work-life balance and, for many, reinforced the importance and security of home, family and their existing networks of friends, relatives and contacts. While people are just as open as before to hearing about a potentially better opportunity, it needs to be something that won’t disturb that series of networks.
Think this dynamic is unique to lighting, electrical and controls professionals? Think again. The Wall Street Journal piece Moving to a New City for a Job? No Thanks by Rachel Feintzeig described just what we’ve seen this year as well. Bottom line: it’s happening across industries.
So, does this mean that relocations for jobs will come to a complete halt? No, but I believe that the majority of employee relocations we’ll see over the next few years will involve existing employees being transferred to another division or location of their current company, usually with a promotion. For the foreseeable future, a candidate moving to another company for another role—with the exception of some CEO or GM positions—will become, if not a thing of the past, then a very unusual occurrence.