The talent war’s new table stakes

Money isn't the only thing talking – here’s how to retain top talent and make sure they stay

WeWork’s 2019 Global Impact Report reveals how WeWork helps individuals and businesses thrive, energises neighbourhoods and accelerates economic growth in 75 cities around the world. Here are some of our community’s stories.

Essence, the global media agency, was on a tear last year, growing its workforce 40 percent to more than 1,600 employees. With an agency that large, you might expect typically high turnover—but the company, which counts Google, T-Mobile, Target, and NBCUniversal among its clients, managed an employee-retention rate of 80 percent in 2018 amid the rapid changes, says Katie Farber, Essence’s vice president for talent acquisition for North America.

“That number speaks volumes about what is working here” Farber said. “People want to work in a tech-friendly environment: we use a lot of digital tools that allow for flexibility. Candidates look for a strong commitment to diversity: we’ve pledged to achieve complete gender parity in the C-suite by 2025. And we launched a development programme to foster the careers of men, women and non-binary employees, and instituted mandatory training on unconscious bias.”

Essence’s accomplishment is especially formidable given the current employment statistics: unemployment rates in the US dropped to 50-year lows last year, and more people are quitting jobs than being laid off. This means it’s a job seeker’s market, and the onus is on the employer to compete and make sure those people stick around.

WeWork contacted other HR professionals, recruiters and managers for advice on how companies can strengthen recruitment and retention. Here are four key takeaways:

Culture + values > salary

To retain talent, employers have traditionally had to ensure employees feel fairly compensated, personally valued, and that they understand their career path and know they’re making a contribution, says Elizabeth Zea, co-founder and managing partner of JUEL, an executive search and talent consultancy, and a member at New York’s WeWork 54 W 40th St.

But recently, she says, another requirement has taken precedence – even ahead of salary. “The new dimension is ‘Do I believe in the ethics and the values of the company I work for?’” she says. “Companies that are thoughtful about all five dimensions are more likely to keep talent”.

A 2017 Glassdoor analysis found that, across all income levels, culture and values (not pay) were the top predictors of workplace satisfaction, and research from LinkedIn found that negotiating salary ranked about the same as dealing with emails (ninth and tenth place respectively) on a list of top challenges faced by US employees.

Physical space speaks volumes

It’s clear when you walk into an office how a company thinks. Is collaboration valued? Are face-to-face interactions encouraged over marathon Slack conversations?

“When I first went to Google, I was totally blown away” says Zea. “The physical space was a manifestation of a new way of working: opportunities to randomly bump into colleagues, wildly different conference room settings, open space versus private”.

Inspiring work spaces aren’t only for huge tech companies. “Coworking spaces are everywhere, and offer a ready-made culture for smaller or start-up businesses that need a little head start” says Wendy Read, the Managing Director of HR Revolution in London.

Coworking spaces can also give larger companies a recruiting edge: WeWork’s Global Impact Report found that 78 per cent of enterprise members say WeWork helped them attract and retain talent.

“WeWork has enabled us to recruit great talent that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to” says  Leslie Kurkjian Crowe, Chief People Officer at TripActions, a business travel management company that operates in five WeWork locations across the US, UK and the Netherlands. “Instead of being siloed in our Palo Alto headquarters, we now recruit the very best talent in cities all over the globe”.  

Tight recruitment practices win

“One of the challenges bigger companies have is adapting to the speed [at which] talent gets hired” said Allison Hemming, CEO of the New York-based digital talent agency The Hired Guns. Slower-moving companies that take a ‘waterfall’-type approach can end up in bidding wars for new recruits.

To tighten the cycle, Hemming suggests taking an ‘agile’ approach, borrowed from engineering teams. To start with, companies should refine job postings, homing in on what they want the employee to accomplish in the next 18 months. Then, instead of bringing in one candidate a week for five weeks, front-load first-round phone interviews and then move finalists into a meeting with the hiring manager – possibly all within a week.

“People notice when the second person they’re interviewed by is the person they would report to” says Hemming, noting that it shows the candidate you’re eager to commit. “They take the opportunity a lot more seriously”.

Employment branding is key

Of course, you could be doing all of these things, but if job candidates don’t know it, they’ll be harder to attract. Read suggests that companies review their online presence – Glassdoor, Yelp, the company website – to make sure they compare favourably with the competition.

Aram Lulla, the Chicago-based General Manager for executive recruitment firm Lucas Group’s HR practice, says employment branding has become the norm. Companies must be consistent about how their brand comes across in job posts and responses to candidates – first interactions, interviews and follow-ups – and onboarding and professional development.

“Every touchpoint is part of the employee experience” Lulla says. “And that is very impactful to identify talent and retain that talent”.

Companies that are most successful at this do it authentically, says Read. “They make themselves the tribe that people want to join. You don’t have to be huge do this; small and start-up businesses need to use their own ecosystems to gain reputation, be part of networks and spread the word”.

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