Managing Expectations in Today’s Employment Market

By Tomilee Tilley Gill, President

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The ripple effect of the recent economy over the past few years has been felt by not just the jobless and fallen companies, but also the employed and sustaining businesses.  Moans and groans over uncertainty, unbearable workload, lack of support and strapped budgets have been echoed from the downsized boardroom to the former office turned shared cubicle space. But are these fears keeping companies from moving forward? Are employees getting fed up and beginning to leverage their worth again?

On one hand, companies have been able to improve their margins through aggressive control of their expenses. And yet, this cautious behavior has significantly limited their ability to grow. For many businesses, no steps are being made forward or backward. As a result, companies are beginning to shift their priorities in order to increase revenue and profitability. The first move they are making: Hire back executive-level employees.

While this is a step in the right direction, many corporate leaders still believe they hold the upper hand in the hiring process. Since overall unemployment remains high, they feel they should be able to have their pick of the most qualified, gainfully employed executive candidates. And moreover, they think they should have their pick without providing the incentives and large salaries they once did during greener times.

However, companies may not hold all the cards. It’s important to understand that the unemployment reports we hear do not always accurately reflect the executive unemployment picture. While some highly qualified candidates are in fact between jobs, many executives ranging from 40 to 55 years old are faring much better than the overall market. And due to this misconception, executive firms are now beginning to feel the effects. The tug-of-war between client companies’ expectations and prospective employees’ anticipations leaves these firms simply trying to find a balance and common ground.

The Devil You Know

One way many companies have been able to achieve recent profitability is by driving their employees, particularly their executives extremely hard. Having survived recent corporate streamlining and talent downsizing, a typical executive today is handling a workload that was previously performed by two or three people. It is likely he or she is receiving 300 emails a day, fielding dozens of phone calls, and dealing with an extraordinary number of other daily disruptions. Non-stop multitasking takes a toll in the form of stress, and many executives today feel that they have little balance in their lives. As a result, many of the C-level executives we talk with aren’t particularly satisfied with their current work situations.

At the same time, these executives know that they are not alone in their job dissatisfaction.  when asked about their job dissatisfaction.  When asked about their willingness to consider another opportunity, they often admit that they’re not happy with their current jobs, but many also say they are extremely reluctant to make a career move at this time.  The reason is they feel confident that they know their companies and understood their issues, both good and bad.  They are hesitant to start over when the corporate landscape, internal and external challenges, and marketplace are new to them, or if they feel unrealistically aggressive results are expected immediately.

The housing market is another factor that weighs heavily on candidates’ minds. Many qualified candidates are turning down job offers outside their current market because they feel they cannot afford to relocate. With so many homeowners under water with their mortgages, it’s easy to see why an executive might hesitate – or might not even be able to obtain financing – to purchase a new home if they have to take a loss when they sell their current home. Companies may be willing to cover candidates’ relocation costs, but not their mortgage shortfalls.

For these and other reasons, candidates today are much more risk-averse and conservative about changing jobs than they have been in the past. As a result, the timeline for identifying and recruiting the best candidates has been significantly extended. Top candidates do not want to appear even passively interested in employment opportunities; many prefer to remain invisible in the marketplace.

Candidates who are willing to consider new opportunities are invariably looking for a high level of transparency from prospective employers. They want to know answers to questions such as:

  • Is the company well capitalized?
  • Does the situation require a turn-around?
  • In short, is the new job going to be significantly better than their current job?

Very few candidates today are looking to make a change simply for change’s sake; they are much more concerned with long-term sustainability and job security. Further, candidates are cynical about the offer of company options or a promise to go public. They prefer, in many cases, to know the immediate cash compensation and position progression.

Encouraging Successful Partnerships

What’s the solution to attracting today’s top talent? Working closely with client companies to help them understand that the process requires a partnership between them and us.  Candidates’ needs for transparency means that companies must provide as much information as possible so potential employees can evaluate whether they are a good fit for meeting the company’s objectives and expectations. Candidates want a clear picture of how the company defines success so that they can determine whether the position is a match for their skills and expertise.

We advise companies to judiciously share comprehensive, relevant financial information. For example, if a company is recruiting an executive responsible for the profit and loss of the company or a division, specific financial information relevant to his/her role should be shared. A prospective executive will also be interested in the company’s reporting structure, biographical information about the leadership team, and the specific, targeted objectives that the company expects the executive to achieve within particular time frames. In this regard, nondisclosure agreements are essential in safeguarding companies’ interests.

Private companies that have been positioning themselves to go public in the coming years face another challenge.  Companies are at a disadvantage when trying to hire candidates away from public companies because they must compete on salary, benefits, relocation costs and, most importantly, stock. We advise these organizations on how to offer incentives that will attract the talent they seek.