Unfortunately too often though the aspiration doesn’t lead to action, and actions don’t lead to successful outcomes. We’ve all seen too many examples where affirming sentiments become merely platitudes or beautifully worded ornaments with no real meaning.
I recently listened to a speaker identify that 2015 was the “Year of the Lemming,” meaning that workforce analysis has predicted that 2015 was first time in modern Australian history more people were retiring from the workforce than there were people entering the workforce to take their place. Now the veracity of the specific date is not particularly important as we’ve all seen the discussions about the ageing workforce and heard the predictions about workforce shortages. In 2013 the Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council had already predicted a 77% growth in employment opportunities by 2025 in our sector. We’re half way through that period.
So clearly that means the “norm,” in which there are more people looking for work than there are vacancies seeking employees is not going to persist much longer. The consequences for our human service organisations are significant.
I started off this blog identifying how our sector aspires to “value its staff,” and I generally believe we think we do this well. In fact I have seen some organisations which are very good at putting their values into practice. They tend to be smaller, and simpler, leadership is based on values and vision and culture is a factor in decision making. Larger organisations struggle more, as traditional management based largely around relationships becomes management supported by systems, and eventually (unless we’re careful) systems mutate, become the end in themselves and come to drive management processes. We see this phenomenon play out in different ways, and my blog post, I heard them say, "We've lost our values..." discusses some of those.
As we begin to operate in this brave new world the “power” balance shifts. Job seekers will begin to have more and more choice and employers will be less able to simply view job seekers as participants in the recruitment systems which organisations develop. Instead job seekers will become the stakeholders which will drive recruitment processes. The natural consequence will be that if our organisations cannot demonstrate during the recruitment process that we values employees then we will struggle to attract the right people to take up employment opportunities on offer. I believe we’ll probably find that the people we need to join our teams will abandon their exploration of employment with us organisation in favour of systems which do demonstrate they are value as people.
Lets consider a basic example. Organisations advertise vacancies when they want staff. Where and how they do this is important, but not for the purpose of this example. Most advertised opportunities invite potential employees to express interest in the role and eventually submit a formal application. Applications are assessed, candidates interviewed, referees are checked and employment offers are made.
Now consider what messages are given to potential employees in this basic process?
What is the language of the advertisement? Does it speak to a person or explain a position? Does it speak to the experience you will have as an employee in the position or does it provide a checklist of tasks you will have to fulfil? Does the job advert identify a person who can be contacted to discuss the role? How many times have you heard of people submitting applications only to be left with no response and no acknowledgement?
Whilst I’m fully aware that advertising means that organisations will be inundated with applications, many being generated by people using automated application apps, I am not sure that this phenomenon excuses us from acknowledging applications. With most applications being emailed, it does not take much to set up automatic responses to at least let people know their application has been received. I’m certain that the statement, “Only short listed applicants will be notified” does not send a message to candidates suggesting that they are valued as people, it can’t be too hard to collate email addresses and send out a notification when the process is finalised so that applicants can at least feel like they matter. Given the ease of email, notifying people that the position has been filled shouldn’t be considered an optional extra by organisations.
I remember one of the most significant ideas which I have picked up during my career is the notion that every application for employment which crosses your desk or hits your inbox represents the hopes of its author. By the time you have invited a potential candidate in for an interview they have invested numerous hours in a process with the hope of an outcome. Surely its reasonable that if they attend an interview, then we ought to be able to call them back and give feedback if they are unsuccessful. What if they are unlucky to have missed out this time around but we’d employ them if there was another opportunity? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner which would mean that they’d be happy to hear from us again if another opportunity arose? If we really want to value staff, then we need to remember to value them before they become staff.
Ultimately, in valuing applicants, I believe that every person interviewed should receive honest and meaningful feedback. At the end of this blog have a look at a few ideas given by others regarding feedback to unsuccessful candidates. Giving feedback to an unsuccessful candidate can be awkward for both the recipient and giver of the feedback, but if we have made a decision to hire someone, there must be meaningful reasons which guided our decision. Therefore there must be meaningful feedback which can be given to unsuccessful applicants. Statements such as “the other candidate had more experience,” or “they were better suited,” do not in my view constitute feedback. Feedback is useful to the person receiving it and should assist them to improve any future applications. Sometimes the feedback might simply be, “you were one of two candidates we were happy to employ, however in this case, the other candidate had slightly more experience working with our client group. We’d love to be able to call you if we have another opportunity and discuss any options that it might provide. Would that be okay with you?”
Unfortunately however, at the moment there are more instances where organisations see applicants as participants in a process and not potential team members. There is an underpinning principle which says, “you will be lucky to work with our organisation.” Soon generations X, Y and Z+ will be evaluating our organisations and deciding if we are worth their time and energy when we are seeking new staff. Similarly they have an underlying assumption that the organisations with which they are seeking to work will need to demonstrate to them that the organisation is worthy of their commitment, energy and skills.
And now the extra bits…
What do you tell unsuccessful job applicants? Five ways to improve your game. The Not For Profit People (Australian)
How to spot a bad boss — before you take the job. Alison Green, Ask a manager
How to turn down job applicants - [the] right [way]. Susan Healthfiled, The Balance