Hiring 6 min

Trends and Practical Advice for Hiring in 2021

September 4, 2020
Updated January 1, 2021

2021 has been full of mostly bad surprises and what seems to be a constantly shifting new reality. Between the pandemic, the ensuing economic downturn, and political discord, hiring in 2021 has been particularly fraught. The rise in coronavirus cases in June meant that many businesses, like the restaurant industry, that were reopening and rehiring had to suddenly stop again. Other industries, like health care, tech, and consumer services, have ramped up hiring as a result of the pandemic.

Employment conditions have generally improved since the early months of the pandemic, with unemployment dipping to 10.2 percent in July 2020, down from its highest spike during the pandemic of 14.4 percent in April. More businesses are hiring, but hiring during COVID-19 is an anxiety-filled endeavor, with worries over business closures, slumped economic markets, public health, and more. And if we learned anything about employment and hiring from 2020, it’s that you have to be ready to adapt as conditions continue to change—because they probably will.

In this article, we’ll go over hiring trends in 2021 so far and how to prepare for what might come next, giving you hiring tips for COVID-19.

Hiring Trends in 2021: The Road So Far

The pandemic has been the main force shaping employment and hiring trends in 2020, hitting small businesses particularly hard. According to Yelp, about 20 percent of local businesses who had to close due to COVID-19 have reopened as of June 15, 2020, but there are still almost 140,000 closures across the U.S. The same report estimates that 41 percent of these closures are permanent, with restaurants having the largest share of permanent closures.

What’s also clear is that the modest recovery begun in June is still very much uncertain. Here are a few notable hiring trends in 2020 to help contextualize the current employment and economic landscape.

More People Are Working Part Time Instead of Full Time

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in July that “the number of involuntary part-time workers is 4.1 million higher than in February.” This number is significant because these are people who have had their hours cut or weren’t able to find full-time work even though they wanted to work full time. It’s a sign that the quality of jobs hasn’t yet recovered from the pandemic.

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Job Postings Fluctuate with the Number of Coronavirus Cases

Glassdoor analyzed employer job postings on their website, finding that 36 percent of employers reduced job openings from June 22 to July 27. Soon after businesses reopened, COVID-19 cases increased, prompting governments and businesses to intervene. This reaction and the resulting loss of business appear to have slowed hiring.

Minorities, Women, and the Young Are Suffering More Unemployment

Groups who are already at a disadvantage in a healthy economy suffer more during economic downturns. This pandemic is no different. Women in all racial groups exceed male unemployment by an average of 3 percent. Of all racial groups, Hispanic women have hit the highest level of unemployment at 19.5 percent. Workers between the ages of 16 and 25 hit a whopping 25.3 percent. This unemployment rate in younger workers is because they tend to work in highly-impacted industries, like food services.

Those Who Can Are Working Remotely

Zapier reported that 51 percent of U.S. workers transitioned to working from home in March. Despite the abrupt transition, 65 percent of employees say they’re more productive. And it’s not just big tech companies like Twitter and Facebook that plan on keeping this arrangement long-term. More traditional companies, like Nationwide and Morgan Stanley, also plan on keeping working from home for a large portion of their employees because of how successful it has been.

Switching to virtual onboarding? Here’s practical advice for getting it right.

Hiring Trends in 2021: What Comes Next?

The pandemic is still the most immediate and affecting factor for hiring in 2020. As Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor senior economist and data scientist, observes in his recent report on the economic recovery, “The lesson over the last two months is that getting the public health crisis under control is key to economic normalcy. While a solid pace of recovery is possible, the economy remains extremely fragile and any progress can be easily and quickly reversed.”

In other words, we are still very much in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., and the way forward still depends on factors that are out of individual or business control, like local and federal government mandates, newest recommendations for health and safety precautions, and possible financial aid initiatives.

Key questions about the outcome of this pandemic—what will infection rates be like moving forward? When will there be a viable vaccine?—likewise depend on things mere mortals can’t predict.

Thankfully, you can control how your organization responds to the pandemic, and hiring is a critical component of your response. Your hiring choices still have an effect on recruiting and retaining employees, just like it does at any other time. You still want to keep your employees engaged and productive, and you still want to hire good candidates who will be valuable additions to your workplace culture.

Hiring will affect both the perception and experience of quarantine life in your organization and outside of it. To put a finer point on it, this include:

  • How the world sees your employer brand
  • How your current and future employees react to your strategy for handling the coronavirus

Consider these questions when examining your hiring procedures and strategy:

  • Do applicants trust that you’re taking the right kind of steps to keep your workforce and customers safe?
  • How will you maintain culture when hiring during times of change?
  • How will you balance economic pressures with offering fair compensation?

We’ll go over some practical advice for how to answer those questions in the next section.

Hiring Tips for 2021

Prioritize the Health and Safety of Candidates and Employees

This tip may feel like we’re beating a dead horse. Obviously, health and safety is a critical issue right now. Not to mention, your organization may already be juggling local and state mandates to stay compliant and keep everyone safe at work. But this really bears repeating.

As Glassdoor economist Daniel Zhao explains, “If reopening prematurely leads to growing outbreaks, economic gains will be fleeting at best, leaving the economy stuck in the doldrums. At worst, rising cases risk imperiling the already frail economy and sending us back into a double-dip recession.”

There are many steps you can take to reduce the pandemic’s impact on your organization and vice versa. These start with are some practical ways to reduce exposure during the hiring process:

  • Interview, onboard, and train new hires virtually. Even if you end up having them work in office or on location, this will give you the time and space to properly vet applicants without worrying about exposing yourself and other members of your team. You can use this time to have new hires self-quarantine if they’ve been exposed to the virus recently. Most importantly, you can make sure that they’re ready to follow proper safety protocols before they start their first day, which helps protect both your new and existing employees and reduces stress all around.
  • If you have to onboard or train onsite, provide masks and adhere to social distancing. While not all states require employers to provide or pay for masks, you may want to provide masks for new hires or candidates on their first days. This will encourage them to abide by safety recommendations and also make them feel like you’re ready and able to support them in their new job.
  • Have a plan for what to do or say if a candidate or new hire refuses to abide by safety protocols. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) makes it clear that employers absolutely have the right to require masks and hand washing. You are also within your rights to screen for COVID-19 (as long as it is only aimed at assessing COVID-19). But what do you say if an interviewee tells you they’ll refuse to follow safety protocols if they’re hired? What do you do if a new hire shows up and refuses to answer your health screening questionnaire? SHRM recommends first explaining the purpose for such requirements, but if the employee still refuses, you can suspend or fire them.
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Double Down on Your Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Diversity is good for business at the best of times, driving up financial returns by 35 percent for companies with high ethnic diversity and 25 percent when gender and ethnic diversity is combined. Additionally, teams that are more diverse are more innovative and solve problems faster. And if you ever needed an edge, now is the time.

Another important reason for boosting diversity is one we mentioned above in our discussion of hiring trends in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is having a more pronounced effect on marginalized groups, like minorities and women. Hiring more diversely and helping employees feel included in your workplace helps to mitigate that inequity.

It’s also a chance for your organization to show employees and customers that you care about diversity and inclusion enough to put your money where your mouth is. The recent resurgent calls for social justice have made for a lot of solidarity posts on Twitter, but what customers want is action. Hiring is a powerful way to act.

Offer Remote Work as Much as Possible

Hiring during COVID-19 doesn’t automatically mean that you can offer the same kind of pay or positions as you used to. The BLS July jobs report makes it clear that many employers are in that same boat. So think about your total compensation package instead, and if the position can be done remotely, make it part of the deal.

Even under normal circumstances, employees who work from home report feeling less stressed, have a better work-life balance, and are more productive. In the same 2018 survey, 40 percent even said they take a pay cut if it meant they could work from home. In short, there’s ample reason to offer remote work flexibility for jobs that can be done remotely.

Be Prepared to Adapt as Conditions Continue to Change

2020 started out as someone’s idea of a bad joke and, much to everyone’s dismay, turned into someone else’s idea for a horror movie. It’s made for an especially challenging year for all businesses, putting a lot of strains on budgets. Hiring in 2021 is not for the faint of heart. Changing the way  you think about recruiting and onboarding can help you keep people safe while still meeting your organizational needs.

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Marie-Reine Pugh

Marie-Reine Pugh is focused on making HR simpler for HR professionals and workplaces a better place for everyone. She pulls from her previous experiences as an educator and six years of writing and researching to explore how to create inclusive company cultures that help businesses succeed.