Recruiting Burned Out Candidates: A Guide To Pandemic Hiring

People are leaving toxic workplaces due to employee burnout. Here’s how recruiters can scoop up top talent.

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remote employee burnout
Many workers are burned out — here are the red flags they look for when job hunting

Burned out employees have had enough. After more than a year of tremendous stress — and big savings for those fortunate enough to have remained employed — employees are leaving their jobs, or getting ready to. Research from market research firm Ipsos shows 1 in 4 employees plan to quit their job post-pandemic, with the majority citing burnout as the reason why, and a recent New York Times article reports many already have.

With a widening talent pool, recruiters have the chance to scoop up talent as more employees look for jobs — but they’ll need to be aware of burnout.

Employee burnout is on the rise

While the early days of the pandemic were confusing and laden with acute stress, today, as we enter the second year of the pandemic, many find themselves at a breaking point — especially with their jobs. In short, they’re burned out. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

69% of employees report experiencing burnout while working from home over the course of the pandemic.

The factors that contribute to burnout — like unmanageable workload, lack of role clarity, and lack of communication and support from managers — became more obvious and tangible as companies everywhere went all-remote almost overnight last year. As a result, the majority of workers have dealt with burnout: According to surveys by Monster, 69% of employees report experiencing burnout while working from home over the course of the pandemic.

And it costs companies, big time

Burnout is pricey. It costs companies money while their employees are still in the door and when they inevitably leave. Harvard Business Review reports that “at high-pressure firms, healthcare costs are 50% greater than at other organizations,” and, according to the American Psychological Association, burned out employees are 2.6 times as likely to be seeking a different job.

After a year of little activity outside the home, many have had the opportunity to stash cash and save big. With vaccinations on the rise, the pandemic seems to be winding down and employees are ready to call it quits.

“It’s something I am acutely aware of now in any position I take on”

Marquis Matson, VP of Community at Sozy, a CA-based women-founded clothing brand, left her previous job this year because of burnout. “As the workload increased because of my dwindling team and my own suggestions were not taken seriously, I started to resent the position and the client,” she said. “After 6 months of resentment, I told my direct supervisor how I was feeling and that it was time for me to move on.”

Employee burnout is a scar that doesn’t quickly fade. After leaving a position due to burnout, workers aren’t eager to dive back into a similarly high-pressure, unmanageable work environment like the one they just left. And they’re looking out for this. “It was awful and something I am acutely aware of now in any position I take on,” Matson said.

For recruiters eager to take advantage of a potential tidal wave of new talent, the key to success lies in acknowledging burnout and taking steps to highlight that your company isn’t the same.

“As the workload increased because of my dwindling team and my own suggestions were not taken seriously, I started to resent the position and the client.”

job interview

For recruiters, acknowledge burnout and avoid red flags

1. Focus on maintaining employee wellbeing

As employees seek their next role, they’ll be on the lookout for benefits that promote work-life balance and wellness, but will also eye recruiters for things that signal the same. Recruiters should prioritize speaking about company wellness initiatives and support resources. If your organization has debuted new employee mental health programming since the onset of the pandemic, be sure to highlight this. “Mention this during your initial call with the candidate as one of the many reasons they should consider your organization,” said Janelle Owens, HR Director of Test Prep Insight, an online education company. Adopting new programs during a much-needed time signals a lot to candidates. “It shows your company is both adaptable and committed to employees,” Owens said.

2. Get specific when it comes to job descriptions

Use your job description to accurately detail the role and responsibilities of the position and highlight your company’s dedication to work-life balance. This means avoiding any verbiage around a “work hard, play hard culture” at your company, or a “rise and grind” mentality. Instead, be sure to get as specific as possible. Lack of role clarity is one of the top 5 factors that contributes to burnout, so ensure employees know what will be expected of them and what they’re accountable for going into the role. For example, the role of “marketing manager,” could end up meaning social media manager, content marketing manager, product marketing manger, and so on. Rather than slapping an umbrella title on a role, drill down to the specifics of what tasks and responsibilities an employee will have.

3. Embody work-life balance across the company

In a Harvard Business Review article entitled “Burnout is About Your Workplace, Not Your People,” Jennifer Moss makes the argument that burnout is an organizational problem — not an individual one. It’s not about working too hard, an inability to unplug, or the need for more yoga and daily meditation. It’s about unrealistic expectations and an always-on culture perpetuated by the organization and those at the top. So while acknowledging burnout during the recruiting process is important, companies need to work together cross-functionally to ensure a workplace environment and culture that prevents burnout in the first place.

4. Avoid red flags that employees will watch out for

“Given the high burnout rates over the last year, employees are acutely aware of work pressure as they shop around for their next job.”

An employee leaving one company due to burnout isn’t keen to join another where burnout is likely. “Given the high burnout rates over the last year, employees are acutely aware of work pressure as they shop around for their next job,” Owens said. Candidates will be closely watching for signs of problematic work-life balance in their first interactions with the company. Avoid these red flags as you recruit.

  • Emails sent outside of normal working hours: Receiving an email late in the evening or during the weekend signals that employees are overworked or don’t respect the line between work life and home life.
  • Little flexibility in scheduling: Be as flexible as possible in scheduling calls with candidates. “If you give a candidate just one time slot to choose from four days from now, it shows you are booked solid and likely reflects that the company runs lean and pushes employees hard,” Owens said.
  • Long recruitment time: Delays in communication, scheduling, and forward momentum of the recruiting process can be draining to candidates, and signals to them that the company doesn’t respect their time.

Highlight your dedication to work-life balance

With a quarter of employees planning to leave their job this year due to burnout, recruiters have the opportunity to scoop up top talent. But without recognizing burnout and taking steps to signal to employees your company’s not the same, recruiters are unlikely to have much success. Instead, work to highlight your org’s dedication to work-life balance and avoid red flags that may send another message all together.

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