Be “Irresistible”: Four Keys to Securing Top Flex Talent
February 11, 2022
Where are the workers?
As noted by HR thought leader Josh Berson, over 16 million positions in the US remain open – meaning that roughly one in nine jobs are unfilled. In the UK, the ratio is roughly the same. On both sides of the Atlantic, we see unprecedented competition over staff, and salary increases seem destined to continue.
Meanwhile, the COVID pandemic has catalysed a profound shift in how many of us work. Once nascent work paradigms are now ascendant. In the UK, Atom Bank announced late last year that it was instituting a 4-day work week while also cutting working hours nearly 10%, from 37.5 to 34 “in recognition of the strong preference workers have for the opportunity to work flexibly” in the wake of the pandemic. There are strong reasons to move to a 4-day work week: doing so increases worker productivity, boosts well-being, and aids in attracting and retaining Talent.
As goes the larger world so goes the world of law. COVID made remote work de rigueur, and initial fears about hiring freezes and layoffs ultimately proved unfounded. Quite the contrary: 2021 was a banner year for many law firms, and consequentially, hiring continues apace. Unsurprisingly, with competition for Talent stiffening, salaries reached unprecedented levels.
Talent is now front-and-centre as one of the (perhaps even the) most critical issues for firms. The 2021 Thomson Reuters Law Firm Business Leaders Report states 51% of law firms have identified talent acquisition and retention as the biggest risk to future profitability. The report also cites losing Talent through competitor poaching (31%), closely followed by associate salary increases (29%). Nevertheless, law firms remain optimistic about growth and expansion in 2022. Recruitment and retention will be critical in meeting these projections.
Indeed, for Australia-based law firms, the future is now: many experienced growth at an incredible pace in 2021, and they have been turning to flexible staffing solutions to meet needs at the speed at which new needs arise. The situation in Australia is particularly fascinating; the lockdowns and limitations of travel have created a pressure cooker environment, which has prevented the movement of resources in and out of what is an already tight market. This has driven up the cost of Talent, but law firms have been slower to respond to the increase than have law departments. As a result, firms are starting to lose out on securing top Talent. In-house roles are offering more attractive propositions with competitive rates to match, and Talent are voting with their feet.
The Evolution of Talent Expectations
This demand has led increasing numbers of organisations to turn to interim resource providers to fill the resourcing gaps. Whilst it’s true that companies who are decisive in their decision-making and offer competitive pay, long-term contracts, and seamless onboarding are snapping up top Talent, it is also important to consider the Talent perspective in more detail.
Over the past 12 to 18 months, the Talent expectations and demands around flexible working have evolved profoundly. Most significantly, many legal professionals – whether flex or not – have re-conceptualised their careers, taking charge of their professional trajectory. They seek a range of experiences rather than settling for being a “lifer” at a firm or in-house role. They have become more discerning about the companies with whom they want to be associated.
In addition, more than ever before, they are taking into account a far broader range of considerations. Pay no longer reigns supreme in isolation of other factors. Talent want a sustainable work-life (or, more correctly, life-work) balance. They also want to work at organisations that demonstrate a commitment to social issues such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); environmentalism; sustainability; and worker well-being.
Talent are willing to wait for the right opportunity that complements their life and career goals as well as aligns with their values. The current market often witnesses Talent with multiple viable options from which to choose.
Four Key Steps to Securing Flex Talent
Given all of this, law organisations must make sure they take four key steps to secure flex Talent:
- Offer competitive pay. Across the entire spectrum of legal expertise, Talent are commanding higher wages. You must be prepared to offer pay comparable to other organisations competing for the same Talent.
- To the extent possible, provide longer-term contracts. Talent continue to hedge their bets; they know the salary arms race will not continue indefinitely, and that a strong economy is not guaranteed. These factors make longer-term contracts a key attractant for flex Talent.
- Move fast. While Talent have the luxury of drawing out the hiring process as they consider multiple offers, for law organisations, speed is of the essence in hiring decisions.
- Be – or become – an employer of choice. Presented with multiple offers, Talent are more discerning with their choices; many are turning down more lucrative opportunities in favour of work with organisations based on their reputation of being a good place to work – in terms of recognition of people and treatment of staff, flexibility in work arrangements, and track record and current initiatives for DE&I and environmental/sustainability issues.
The fourth item is crucial. As Josh Bersin put it, “The biggest factor in recruiting great people is creating what we call an Irresistible Company. In other words, if your organisation is not known for its good deeds, fair pay and work practices, and strong commitment to customers and the community, you’ll have a hard time finding people.”
Whether you like it or not, the world of flex has changed profoundly in the past two years. Law organisations – at least those who seek to enjoy the benefits of top Talent – must adapt to the new environment. Pay, contract length, speed, and irresistibility have become table stakes.
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