Publish date: 07 November 2022
Travis Schultz

Recruiting top talent is said to be the number one challenge confronting professional services firms in 2022.

Record low unemployment figures might bring a smile to the face of the Treasurer and Minister for Trade and Investment — who recently announced that Queensland has recorded its lowest ever unemployment rate — but to employers, the statistics are of “A nightmare on Elm Street” proportion! Business is enjoying a post-Covid boom, but labour shortages across all sectors are testing the organisational spirit.

In a rush to demonstrate their “employer of choice” attributes, professional services firms have been knocking themselves over in the rush to announce new and improved leave entitlements, flexible working arrangements, diversity and inclusion targets, health and wellbeing programs and to spruik their sustainability credentials. However, beyond the emoji applause and likes on their social media posts, many firms are still not seeing an increase in resumes landing in their HR manager’s inbox. And it begs the question, why aren’t these laudable measures attracting recruits and what more can employers do to be more appealing to potential recruits?

Over the years, I’ve watched with great interest the employee engagement surveys and the so-called hierarchy of employee needs.  According to pre-Covid The Marker Magazine study of 2,000 people, remuneration had taken a back seat to work relationships. More recently, a 2022 study by Seek suggested that “work/life balance” was the most important consideration for Australian workers in finding job satisfaction.

Over in the US, an early 2022 Gallup poll of 13,085 employees found that 64% reported that a significant increase in income or benefits was “very important” in deciding to take a new job – though not far behind at 61%, was “greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing”.

It’s all very interesting from a social science perspective, but what I’ve found even more instructive have been my conversations with professionals who have either applied for a posted job ad or have made an approach informally to chat with me about employment opportunities. Whether it’s a formal interview or a casual coffee catchup, their reasons for wanting to leave their current role inevitably become a topic of conversation. Some of the most often cited reasons given by these (mainly legal) professionals include:

  1. A lack of autonomy (and conversely, a desire to get away from micro-management)
  2. No clear career path – or a lack of progress
  3. A sense that the business and financial interests of the firm are prioritised over the interests of their clients
  4. Failure by management to honour promises that had been made
  5. Lack of pride in the values and practices of their current firm or its brand
  6. Lack of training opportunities or quality mentoring
  7. Compromise in the quality of the work they are able to do

Conversely, very rarely are work/life balance, leave schemes or environmental or inclusion credentials given as the reason for wanting to change jobs. While I’ve found that in the last year or so it has been quite common for applicants to enquire about the extent to which the firm supports flexible work practices, it’s less important than being proud of where they work. Salary is also important; but only at a threshold level – as long as it’s fair and reasonable, a pay rise alone isn’t the key driver of the decision to jump ship.

Much has been written about the Great Reshuffling, quiet quitting and the Great Resignation. And there’s no doubt that in 2022 the number of professionals touching base to discuss a career change has been higher than I’ve ever seen at any time in my career. But if my conversations are any sort of guide, I wonder whether we, as professional services firms, should recalibrate our thinking around the schemes, programmes and projects that make us self-proclaimed employers of choice, and start listening to the people who are the stock-in-trade of our organisations?

At the end of the day, l suspect that firms that genuinely provide opportunities for growth, have respectful leadership, are seen as genuine and real, build trust in their team and deliver on their promises will hold a natural immunity to the Big Quit of 2023.

As published in Lawyers Weekly.

Travis Schultz
Travis Schultz
Managing Partner
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