The tug-of-war over the return to office continues.
- Employers want workers in the office. But job candidates prefer remote or hybrid work.
- Recruiters say it's hard to find people for full-time in-office roles amid a tight labor market.
- But workers might see their position weaken as the economy softens and recession fears loom.
Keith Wolf, a recruiter in Houston, tries to be diplomatic with clients, but lately, he's been having a lot of what he calls "tough conversations."
The problem, as he sees it, is a profound disconnect between what hiring managers expect from job candidates and what candidates want.
"Employers are watching the news and seeing stories about layoffs and a possible recession, and they think, 'Hey, people should be begging for jobs and willing to come into the office,'" said Wolf, a managing director at Murray Resources, a recruiting firm.
The reality? Not so much.
"Most people want remote or hybrid work," he said. "They want control over their day — they don't want to commute and they want to be able to see their families."
Roughly three years into a pandemic that has ushered in new ways of working and fueled people's desire for remote and flexible schedules, many employers remain fixated on getting workers back in the office. It's one thing when those employees already work for them and have to comply or else risk termination. But it's quite another for recruiters who are trying to persuade would-be employees to sign on.
"When we get a job listing, we tell employers, 'Just so you know, if this isn't a remote role, you're cutting off 75% of the potential candidate pool,'" Wolf said. "The best candidates always have options."
For now, at least, those candidates have leverage. Recent Labor Department data showed there were about 10.5 million jobs available in November, outnumbering the 6 million unemployed Americans looking for work. The report also showed that a larger share of workers quit their jobs in November than a month earlier, an indication that Americans remain confident in their employment prospects.
But workers might see their position weaken as the economy softens and recession fears loom. As more and more companies do layoffs and enact hiring freezes, candidates might not be able to be choosy.
5 days a week 'is a really hard sell'
Many recruiters are paid on a contingent basis, meaning they make money only when their candidate is hired. As a result, they are wary of wasting time trying to fill jobs with explicit on-site requirements that few candidates would find appealing.
For job candidates, five days a week in the office "is a really hard sell," said Kelli Hrivnak, a digital-marketing and tech recruiter in the Washington, DC and Baltimore area. "Some will say, 'I don't mind going to the office two or three days a week.' But they want the freedom and ability to make that choice."
Survey after survey has found that most office workers polled prefer a hybrid or remote model, but therein lies a mismatch.
LinkedIn's latest report on the state of the labor market found much more demand for hybrid and remote jobs than for on-site work. There were nearly two on-site openings on the platform for every applicant looking for on-site work as of October. On the other hand, there were two active applicants for every one remote opportunity available in the US during that time, the report found.
"Over the next few months, the labor markets are expected to cool down, and so that mismatch will decrease," Rand Ghayad, an economist at LinkedIn, told Insider. "There won't be a winner or loser, but at some point, we will get to an equilibrium and a new normal."
Employers need to be flexible, or they won't fill jobs
In the meantime, recruiters are stuck in the middle.
Myriam Le Cannellier, a cofounder and the director of DSML Executive Search in Chicago, recruits for C-suite and vice-presidential-level jobs for European companies in the US.
"Most of our clients want people in the office for good reasons," she said. "Their operations are smaller here, and so they're trying to establish a presence and to create an employee culture."
But identifying candidates willing to work in person full time is a struggle, she said. Many candidates consider the ability to work hybrid or remotely equally important as their compensation. And candidates are unwilling to compromise, she added.
"We try to communicate to clients that they need to be a little more flexible," she said. "Otherwise, they won't fill the roles."