Happy Work Folk Are Huggers, Not Walkers

June 30, 2009

“They call them Walkers.”

Rick the recruiter whispered the words like a desperate prayer while he stood at the 10th floor window looking down on the street. Nishi, Rick’s new boss, was puzzled.


“Yes, Walkers,” Rick echoed, and wiped his dry mouth with the back of his hand.

Nishi waved a hand in front of Rick’s face. “Earth to Rick, what are you talking about?”

He pointed to the street. “There.”

Nishi’s eyes tracked along his arm and hand down to the street. Hundreds of people drifted aimlessly toward the front entrance of their building, bumping into one another and eventually amassing as a group in the sweltering heat below. Dozens and dozens more were on their way.

“Oh my God.”

Rick placed his right palm on the window, then his forehead. “I know.”

“Who are they really?”

Rick inhaled and held it. He turned to face Nishi and exhaled slowly into his hands. Nishi’s usually smooth caramel complexion was now ashen, her arms slack at her sides, but fists clenched.

“Ever since the great global economic Armageddon, they’ve been turning up in herds at companies that are hiring, like ours. All over the world. They’re the unqualified, the unemployed, those who can’t find a job. And it just keeps getting worse. More keep showing up.”

Nishi checked her smart phone. “I’ve actually read about this but hadn’t experienced it for myself yet. I’ve also read that they—”

Suddenly they heard shrieks from the street followed by sirens and gunshots. Blue and red lights splashed across their windows and those across the street.

“—eat the employed and the qualified, yes. It’s true.”

Nishi cupped both her hands over her mouth and visibly gagged. Co-workers made their way to the window to witness the horror.

“I know, it’s awful,” Rick continued. “But, what’s interesting is that they only eat those whose companies are thriving, where engagement is high, and where positive company culture is priority number one, which isn’t many right now, but they’re out there. Unfortunately, we’re one of the lucky ones, too. It’s bizarre. They won’t touch the miserable workers anywhere.”

More shrieks from the street. Gunshots. Someone on a bullhorn shouted for the “engaged” to flee the area immediately.

Rick closed his eyes. “I can’t fill my reqs fast enough anymore. They keep eating my candidates. The only way to stop them is to skill them up, or kill them.”

Nishi turned and ran down the hall toward the bathrooms, still cupping her hands over her mouth.

Rick placed both palms and his forehead against the window as if he were bracing for an earthquake. Sweat beaded on his forehead and trickled down the glass in front of him.

“They call them Walkers,” he whispered again…

And today, in the real world, there are still millions of them, although thankfully they don’t eat anyone. For those keeping score at home, I was only having a little fun with the highly popular AMC show The Walking Dead, of which I’m an avid fan.

Sadly, there are still millions of unemployed, regardless of the skewed stats, plus millions more who have given up, and millions of job requisitions that go unfilled because of a growing skills disparity, poor recruiting and hiring practices and trying to find that one qualified candidate in an unfortunate unqualified zombie apocalypse.

It’s certainly no laughing matter. According to BLS JOLTS report, or Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, there were 2.0 official unemployed per job opening for August 2014. Job openings were nearly 5 million with hiring coming in at a lower rate than July. In fact, job openings returned to pre-recession levels while hires have only increased 27% since June 2009, and private sector job openings have also recovered to pre-recession levels while hires have only increased 28% from their 2009 lows.

Oh my God.

For the tech world, however, the picture is much different. Shravan Goli, President of Dice, shared on the TalentCulture #TChat Show that currently it’s the hardest to fill software engineering, cloud computing, big data and mobile development jobs. And while overall tech unemployment sits at 3% and just 2.3% for software developers respectively, companies are having to get creative in terms of attracting tech talent with perks and compensation.

But because it’s hard enough today to find and source the most in-demand tech talent, or any person with the skills most sought after today, and with the high competition for these “holy grail” candidates, it’s not just the job that needs to stand out – companies must as well.

Stand out they do, but not for the best of reasons.

For example, according to a Fast Company article and recent research from the Center for Talent Innovation, U.S. women working in science, engineering, and tech fields are 45% more likely than their male peers to leave the industry within the year. This is due to male-dominated tech, biased performance evaluations and lack of women mentors. Quite disheartening for my wife and I, being parents of two bright little girls who may go into tech someday. Oh, I’m not even going to comment on the egg-freezing benefit offered to Facebook and Apple female employees who want to delay motherhood either.

Oh my God.

What to do? How about the living up to these two things:

  1. Culture up. Companies need to learn how to build and communicate a “diverse” and “open” company culture that attracts the best tech pros (and anyone for any position). Period. That’s what elevating candidate experience is all about (inside and out). That means developing a work environment that most appeals to in-demand tech professionals, and all professionals for that matter, and how they should effectively promote that culture in their social recruiting efforts (and all recruiting efforts). When they learn how to build and communicate a work culture that attracts the most sought-after candidates, it means they know how to identify the aspects of their unique culture that most resonates with their target candidates.
  2. Skill up. This one affects those companies hire and those they don’t. At least until they do, and then they’ll be happy with the continuous investment they make. If candidates and employees don’t receive the experience they increasingly want – where they feel the employer is committed to their ongoing development and helping set the stage for a long and successful tenure of reciprocal growth, they will seek to work for a company that offers such opportunities. In order to truly engage – and thereby retain – talent, organizations must evolve their continuous learning and development practices to drive talent engagement strategies and determine how they can provide a more rewarding experience.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The happily employed are loyal to the work they love first, then those they do it with and for, where the culture (and business) flourishes and embraces both, and then they’re loyal to the company brand. Happy work folk are huggers, not walkers, tempered only by their individual endurance and the distance to empowered culture and continuous skill development.

Let’s work to avoid further zombie apocalypse, which is still out there by the way. Plus, I prefer chicken and fish anyway.

photo credit: Munir Hamdan via photopin cc