Hiring 6 min

Trends and Practical Advice for Hiring in 2021

September 4, 2020
Updated May 21, 2021

2020 was full of mostly bad surprises and what seemed to be a constantly shifting “new normal.” Between the pandemic, the economic downturn, and political discord, hiring in 2020 was particularly fraught. The rise in coronavirus cases in June meant that many businesses, like the restaurant industry, that were reopening and rehiring had to suddenly stop again. Other industries, like health care, tech, and consumer services ramped up hiring as a result of the pandemic.

With three vaccines approved for emergency use by the FDA and people starting to return to their pre-pandemic lifestyle, employment conditions have improved with unemployment at 6.1 percent in April 2021, down from its highest spike during the pandemic of 14.4 percent in April 2020. More businesses are hiring, but hiring after COVID-19 is an anxiety-filled endeavor, with lingering worries over business closures, slumped economic markets, public health, and more. And if we learned anything about employment and hiring from 2020, it’s that you have to be ready to adapt as conditions continue to change—because they probably will.

In this article, we’ll go over hiring trends in 2021 so far and how to prepare for what might come next, giving you hiring tips for post COVID-19.

Hiring Trends in 2021: The Road So Far

The pandemic has been the main force shaping employment and hiring trends in 2021, hitting small businesses particularly hard. According to Yelp, 60 percent of business closures due to the pandemic are now permanent, with restaurants and retail having the largest share of permanent closures.

But with 32 percent of the U.S. population vaccinated as of May 2021, the economy is turning around. Here are a few notable 2020 hiring trends  to help contextualize the current employment and economic landscape.

More People Are Working Part Time Instead of Full Time

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in July 2020 that “the number of involuntary part-time workers is 4.1 million higher than in February.” This number is significant because these are people who have had their hours cut or weren’t able to find full-time work even though they wanted to work full time. It’s a sign that the quality of jobs hasn’t yet recovered from the pandemic.

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Job Postings Fluctuate with the Number of Coronavirus Cases

Glassdoor analyzed employer job postings on their website, finding that 36 percent of employers reduced job openings from June 22 to July 27. Soon after businesses reopened, COVID-19 cases increased, prompting governments and businesses to intervene. This reaction and the resulting loss of business appear to have slowed hiring.

Minorities, Women, and the Young Are Suffering More Unemployment

Groups who are already at a disadvantage in a healthy economy suffer more during economic downturns. This pandemic is no different. Women in all racial groups exceed male unemployment by an average of 3 percent. Of all racial groups, Hispanic women have hit the highest level of unemployment at 19.5 percent. Workers between the ages of 16 and 25 hit a whopping 25.3 percent, as they tend to work in highly-impacted industries, like food services.

Those Who Can Are Working Remotely

Zapier reported that 51 percent of U.S. workers transitioned to working from home in March 2020. Despite the abrupt transition, 65 percent of employees say they’re more productive. And it’s not just big tech companies like Twitter and Facebook that plan on keeping this arrangement long-term. More traditional companies, like Nationwide and Morgan Stanley, also plan on a large portion of their employees to continue working from home because of how successful it has been.

Switching to virtual onboarding? Here’s practical advice for getting it right.

Hiring Trends in 2021: What Comes Next?

Even as we emerge from the pandemic, it’s still the most immediate and affecting factor for hiring in 2021. As Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor senior economist and data scientist, observes in his report on the economic recovery, “…getting the public health crisis under control is key to economic normalcy. While a solid pace of recovery is possible, the economy remains extremely fragile and any progress can be easily and quickly reversed.”

The way forward still depends on factors that are out of individual or business control, like local and federal government mandates, newest recommendations for health and safety precautions, and the like.

Thankfully, you can control how your organization continues to respond, and hiring is a critical component of your response. Your hiring choices still have an effect on recruiting and retaining employees, just like it does at any other time. You still want to keep your employees engaged and productive, and you still want to hire good candidates who will be valuable additions to your workplace culture.

Hiring will affect both the perception and experience of life in your organization and outside of it. To put a finer point on it, this includes:

  • How the world sees your employer brand
  • How your current and future employees react to your strategy for handling post COVID-19

Consider these questions when examining your hiring procedures and strategy:

  • Do applicants trust that you’re taking the right steps to keep your workforce and customers safe?
  • How will you maintain culture when hiring during times of change?
  • How will you balance economic pressures with offering fair compensation?

We’ll go over some practical advice for how to answer those questions in the next section.

Hiring Tips for 2021

Prioritize the Health and Safety of Candidates and Employees

This tip may feel like we’re beating a dead horse. Obviously, health and safety is a critical issue right now. Not to mention, your organization may already be juggling local and state mandates to stay compliant and keep everyone safe at work. But this really bears repeating.

As Glassdoor economist Daniel Zhao explains, “If reopening prematurely leads to growing outbreaks, economic gains will be fleeting at best, leaving the economy stuck in the doldrums. At worst, rising cases risk imperiling the already frail economy and sending us back into a double-dip recession.”

While more and more people are vaccinated every day, the U.S. has a ways to go before reaching herd immunity. There are many steps you can take to reduce the pandemic’s impact on your organization and vice versa. These start with are some practical ways to keep people safe as you hire new employees:

  • Interview, onboard, and train new hires virtually. Even if you end up having them work in office or on location, this will give you the time and space to properly vet applicants without worrying about exposing yourself and other members of your team. You can use this time to have new hires self-quarantine if they’ve recently been exposed to the virus. Most importantly, you can make sure that they’re ready to follow proper safety protocols before they start their first day, which helps protect both new and existing employees and reduces stress all around.
  • If you have to onboard or train onsite, provide masks and adhere to social distancing. While not all states require employers to provide or pay for masks, you may want to provide masks for new hires on their first days to encourage them to abide by safety recommendations. This will also help them feel that you’re ready and able to support them in their new job.
  • Have a plan for what to do or say if a candidate or new hire refuses to abide by safety protocols. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) makes it clear that employers absolutely have the right to require masks and hand washing. You are also within your rights to screen for COVID-19 (as long as it is only aimed at assessing COVID-19). But what do you say if an interviewee tells you they’ll refuse to follow safety protocols if they’re hired? What do you do if a new hire shows up and refuses to answer your health screening questionnaire? SHRM recommends first explaining the purpose for such requirements, but if the employee still refuses, you can suspend or fire them.
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Double Down on Your Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Diversity is good for business at the best of times, driving up financial returns by 35 percent for companies with high ethnic diversity and 25 percent when gender and ethnic diversity is combined. Additionally, teams that are more diverse are more innovative and solve problems faster. And if you ever needed an edge, now is the time.

Another important reason for boosting diversity is one we mentioned above in our discussion of hiring trends. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a more pronounced effect on marginalized groups, like minorities and women. Hiring more diversely and helping employees feel included in your workplace helps to mitigate that inequity.

It’s also a chance for your organization to show employees and customers that you care about diversity and inclusion enough to put your money where your mouth is. Last year’s calls for social justice made for a lot of solidarity posts on Twitter, but what customers want is action. Hiring is a powerful way to act.

Offer Remote Work as Much as Possible

To remain competitive and attractive to candidates post COVID-19, many organizations will need to include more remote or hybrid work options. Many employees got a taste of what it’s like working from home for the majority of 2020, and many have found it’s their preferred way to work. So if a position can be done remotely full or part time, strongly consider offering that option as part of the deal. 

Even under normal circumstances, employees who work from home report feeling less stressed, have a better work-life balance, and are more productive—40 percent even said they’d take a pay cut if it meant they could work from home. In 2021, the number of hybrid workplaces has soared, and this workplace arrangement is a great option if you still want employees in the office some of the time but want to allow flexibility.


Be Prepared to Adapt as Conditions Continue to Change

2020 started out as someone’s idea of a bad joke and, much to everyone’s dismay, turned into someone else’s idea for a horror movie. Luckily, 2020 is behind us, and there is a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. 2020 made for an especially challenging year for all businesses, putting a lot of strains on budgets. Now that we are in 2021, start changing the way you think about recruiting and onboarding, so you can help keep people safe but still meet your organizational needs and start rebounding with the economy.

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Marie-Reine Pugh

Marie-Reine Pugh is focused on making HR simpler for HR professionals and workplaces a better place for everyone. She pulls from her previous experiences as an educator and six years of writing and researching to explore how to create inclusive company cultures that help businesses succeed.