Before, in a prepandemic workplace, internal mobility done right often meant retention done right. But all that’s changed since early last year, when expectations were different.

Employees had options, whether that meant looking internally or externally. They just wanted to know their paths and what was available in terms of learning and practical experience — and providing those professional development opportunities is still key

But during these uncertain times, employees have become less likely to ask that of their employers, seeking instead to maintain their employment status. That doesn’t mean they aren’t interested, just that their priorities have shifted. But the same can be said for employers, too. 

Now, as vaccine availability continues to increase and offices begin to reopen, it’s time to revisit those retention decisions to assess where we go from here.

Responding to the crisis

The shock and awe of COVID-19 impacted employers in a big way immediately following the declaration of the pandemic a year ago. While there were plenty of warning signs, few realized how quickly everything would get turned upside down. 

Employers were forced to adapt. For some, this required making difficult decisions about who to keep and who to let go. For others, it meant rethinking how they operate to keep everyone. Either way, a decision had to be made, and the organization had to commit to it — fast. 

Plenty of factors went into these decisions at the time, and internal mobility became the hot topic. Say you had a fantastic marketing executive, one who was likely to get poached if the opportunity arose, but your company’s marketing activity decreased over the past year. 

Did you find a way to move that person into another role for the time being in the name of retention? Did you work with them to assess what other skills they possessed that might support a more pressing need? 

These types of decisions may have functioned as a way to demonstrate loyalty to employees during unprecedented circumstances but could also have placed folks in job roles or on career paths they didn’t intend to stay with long term. 

Remember that internal mobility doesn’t always need to result in permanent moves — and enough has changed by now that you’ll want to reevaluate those internal moves to ensure they’re still the right choices for long-term retention. 

Navigate the current reality 

When the pandemic hit a year ago, many organizations had to rethink what critical and essential work means. Who is most critical, and why? There was also the question of where internal mobility was going, forcing organizations to think long and hard about end goals. 

Take your office manager, for example, someone known for keeping things running smoothly in and around the workplace. With physical locations closed, what changes were made to ensure they remained a part of the team? Maybe that meant having the office manager take on a customer service role and letting them learn different parts of the business in the interim.

If you have or are planning to reopen soon, what does that mean for their role now? The time has come to start having those conversations, even if the office doesn’t reopen for months. Ensure that the office manager knows the impact their work made over the past year and that the organization values what they did to pivot.

The past year of uncertainty gave companies the chance to align their actions with their values. You emphasized mobility as a form of retention, and perhaps you’re coming out of this as a stronger organization for it. 

But the current reality looks different than it did three, six or nine months ago — and we must continue to adapt. 

Figure out what’s next 

Many compared the economic impact of COVID-19 to the Great Recession, but with a few notable differences. Two are the speed at which COVID-19 swept through the workforce and the approach employers took in response. 

In 2008, employers made workforce reductions over time, leading to the buildup of high unemployment over several months. When the coronavirus hit here in the U.S., many decided to make a deeper initial cut in hopes of only having to do so once. 

This wound up flipping the premise that internal mobility done right is retention done right on its proverbial head. In today’s world, retention done right is also internal mobility done right.   

Whereas before COVID-19, internal mobility was candidate-driven, it quickly became employer-driven and may stay that way for the foreseeable future. As we emerge on the other side, HR and talent teams will need to be able to account for both scenarios as candidates regain their confidence and employers revisit their organizational structure.

Where do we go from here?

Candidates will have questions. You’ll need to answer for what you did during the crisis, including how you handled your workforce. They’ll want to know if your brand stood by its people, if it recognized that certain people would be useful in different roles and if the company made training available. 

If there’s one thing we’ve learned through this experience, it’s that talent is moveable — whether that means the physical move from in-office to remote work or making it possible for someone to stay on staff in a new capacity. 

Who you are as an organization has everything to do with the people you hire and how you work together, in the good times and the bad.

William Tincup is the President of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.