When the gravity of COVID-19’s potential impact hit the U.S., employers suddenly found themselves in circumstances that were previously unimaginable. Many industries had to significantly change or reduce operations, and new hiring challenges emerged. Meanwhile, other types of businesses — like grocery stores, pharmacies and big-box stores — were selling more than ever, and they had to hustle to meet increased and overwhelming demands for essential goods.

Now, with many states reopening for business, a new adjustment begins. “Non-essential” businesses that have limited or closed operations over the past few months may now be considering how to hire and support new talent as they prepare to increase activity. 

But we are not in a post-COVID-19 world just yet. Cases in 12 states are still increasing, including California and Texas — the states with the highest populations in the country.

Health concerns persist — even with an unemployment rate of 13.3% 

Currently, there are many available workers in the U.S. The unemployment rate is 13.3%, which is the second-highest unemployment rate since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking numbers in 1948 (the highest being last month’s rate of 14.7%). 

So it would seem easy to hire and retain the necessary talent. But, facing serious health concerns, workers must weigh the benefits against the risks of leaving the house. In fact, Indeed data shows that job seeker interest in non-medical essential jobs has waned in recent weeks.

Employers therefore have to think carefully about how they are going to recruit in this environment now, in order to position themselves for long-term success. 

Essential business’s hiring and retention strategies during COVID-19

As job seekers and employees continue to assess their work-related health needs, some companies have already discovered innovative adaptations to meet those concerns while making timely hires and keeping crucial staff. 

In particular, it seems that a frictionless hiring process and demonstrating employee care are key to finding and retaining talent. Let's look at some of the strategies implemented by companies that are successfully utilizing new hiring tactics.

Doubling down on health and safety measures: These days, many employers report that safety outweighs almost any other work-related concerns for potential and current employees. Some stores, such as Albertson’s and Target, were early to the implementation of social distancing markers in store. Walmart and Kroger also installed sneeze guards at cash registers early on to protect employees from the spread of disease. Other companies like Walgreens limited hours in some locations to ensure sufficient time for cleaning. Safety measures may vary according to the roles you are asking employees to perform, so make sure you are up to speed on the latest guidance, and communicate clearly how you will protect workers.

Speeding up the hiring process: Walmart is a prominent example of how to successfully hire high volumes of workers in a tight time frame. To get employees in the door as quickly as possible, Walmart shortened its typical two-week hiring process to as little as 24 hours. The company reduced its hiring window by eliminating the need for formal interviews and written offers, allowing store managers to instead extend verbal offers right away. This need for speed is no wonder, given Walmart’s March-to-May 2020 hiring goal of 150,000 new workers. Examine your hiring process — in what areas can you find efficiencies? 

Amping up employee appreciation: With so many available job opportunities, how are employers retaining talent? Essential employees have been key to keeping many businesses open and operating, and some employers have leaned into showing their gratitude. During the peak of COVID-19’s impact in Michigan, the Michigan-based grocer Meijer brought in meals from local restaurants for employees, both to show appreciation for their workers and to support the local economy. Little things like this can go a long way to making employees feel valued.

Using creative, new hiring sources: Albertons thought outside the box when the national grocery company emailed its consumer loyalty program about job openings, tapping into platforms that had only ever been used for retail sales. The company further utilized their app and customer-facing site by placing hiring banner advertisements. The results? The Albertsons career site saw a spike in traffic three times the usual amount. What platforms do you have that you can use?

Making new partnerships: While many employers were forced to furlough workers due to severe cutbacks in business operations, other companies stepped in to help. CVS, Albertsons, Lidl and others formed partnerships with the hotel giants Hilton and Marriott to fast-track the hiring of recently furloughed hotel employees. These partnerships immediately connected employers looking to hire with a giant talent pool of candidates with similar skill sets and customer-based backgrounds.

The road ahead

As more companies figure out how to reopen and ramp up hiring, there are lessons to be learned from the companies that have been operating and bringing on new team members throughout the coronavirus. 

Hiring during a stressful world event can be difficult; atypical times call for atypical measures to find — and keep — talent. By remaining flexible, taking a page from these companies’ playbook and implementing some creativity, you may find that in these trying times, there are more options for success than you thought possible.