5 steps to boost productivity during a hiring freeze

Output levels don’t need to nosedive, even when you hit pause on hiring

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By Nicole Schreiber-Shearer, Future of Work Specialist at Gloat

With ongoing market turbulence and the rapid rise of AI, it’s safe to say 2023 has been anything but ordinary—and talent acquisition patterns are no exception. From Whole Foods and CVS to Google and IBM, global companies across many industries hit pause on external hiring and began laying employees off in response to market constraints and economic uncertainty.

To minimize the high costs associated with bringing new talent into their organizations, leaders are now prioritizing internal mobility in an effort to access in-demand skills without expanding headcount and enabling employees to continue growing their careers.

While an internal-first talent approach can cut costs and boost morale, the layoffs and hiring freezes that sometimes accompany these shifts come with their own risks. As businesses strive to maintain output levels with limited resources, the pressure can mount on existing employees’ shoulders. Rather than expecting these team members to do more, leaders must harness innovative tools and frameworks to strategically reallocate talent and create development pathways that align with business objectives and employee ambitions.

What happens during a hiring freeze?

A hiring freeze is a phase when an organization temporarily stops non-essential hiring, usually due to financial stress to reduce overall administration costs. During a hiring freeze, most companies will stop advertising job openings, sourcing candidates, screening resumes, and interviewing job applicants.

Hiring freezes can happen as a result of noteworthy events, such as a sudden economic downturn, recession, or the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When companies decide to initiate a hiring freeze, it often puts pressure on existing employees to build new skills and take on additional responsibilities, which can affect productivity and morale at large.

How do you deal with a hiring freeze?

Hiring freezes can be a challenging time for leaders and employees. From an employer’s perspective, it can become difficult to complete certain initiatives because their workforce lacks the resources, skills, and capacity needed to be successful. Oftentimes, leaders don’t have a complete picture of all the skills within their workforce, so they may believe that no employee is qualified to take on a specific role—even when there’s someone within their organization who has transferable skills that might make them a perfect fit.

For employees, hiring freezes often create an increased sense of pressure and ownership. If the organization they work for is pivoting into a new market or striving to sustain growth with limited resources, workers may struggle to meet business objectives without the added headcount.

Despite these challenges, hiring freezes present employees and leaders with an opportunity to build their skills, take on new challenges, and change the way the company innovates and collaborates. There are ways to support employee development and mobility while getting leaders resources through more collaboration and cross-functional work.

That said, it’s important to balance the need to grow and sustain business initiatives with employee morale. While HR leaders can leverage freezes to explore new collaborative ways of working, they should also assess their organization’s health and wellbeing resources to ensure their workforces aren’t suffering from burnout.

5 steps HR leaders can take to improve productivity during a hiring freeze

While hiring freezes can create new challenges for employees and leaders, that doesn’t mean that they have to stunt company growth and innovation. If you’re looking to upgrade efficiency in the midst of a hiring slowdown, here are a few best practices:

#1. Focus on skill-building

Skill-building should always be a priority, particularly as the half-life for learned knowledge continues to shrink. However, it becomes even more important during a hiring freeze because companies can no longer count on newly acquired talent to bring in the skills their organization needs.

Instead, it’s up to existing employees to participate in learning and training initiatives that will help them expand their expertise. Learning on the job is often the most efficient way to build new skills—and, as an added bonus, it ensures that projects and gigs are completed by employees who are eager to grow and develop, benefiting both your business and your people.

#2. Get strategic about talent redeployments

Redeployments will become increasingly essential as skill needs and job requirements evolve due to technological advances. The World Economic Forum predicts that nearly a quarter of all roles will change within the next five years and 69 million new jobs are expected to be created during the same time period.

By reallocating employees as priorities shift, leaders can ensure that no one’s skills or potential gets overlooked. Visionary companies often use skills intelligence tools like Gloat’s Skills Foundation to gain a comprehensive picture of their workforce’s capabilities and understand how they can be put to use across the organization.

#3. Prioritize internal collaboration and talent sharing

During a hiring freeze, some employees may feel stuck or fear that there won’t be opportunities for them to grow and shift gears. However, when companies emphasize internal mobility and empower employees to take on projects and gigs across their organizations, workers can gain the career development opportunities they’re looking for, regardless of headcount constraints.

It’s also important to remember that hiring managers may feel possessive of their employees when organizations are limiting external hiring. Rather than holding onto employees too tightly, leaders should create a culture of resource sharing that empowers all managers to tap into talent based on their skills and capacities—even if that means working with someone from a different team or department.

#4. Emphasize mentorship

Mentorship is always a win-win for employees and employers—and it’s especially beneficial during a hiring freeze. The best mentoring schemes will match mentees to mentors based on the skills they wish to build, in turn enabling internal talent to hone new competencies without relying on external resources. Since mentors will also be developing their leadership skills by teaching and coaching their mentees, mentoring initiatives can help people across your organization expand their abilities and build cross-functional knowledge at the same time.

#5. Keep burnout at bay

The answer to maintaining productivity during a hiring freeze isn’t “more is more”. In fact, expecting employees to take on additional projects without support will inevitably lead to burnout.

Rather than giving employees more deliverables to be responsible for, leaders must think strategically about how they can redistribute work. Oftentimes, talent can be reallocated to ensure everyone is working on projects that align with their skills and ambitions—without exceeding employees’ capacity levels.

Think it’s impossible to shift your business strategy without hiring externally? Check out Seagate’s case study to learn how the leading data storage solutions provider responded to evolving market demands by launching an enterprise-wide talent redeployment strategy.

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