How the Pandemic is Reshaping the Association Workforce

The workplace and workforce are going to look very different post-pandemic. Several association executives discussed trends and challenges that have led to this transformation.

Throughout the past year, many people have wondered what the new normal would look like after COVID-19 got more under control and people began returning to their offices. As we’re approaching that point, several executives discussed trends they’re seeing in the association workforce during the recent “ExecConnect: Re-Opening the Association” webinar, hosted by the New York Society of Association Executives.

During the conversation, three areas emerged as transforming the workforce and workplace: remote work, a tighter labor market, and opportunities and challenges related to diversity and inclusion. Here’s a look at what each of these may mean for associations.

Remote Work

While more remote work is going to be in the cards, panelists and participants said the question that associations seem to be struggling with is how much remote work will be expected.

“Organizations need to reassess the need to have that employee in person,” said Rafael Rivera, CAE, CEO of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA). “Some are very obvious, but others are not. That’s when the employee may question you: ‘We’ve been working from home for 13 to 15 months. Why do I need to be back in the office?’ And you need to have a good answer as to why that is a business necessity. If the answer isn’t good, you’re very likely to lose an employee.”

Rivera noted that recent studies suggest a huge chunk of the workforce—95 percent in one study—are considering changing jobs. Personally, his organization lost three longtime employees to competitors because of salary and remote flexibility. PIHRA will be moving fully remote this month, in part, to stay competitive.

Webinar attendee Claire Rosenzweig, CAE, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan NY, said that while a hybrid environment with some remote days can work, fully remote doesn’t feel like an option for businesses with community ties. “We have a responsibility as business leaders to our community,” she said. “We have a responsibility to help them keep a tax base going through our being in the city. More employees mean the delis stay open. So, I am committed to bringing people back.”

Charles Flateman, chairman of NYC & Company and executive vice president of business development at the Shubert Organization, said that in-person is the primary mode for some organizations and remote, while sometimes possible, won’t be the norm.

“We think it’s our responsibility [at Shubert Theatre] to be an engine of the economy—to restaurants and all the things that go along with it,” Flateman said. “At the same time, there are realities that need to be recognized: women with childcare issues must be grappled with. We are setting the expectation that people should be in the office, but we are mindful of what people’s realities are at this moment.”

Tighter Labor Market

With more employees willing to change jobs, the competition for labor is fierce. Remote work, as well as higher pay, may be needed to attract and retain talent. “As you plan your budgets for 2022, you may need to plan for greater labor expenses,” Rivera said.

Sherrif Karamat, CAE, president and CEO of PCMA, said challenges related to finding employees is a multipronged issue for associations.

“What I’m finding in association America is there is a large portion of association executives that don’t want to deal with the new reality, so they are exiting the workforce in large numbers,” Karamat said. “At the same time, we as leaders haven’t done a good enough job of developing the next generation of leaders, and so we are facing this real challenge.”

The numbers, in general, show a tight labor market. “The most recent jobs report said 4 million people changed jobs,” Rivera said. “In normal times, that represents a healthy economy where employers are competing for employees. So, yes, it is hard right now.”

Building a Diverse Workforce

In many sectors, the pandemic forced layoffs and reduced the number of employees in that field. As the economic recovery is allowing people to rehire, there are opportunities and challenges around building a more diverse and inclusive staff team.

“Because we had such deep layoffs in our industry, as we hire back, we have an obligation to hire back with intentionality,” Flateman said. “[We want to hire] with the type of intentionality that is necessary to get a workforce that looks more like New York city, a city that is majority minority.”

While organizations that will be hiring many employees have an opportunity to diversify, the challenge comes because of the need to hire quickly to reach required staffing levels.

“You need to be mindful of your recruitment strategies,” Rivera said. “If you do need to fill a vacancy very quickly… [and] you are not making that extra effort to diversify your candidate pool, then you’re not going to have a diverse workforce.”

What are some challenges you are seeing related to returning to work? Share in the comments.

(AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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