In the 2000 film “What Women Want,” the character played by Mel Gibson suffers an accidental electrocution, after which he is able to telepathically “hear'' the thoughts of women. The results, predictably, are mixed.

It’s not such a stretch to imagine our ongoing transition into the post-pandemic landscape along similar lines: The disruptions of COVID-19 were a massive shock to the system for organizations across the board. They’re now listening to employees in new ways. And the result, as in Gibson’s character’s case, could prove to be something of a reckoning.

So if “What Employees Want” is the new storyline, then these two recruitment tips, more than any others, will have to be top of mind for employers going forward.

1. greater flexibility with hours and working remotely

Given the historical link between flexible work arrangements and employee turnover — and the fact that offering greater flexibility can reduce turnover by as much as 25 percent — it’s surprising how many organizations are taking a hardline stance on return-to-office policies today.

The financial services sector is a case in point.

Back in February 2021, for example, at a moment when many were heralding remote work as the “next normal,” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon characterized the situation instead as "an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.” Not to be outdone, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon opined that remote work simply wasn’t going to be a viable long-term option for employees at his company — at least not “for those who want to hustle.”

While JPMorgan eventually relented, Goldman Sachs made headlines recently when it announced that it wanted employees to work from the office five days a week. Whether or not this hardline policy will ultimately pay off remains to be seen, but there are early signs of trouble.

But financial services companies are by no means the only ones whose return-to-office policies may throw a wrench in their recruitment processes. The extent to which employees aren’t just expecting but rather demanding greater flexibility is on display right now elsewhere as well. Take the results of an initial 2021 internal survey of Apple employees, for example, in which a full 90 percent of respondents indicated that flexible work options were important to them. What’s more, 37 percent — or more than a third of Apple’s workforce — expressed concern that they’ll be forced to quit if they aren’t offered flexible work options with the company down the line.

Given that Apple is asking all employees to return to the office three days per week — and plans to restrict employees to just four weeks of full-time remote work maximum per year — this has all the makings of a major human capital crisis. The far more likely outcome, of course, will be policy revisions to keep more people on board.

Time will tell. But make no mistake, flexibility (or lack thereof) will have a decisive influence on the effectiveness of your organization’s employee recruitment and hiring processes, and whether you can get out ahead of tight hiring timelines, too.

2. health is everything

The latest stats around employee health and wellness are deeply troubling. Take the fact that roughly two in five adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder at some point in the pandemic, a rate four times higher than it was the year previous, simply for starters. Small wonder, then, that employee health and wellness would emerge as such a central part of the conversation — McKinsey calls it “the coming revolution” in a recent white paper, for example — about the future of work.

Mind you, even if many of the health and safety enhancements that now matter most to talent emerged during the long course of the global pandemic, these go way beyond mental health benefits or considerations around return-to-office safety — mask requirements, elevated temperature detection, onsite cleaning protocols and so on.

Not that these things aren’t important, of course. They are. But the point is, rather, that the conversation itself is changing and expanding. Employee health, safety and wellbeing have become broadly encompassing concepts. And as key selling points in your recruitment process, they now touch on everything from mental health benefits to organizational culture, work-life balance and more.

This increasingly expansive sense of what constitutes health, safety and wellbeing in the employer-employee relationship dovetails with the conversation around flexibility in significant ways as well. Employee surveys suggest that remote employees are happier and more satisfied with their jobs on average than their onsite counterparts, for example. So for organizations struggling right now to hire and retain high-value talent, flexible work and health and safety offerings may ultimately be, as the song goes, like love and marriage — you can’t have one without the other.

key takeaways: what employees want

To be sure, not all of the employee recruitment practices we’re seeing now are new or different. Offering competitive compensation, for example, remains table stakes when it comes to landing top talent, much as it was before.

But as we have seen, employee expectations are changing in decisive ways, as these recruitment tips suggest. Flexibility has become a more effective lure than ever. For 2022, our top recruitment tips would be to prioritize health and safety, as they are now far more broadly encompassing imperatives for companies to deliver on. And while these tips are broadly applicable to organizations of all sizes, they’re a game changer if you’re under-resourced.

At this point, only one question remains: Will your organization rise to the occasion?