The impact of Covid-19 on Human Resources: Mass Migration of Innovation Talent Open to New Opportunities

Guidance for retaining and recruiting research & development employees in the post-pandemic landscape

By John Hodge, Managing Partner, Americas

In the workplace, one of the impacts of the pandemic has been the shutdown or curtailment of new product development activities. But with many of those staff roles curtailed as well, what lies ahead for companies that have had to freeze their innovation and talent?

Over the last year of conducting executive search for clients in science, technology, and industrial fields around the world, we’ve interviewed an increasing number of dissatisfied engineers and product developers. With their work on hold as companies have had to figure out how to stay open through the pandemic, they are looking for opportunities to continue innovating elsewhere, at places where they can pursue their interest in research and development. On the other hand, those companies with their house in order are finding they are able to recruit and hire from a large pool of highly qualified talent eager to get to work.

The changing landscape created by the pandemic necessitates a new approach to risk management and employee retention. As C-Suites reassess their company’s shifting needs to prioritize protecting employees’ health and providing ongoing deliverables, they should still take care to support, and thus retain, their innovation talent as well. Though not a simple solution, executive teams will need to find a workable balance between allocating resources for the company’s sustaining products/services and its new product development. When industries return to a new normal post-pandemic, having strong teams in both areas of the business will be essential to maintaining and growing market position.

Retaining director and executive level candidates, especially in these circumstances, is not always a simple matter of salary or benefits. Focusing only on the company’s baseline operations is a sure way to see top innovation talent leave for competitors who have shown organizational commitment to new product development, the ability to take products to market, and an interest in improving people’s lives through the work. Instead, for example, offer a strategic position on the business side to a top performer, who can provide insight regarding company acquisition and expansion as well as product planning for next five years and beyond. Though the company may not be able to proceed with new product development right away as once planned, employees are unlikely to put their careers on hold until the organization is able to resume innovating.

On the other hand, companies with better control of their supply chain avoided many of the obstacles that froze their competitors, priming them to accelerate into new challenges. And being able to forge ahead with innovation through this period has increased their need to expand new product development teams even further. With proper planning that anticipates and directs growth goals, executive teams can identify new hires who have the potential to help drive the company’s products and services forward, solve ongoing problems, and position the company as an industry leader of the future. Capitalizing on this human resources opportunity has the potential to create a significant shift in the marketplace. Corporate boards and hiring decision makers just need to be sure to act decisively after identifying the right candidate because it is still a highly competitive hiring marketplace.

C-Suites will need to take a different approach to short- and long-term planning as remote work technology is making it easier for people to take an interview and accept a new position without having to move out of state or the country right away. Effective recruitment and retention strategies can transform a company’s potential in the post-pandemic environment and help to build its name as a recognized innovator.


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