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How Nine Fortune 500 HR Execs Are Updating Their Recruiting and Retention Efforts

Reskilling and financial well-being top the talent strategy list for these HR executives amid the economic downturn.


A group of business people shaking hands.


​Few leaders feel the financial belt-tightening in corporate America as profoundly as HR executives. After two years of rapid-fire hiring, many have been forced to slow down, halt recruiting and take a leaner, recyclable approach to fill existing vacancies. For some, it can feel like whiplash—a complete turnaround in talent strategy. But others say it's par for the course for HR leaders who must often shift focus in response to the macroeconomic climate. 

A few commonalities arise for HR heads steering the ship during this time. Most anticipate relying more heavily upon their talent development team, and others are adjusting their benefits offerings to retain current talent and meet their financial needs. 

Fortune spoke with nine HR executives and people leaders at Fortune 500 companies to explore how they're altering their talent strategy to reflect the current market. (Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.)

CITI
Sara Wechter, head of human resources

What is your talent management strategy in light of a looming economic downturn?

In an uncertain economic environment, colleagues are becoming more risk-averse. We're starting to see attrition subside and, as a result, hiring needs. This change allows us to look at talent differently, especially for newer joiners, including investing in capability building, focusing on internal mobility, and strengthening our succession planning. 

How are you approaching hiring and benefits differently?

From a benefits standpoint, we are continuously adjusting our well-being strategies to the current environment. The psychological safety needs that came to the forefront during the pandemic aren't going away. 

We are leaning in toward the financial health pillar of our well-being strategy, along with mental and physical health, because they are intertwined. If colleagues are stressed about their financial health, they will not be at their best at work. Employees are incredibly focused on maximizing their hard-earned dollars in this inflationary environment. In fact, we saw the highest utilization ever this past year of the virtual agent that helps our U.S. employees find the most cost-effective benefits plan to meet their needs. So it's tools like that, financial literacy programs, and financial counselors we employ to support our workers. 

How will you use this downturn to your advantage?

In times of uncertainty, employees tend to stay close and crave connection and belonging. We want to harness those feelings—leading with empathy, listening to employees, and creating moments that matter to create employees of a lifetime.

UPS
Darrell Ford, EVP, chief human resources officer, and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer

What is your talent management strategy in light of a looming economic downturn?

When it comes to recruiting, we are proud of our promote-from-within culture, and we're working to be even more transparent about available opportunities.

From a retention perspective, we're doubling down on leadership capabilities and their influence on culture and climate. We recently rolled out a new leadership model to reinforce what good looks like, building on our values from the last 115 years. And we'll continue to focus on the employee experience to help our teams engage, develop, and thrive. A key example is that we're exploring new technology to make processes simpler and faster, so our people are freed up to focus on the most important parts of their job.

How are you approaching hiring and benefits differently?

Great benefits are critical to any hiring strategy, and we occasionally adjust them based on employee feedback and talent marketplace data.

For example, we just updated our management team's pay mix in direct response to our employees' requests based on job market conditions. Another recent change includes expanding our "Resources for Living" benefit to all UPSers worldwide, providing access to free mental health support to our people and anyone in their household.

Beyond benefits, we're working to make our hiring processes faster and more innovative, especially in warehouse positions where the labor market is tight. Plus, onboarding is wildly important to retaining new hires and sparking engagement, so we're partnering with several universities to identify new opportunities to deliver an outstanding experience.

How will you use this downturn to your advantage?

Great companies invest through cycles of economic uncertainty, and UPS is doing that. We're controlling what we can control, including moving away from activities that don't fit our strategy so we can lean into areas for growth. That's how we'll win out of this—by driving better and bolder execution of a strategy that we know works.

CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS
Paul Marchand, EVP of human resources  

What is your talent management strategy in light of a looming economic downturn?

We have not changed our strategy as we believe investing in attracting, developing and retaining our employees is key to continued growth and success. We want our employees to build long and successful careers here. More than two-thirds of our 101,000-plus employees are in frontline roles. The more skilled and tenured these employees are, the better we can serve our customers and execute our operating strategy.

How are you approaching hiring and benefits differently?

We significantly enhanced our already robust pay and benefits programs two months ago. Our minimum starting wage of $20 an hour for all employees is nearly three times the federal minimum. We offer comprehensive health benefits, and for the 10th consecutive year, we absorbed the total annual cost increase of medical, dental and vision benefits. Our retirement program features a company contribution of up to 9 percent for most employees. We nearly doubled our tuition reimbursement to $10,000 annually and meaningfully increased our investments in training and career progression opportunities. 

How will you use this downturn to your advantage?

We are still hiring at all levels of the company. We're finding there is great talent that was scarce in the past. To help fill these positions, we are expanding networking opportunities and holding on-site events at our Stamford, Conn., and Denver locations. We also host students from partner universities to tour our facilities and become more familiar with Charter. To attract talent for frontline positions, our teams promote internal opportunities for career progression, hold on-site hiring events at local offices, and boost our recruiting of early career, military and diverse job candidates.

PUBLIX
Marcy Benton, VP of human resources

What is your talent management strategy in light of a looming economic downturn?

We're committed to growth, which means that as new stores open and associates retire, there will be positions to fill or backfill. We'll continue to grow and develop our associates for promotional opportunities and hire them into entry-level positions as needs arise. 

How are you approaching hiring and benefits differently?

We focus on the candidate experience and will refine our hiring processes to meet their expectations and company needs. Just as customers are promised a premier shopping experience in our stores, we want to create that premier experience for job seekers who interact with our employer brand. We review our benefits on an ongoing basis and make adjustments as needed.

How will you use this downturn to your advantage?

Publix has a promote-from-within culture, and we believe an economic downturn is a great time to grow our internal talent pipeline. We are always looking to prepare our associates for growth so they can take the next step in their careers with us.

ABBVIE
Tim Richmond, EVP, chief human resources officer

What is your talent management strategy in light of a looming economic downturn?

We're focusing resources on understanding and acting on what makes our best talent want to stay. For example, we've built internal HR capabilities within our organizational excellence team to become the strategic partner of choice with AbbVie's business leaders, to help them craft impactful strategies and build top-performing teams that can withstand talent shifts. And we consistently reinforce with our leaders and employees that our culture is as important as what we get done, and we clearly outline the behaviors we expect from leaders and employees. A strong culture sustains companies through challenging times and helps drive business performance. 

How are you approaching hiring and benefits differently?

Creating a sense of purpose is more critical than ever, and our business is fundamentally meaningful because we are improving lives—a connection that resonates with employees and potential talent at a time when people may be looking for a change.

AbbVie offers a range of benefits for employees at every life stage. Various local and global programs, resources, and experiences help employees be their best selves at work and home. Listening and responding to the environment comes into play, too. The labor market remains dynamic, so we consistently evaluate and evolve our offerings and initiatives. We expanded our well-being offerings over the past few years, increasing parental and caregiver leave and enhancing mental health support. This year, our employee well-being program focus is financial well-being. 

How will you use this downturn to your advantage?

We've always taken the long view to ensure we can best support the business through every economic shift. We've built a skilled, agile HR team capable of delivering sophisticated solutions for new and emerging areas of our business. We continue to develop HR skills and invest in technology to help us meet the complex needs of a fast-growing business. We're ready for what the future holds.

PROCTER & GAMBLE
Bala Purushothaman, chief human resources officer

What is your talent management strategy in light of a looming economic downturn?

As a company that's been in business for 185 years through many different economic cycles, we know our future success depends on the strength of our talent pipeline, which we build primarily from within. We use a rigorous and disciplined approach to developing leaders, regardless of the external environment.

Business leaders actively recruit, teach and coach as part of our strong development culture. We plan careers, not just jobs. We manage talent to enable career growth across businesses and geographies, and we identify talent early and prepare people through enriching assignments.

How are you approaching hiring and benefits differently?

We start by being clear on what we offer and what kind of experience employees will have. During the pandemic, we renewed our employee value equation, "P&G + Me = Mutual Success." It focuses on four areas employees have told us are important: feeling like they can make an impact in their work; having the opportunity to continually grow their skills and capabilities; knowing they are valued, rewarded and encouraged to bring their full selves to work; and feeling inspired to serve consumers better than the competition. 

How will you use this downturn to your advantage?  

We hire for careers, which is a time horizon much longer than any economic cycle. It requires us to hire for the job that needs filling today while also understanding what skills and experiences will fuel our business success into the future. That includes continuing to hire, particularly in areas where specific in-demand skills might be harder to find or in markets where talent competition is greatest.

At the same time, challenging operating conditions require us to think creatively about how to design even bigger, more expansive roles (across disciplines) based on the jobs that need to be done and the skills required to do that work. Those more expansive roles can benefit the business because they result in more agile and productive teams. They also benefit the individual because bigger jobs and broader scopes of responsibility allow each person to leverage their full strengths and potential and give them the opportunity to work more seamlessly across historical functional boundaries.

JOHN DEERE
Felecia Pryor, SVP, chief people officer

What is your talent management strategy in light of a looming economic downturn?

Like many companies today, John Deere is very focused on recruiting new talent to build out our tech teams. A big advantage for us is that [agricultural] technology is one of the most impactful tech industries today.

We're getting the message out that the success of farmers is imperative to our ability to feed, fuel, and clothe the world. Tech professionals see that and are increasingly moving to agtech so they can have a real-world impact. They also want to work on our advanced technology, like autonomous driving, machine learning and computer vision.

How are you approaching hiring and benefits differently?

When it comes to hiring, we're going where the tech talent lives. We've been very strategic by opening offices in innovation hubs like Chicago, Austin, and Bangalore, India, among other locations. This allows us to reach top-tier talent, especially tech professionals.

Offering competitive benefits is critical to attracting and retaining the best talent. That's why we continuously examine what our employees need to succeed, especially regarding work-life flexibility. Our goal is to always be market competitive so that we stand out between our benefits and mission.

How will you use this downturn to your advantage?  

While our technological advancements have drawn a lot of attention, and deservedly so, our people differentiate us as a company. We need their help developing cutting-edge technology to feed billions of people and build vital infrastructure. That's why recruiting and developing the right combination of people is imperative to our strategy in good times and bad.

FREDDIE MAC
Dionne Wallace Oakley, SVP, chief human resources officer  

What is your talent management strategy in light of a looming economic downturn?

We respond to market dynamics by engaging potential job seekers about the values of our company to make homeownership possible. We also focus on delivering career strength in any economic environment, establishing ourselves as a top choice for workers looking to stay and thrive. 

How are you approaching hiring and benefits differently?

Freddie Mac's talent strategy emphasizes elevating the employee experience and providing competitive benefits for employees' well-being. We offer a first-time homebuyer benefit, 12 weeks of paid parental leave, student loan repayment, caretaker leave, adoption and surrogacy benefits, and more. These offerings enable our people to better manage their work-life commitments as they contribute to making homeownership and rental housing more accessible and affordable.

How will you use this downturn to your advantage?  

We know that workforce headlines continue to make news worldwide, and certainly, it's a challenging job market. But in 2022, Freddie Mac hired a record number of new employees to join our teams. And this is because job seekers want to be part of our mission and shared employee experience.

LOCKHEED MARTIN
Greg Karol, SVP, chief human resources officer

What is your talent management strategy in light of a looming economic downturn?

Lockheed Martin is increasing its workforce investment. We recently exceeded our five-year pledge to create 8,000 apprenticeship opportunities one year ahead of plan. We continue to drive development opportunities through new work-based learning, including technical apprenticeships, mid-career development programs, new college hire rotation programs and internships. We have expanded our STEM and vocational scholarship programs for another two years to provide opportunities to individuals entering trades, unemployed or displaced workers, diverse talent and veterans. The latter group makes up roughly 20 percent of Lockheed Martin's workforce.

How are you approaching hiring and benefits differently?

We offer competitive salaries and benefits packages for a wide range of fields, including various opportunities in engineering disciplines, computer science and cybersecurity. In fact, we have thousands of open positions in critical skills areas. We have also embraced a work environment full of virtual or hybrid work opportunities with flexible schedules. It enables our employees to meet their personal and family needs and still complete their work within the week. We also offer health and wellness services, including tutoring for children. 

In addition, we offer a strong 401(k) matching program of up to 10 percent, tuition reimbursement and workforce development opportunities to learn new skills. 

How will you use this downturn to your advantage?

We're reinforcing our talent pipeline, beginning as early as ninth grade with internships. Through our STEM and vocational scholarship programs, we help adult learners develop skills to become full-time employees. We also work closely with universities, minority-serving institutions, veteran-serving organizations and high school STEM programs to create a pipeline of outstanding talent with skills in emerging fields like A.I., autonomy, cybersecurity, 5G, machine learning and software engineering.

 

This article was written by Paige McGlauflin, Paolo Confino and Amber Burton from Fortune and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.


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