Employees gain power in Atlanta job market

The balance of power has been shifting in much of the Atlanta job market, with risks for both companies and employees.

Thanks to an improving economy, job openings are at near-record levels and unemployment is low, a formula giving jobseekers more choices and leverage than they have had in a long time.

That change puts different kinds of pressure on both workers and companies.

Companies must not be too slow to hire – or too fast. And while in many cases employees may have the upper hand, experts warn them to be careful how they play it.

Both sides of the labor equation in Atlanta are starting to pay attention. 

“The demand for skilled talent has been rising astronomically, and companies are not able to keep up,” said Andy Decker, Atlanta-based regional president of staffing company Robert Half

However, according to a Federal Reserve survey released this week, the demand for labor looks different to different parts of the workforce.

For example workers 45 and under are “significantly more likely” to have received one or more job offers during the past four months, said four researchers behind the New York Fed report.  

Economists have been puzzling for a while about the slow pace of wage improvements: A shallow labor pool should mean raises. Yet incomes have lagged. And while there’s been some recent signs of change, the Fed survey showed workers have only mild optimism about pay hikes.

Yet there’s no question that an improving job market puts companies in a bind, Decker said.

MORE JOB NEWS: Georgia jobless rate ticks down despite weak hiring

During the recession and for years after, a company could be selective, cautious and relatively stingy about pay.

No more, he said. 

“Top candidates can receive other offers quickly,” he said. “And if you leave a position open and off-load the work on the people who are already there, they may start looking around for some place to go.”

On the other hand, if a company moves too quickly and makes a hiring mistake, that can be expensive.

For starters, hiring typically takes six to eight weeks. Figuring out that you’ve got a bad hire – or just a bad match – takes about a month. The process of letting someone go can take about nine weeks and then it’s about five weeks to find a replacement.

“So you’ve tied up a half-year with one bad hire,” Decker said.

That means finding good people is important and keeping them can be crucial, he said. 

RELATED JOB NEWS: Jobless rate up in metro Atlanta

Many employees have noticed the balance shifting. A Robert Half Survey showed nearly half of employees plan to look for another position, citing inadequate pay as their prime motivation.

Some employees have sought other jobs, then offered to stay with their current employer for a healthy raise, Decker said.

“We have been seeing counter-offers from their employers of 25 to 35 percent, and it isn’t shocking anymore.”

But beware, he says to employees: If you are too heavy-handed, you may get what you want in the short run, while your boss makes longer term plans that will not include you.

“If you use the counter-offer to twist their arms, often-times, the relationship can never be repaired,” he said. “They come to us or other staffing companies looking to find a replacement. The percentage of people still there a year of taking a counter-offer is relatively low.”

The metro Atlanta jobless rate in June was 4.9 percent.

July data on the metro job market is due on Thursday morning from the Georgia Department of Labor. Monthly statistics aside, the long-term trajectory has been one of steady growth.

The Atlanta market has added 85,300 jobs in the past year. Among the sectors with the strongest growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

-- the corporate sector, with 33,700 jobs.

-- leisure and hospitality, up 15,300 positions.

-- logistics and retail, 6,600 jobs.

Nationally, the most recent data shows about 6.16 million job openings in the United States, the most since the government started collecting that data in 2000. The number hit a low in early 2009 and has been rising in fits and starts since. 

Perhaps an even clearer indicator is the number of people voluntarily leaving jobs: that is up about 50 percent from 2009.  

Some recent stories about the Georgia economy:

GEORGIA UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DIPS 

MERCEDES OFFERS JOB TRAINING AS ANSWER TO WORKER SHORTAGE

ATLANTA RETAIL JOBS UNDER ATTACK

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AJC Business reporter Michael E. Kanell keeps you updated on the latest news about jobs, housing and consumer issues in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:  

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