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The great talent depression

by Contributor 8 December 2022

A few weeks back I was lucky enough to be invited to The Drawdown’s Operational Leaders’ Summit in Portugal. Against a sunny backdrop, various conversations revealed one recurring topic. Almost every representative from private equity firms agreed on the challenges recruiting and retaining talent. Search firm reports, industry reports and labour market analyses support these anecdotal experiences. In one report I read it remarked that firms had apparently tried ‘everything,’ with everything being free lunches, gym access and career coaching. Unsurprisingly, they’d had little to no success. And so firms find themselves in quite the predicament; high investment and transaction volumes but plunged into a great talent depression.

While I don’t doubt the talent challenges are cripplingly real, I am amused by the notion that firms have tried everything and bewildered that there can be such a gap between the expectations of the talent and the senior partners and hiring managers. Motivational changes have certainly taken place and we are seeing the environment and climate change, philanthropy, well-being and mental health concerns being valued on par with financial remuneration. Rising talent are concerned with issues broader than their own daily lives, that extend well beyond their expert fields. They are excited by innovation, progress, experience and authenticity, so it comes as no surprise to me that a free lunch, even if an organic superfood bowl, is having little pull.

In their personal lives, Gen Z is looking to biohacking activities to enhance their performance and increase their longevity. They are optimising their health, their bodies, their work and personal lives to maximise potential all the time in everything they can do. Silicon Valley is ripe with longevity labs and brain optimisation practices, all there to service the changing needs of the ambitious high performers but disappointingly, our firms don’t seem to have moved beyond a nice career chat and a yoga class.

I run the UK’s first brain optimisation practice and I have been amazed by the young clients who are walking into my practice. When I set up the practice years ago, I expected the client base to be professionals post 40 years old. While that was somewhat true for a while, I am seeing young and younger professionals looking for ways to enhance and sustain their performance. Particularly since Covid, I have seen our youngest clients to date. They come to us eager to learn about the latest scientific innovations that can help improve their brain health, live longer, increase their mental stamina, and prevent mental burnout.

Yes, they are interested in what foods they should eat and the impact of exercise on their mental health, but it is so much more than that. They want to know about cognitive enhancing supplements, alpha flow state and peak performance brain states. They want to know about brain training and stimulation and oxygen therapies to reduce inflammation and support cell repair. This population is well educated, and they want to experiment with the therapeutic interventions they are listening about on performance podcasts.

My point is that the current generation wants something very different to what past generations have been satisfied with. If we want to attract and keep these people, we need to offer them solutions to the things they really care about. These individuals are not worried they won’t have lunch to eat, they are thinking about how long they will live, how well their brains will function, are they at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, is their life meaningful, are they happy, can they innovate and disrupt.

Of course, there will always be a place for the old cash and carry but rising young stars are looking far beyond a sandwich lunch and until there is a brain gym installed next to every office treadmill, firms really haven’t tried everything!

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