What if… Talent Falls out of Love with the Unicorn?

May 4, 2020 John McLaughlin

We need to understand how employee preferences have changed – and will change in the coming months. We need to build this into our EVP now and sign up strong talent looking for change.


The unicorns of the business world may be in trouble. Even before the recent financial downturn and business disruption, interest seemed to be waning in some of the latest start-ups. 

Unicorns – privately-held, start-up (usually tech) firms valued at more than $1 billion - have attracted some of the most entrepreneurial talent over recent years. Such firms are typically characterized as innovative and world-beating, nimble and disruptive.

Tale of the unicorn
The surge of financial market unicorns was born of the 2007/8 financial crisis. Top talent was pushed out of the established city banks and into the more entrepreneurial world of the unicorn. In 2013, tech overtook finance as the preferred option of MBA graduates from London Business School. It seemed that the talent wanted more exciting roles. 

Seven years on and the story may be changing.

Many of the unicorns around today were posting significant and persistent losses even before the latest disruption.

Some unicorns might have benefitted from the new stay-at-home rules - whether formally or informally imposed. Take Deliveroo - an online food delivery company that takes orders, collects from the restaurant and delivers entire meals to homes. They operate across the world and the business was able to hold its own until restaurants began to close. It has since signed up a raft of new restaurants which previously would not have considered serving their customers through such a platform. Other firms, such as AirBNB, changed almost overnight. Cancellations of around 90% meant the company started to look at ways to change what it offered. The company began offering rooms to help homeless people get off the streets and into a safer environment.

What next for the top talent?
If unicorns become a place in which careers and, indeed, jobs look a little less stable and the promise of return on share options a little less robust, what does this mean for the talent market?

It could mean that the high quality, business-minded, agile entrepreneurs are now looking elsewhere for their next move.

It could be time for organizations to seize the opportunity and sign up this talent.

Take a new look at your EVP
In times of uncertainty, we may be more likely to seek out certainty in our employment. Those firms which may have looked a little ‘dull’ three months ago, could become far more attractive to the nimble and business-minded talent.

In our recent survey, only 23% of organizations were focusing on their EVP. Now is the time to steal a march on competitors and double down efforts on your EVP.


This article was published on May 5th, 2020.

Disclaimer: This document has been provided as an informational resource for Aon clients and business partners. It is intended to provide general guidance on potential exposures, and is not intended to provide medical advice or address medical concerns or specific risk circumstances. Due to the dynamic nature of infectious diseases, Aon cannot be held liable for the guidance provided. We strongly encourage visitors to seek additional safety, medical and epidemiological information from credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. As regards insurance coverage questions, whether coverage applies or a policy will respond to any risk or circumstance is subject to the specific terms and conditions of the insurance policies and contracts at issue and underwriter determinations.

About the Author

John McLaughlin

John has worked for Aon’s Assessment Solutions for 10 years in a variety of roles and geographies across Europe, South America, and North America. This in-market experience combined with his current role as the global commercial director for the group leads to an in-depth knowledge of global trends impacting talent strategies across all organizations.

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