After more than a year of Covid-19 lockdowns, the hiring floodgates are about to open -- and managers should be prepared.

Since March 2020, employment has been a seller's market. Very few people have been able to switch jobs. With a period of double-digit unemployment, workers were feeling fortunate to keep the jobs they had.

But now the pandemic masks are coming off, and the hiring pendulum is swinging the other direction. Top talent is being targeted again by recruiters on LinkedIn. I think the brain drain of the next six to nine months will be the greatest in a generation.

Here are five ways smart managers should respond to the opening of talent-poaching season. 

1. It's time to re-recruit your people. 

Before competitors start courting your best people, ask yourself: What can I do to persuade my talent to stay? You must start communicating to your people how much you value them; how much you appreciate their loyalty to you during the pandemic; and how great the future could look for both of you together. If you don't re-recruit your own people, you are opening the door for someone else to come in. 

2. Top talent needs a clear path forward.

During quarantine, many organizations kept their talent in place, but did not necessarily nurture or grow or invest in them. Those days are over. Talent must know what their career looks like inside your organization. How will you grow and develop and mentor them? People need a defined reason to stay. 

3. You may have to pay more.

Your best people are going to be contacted and offered pay raises of 30 percent or more to leave. Let there be no doubt: You'll have to up the ante to retain talent, whether in the form of a raise or retention bonus. Money matters, but so do other things. Maybe your key people face steep family medical bills, or want to pursue an advanced college degree, or need a more flexible schedule to meet new challenges at home. It's the manager's job to figure out what it takes to keep key people.

4. Join the game.

Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. If you want to add more talent, you may want to court the competition's best, too, or outmaneuver them to gain a key talent at a third firm. After all, they aren't going to stop trying to take your people, especially if they recognize all the hard work you invested in the past year. One side benefit of joining the game: It makes you take a long, serious look at whether you are too insular in your hiring practices.

5. If you lose an employee, be gracious.

Leaders lose good people for a variety of reasons. It's inevitable that someone will go. When someone does jump ship, remember this leadership principle: The sendoff is more for the people who stay. The people who remain will be carefully watching you. So, if someone does choose to leave, don't give them a cold shoulder. Instead, be their champion. Mustering every ounce of maturity that you can, congratulate them, wish them well, and tell them how much you wish that they would stay, but you understand they want to pursue a new opportunity. Make sure to explain that you're proud of them. You want them to thrive. Demonstrate that you care about them beyond just what they can do for your organization. The right tone is so important.

Loyalty has become rare in the workplace. In some fields, the average tenure for an employee is 36 months, and in some especially competitive areas it's as little as 18 months, such as software engineering, marketing, and investing. It's much less work to hang onto great talent through wise management than to recruit new talent. 

One other thing: A little inoculation can go a long way. It makes sense to pull aside your key people and say, "Look, you're one of our best people. You may be contacted by someone else for another opportunity, but I really don't want to lose you. 

"Can you do me a courtesy? If someone does call, would you let us know, so we can see if we could put together a situation that makes sense for you to stay here?  We want what's best for you. And we hope what's best for you is thriving here in our organization."