Why a Second Lockdown is Not Going to Break Recruiters

Why a Second Lockdown is Not Going to Break Recruiters

With grit, tenacity and resiliency, we’ve got this...

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On Saturday night what we all feared but somewhat anticipated was realised: yes, we’re going back into lockdown. For a recruitment industry that has demonstrated its strength, resiliency and tenacity since the start of the pandemic, the news is just another obstacle, but one that will again demonstrate our industry’s ability to persevere in the face of adversity.

Industry, sector and/or specialism has been a significant contributing factor to an agency’s fortunes during the past several months. Where hospitality and travel recruiters have been disproportionately affected, consultancies focusing on professional occupations have seen a much stronger rebound, with the most highly skilled and niche professionals still facing the same skills shortage that had plagued them before the pandemic.

Recruitment agencies have had to make hard decisions – managing internal consultant and staffing levels, adapting to remote and/or socially-distanced working, reducing expenditure and finding opportunities to maximise productivity and business activity during an uncertain economic environment. Some have leveraged the furlough scheme and reduced marketing expenditure in attempts to preserve cash, whereas others have pursued investment in business development and innovation to articulate and enhance their value proposition whilst preparing for future opportunities.

Regardless of strategy, we are going back into lockdown. Still, the apprehension and fear that we felt those many months ago feels somewhat more manageable and surmountable. Here’s why:

Businesses are prepared

Even businesses with the most robust crisis management and business continuity strategies were blindsided by the first lockdown. The virus was completely foreign, and we didn’t know its course nor the resulting government, economic or societal response. For the recruitment industry, we were unaware of the impact on hiring and how the market would cope with not only remote working, but remote hiring and onboarding of employees. Despite this, 75% of companies have hired new staff during lockdown and nearly nine in 10 (88%) are expecting to employ more permanent or contract workers through the end of the year1.

Businesses are getting on with it

Most businesses have also realised that they need to get on with working in the ‘new normal’, and are continuing to hire to address key skills gaps, pursue new opportunities or even just manage day-to-day workloads. Yes, there is market uncertainty which impacts confidence amongst supply chains and yes, there are certain industries that will be more significantly impacted than others. Still, for the majority, we have learned that life and business need to continue despite a pandemic, and nearly all (92%) executives surveyed said they are pushing forward with various business opportunities2, largely digital transformation, as cited by 41% of respondents.

Perhaps for this reason we are seeing hiring levels start to near pre-Covid levels. Reportedly, the week ending 21 October, the number of job vacancies posted had reached 98% of levels from before the pandemic3. A further survey has shown that employer confidence in making hiring and investment decisions has improved, with increases to short and medium-term demand for staff improving by +13 and +17 points, respectively4.

1 Robert Half survey
2 Robert Half survey
3 Idibu client data
4 Recruitment and Employment Confederation survey

We’re working remotely anyway

For an industry that has been rather reluctant to embrace flexible working, recruitment agencies have managed to adapt to working from home, with many recruitment leaders’ fears – lost productivity, poor performance, a lack of consultant commitment – going largely unfounded. While trust is a foundation for a solid work culture, the prevalence of data and the ability to track and review performance and activity levels has allowed recruitment leaders to observe their business and teams – even remotely. While most agencies have wanted to return to the office for the morale and teamwork that ensues, we are prepared to work from home once again.

Our clients have already adapted their workforces to remote working, with many having already planned to work from home for the foreseeable future, or even indefinitely. They also have the learnings of the last eight months and are prepared for the logistical and practical implications as well as the resulting human dynamics including managing mental health and remote-based teams that a further lockdown brings.

Perhaps because of this, companies are continuing to hire, knowing that while times are tough, we need to just get on with it. We have the equipment, processes and teams to be able to manage working through another lockdown.

Expectations are managed

While there is uncertainty for both businesses and employees who don’t know exactly what the future may hold, we now have hindsight and experience in lockdown to set and manage our expectations. Businesses have clarity on what is involved, and employees are aware of what they need to do to balance work and personal life, with their mental health a key consideration. Most workers now have realistic expectations that being furloughed is not just a fun holiday, and many of the tough decisions that employers had to make ahead of the initial end of the furlough scheme have already come to fruition.

That’s not to say this period won’t be hard, it’s saying that people have a more realistic view of the situation and can then take the appropriate measures in response.

Finding our way forward

No scientist, economist, healthcare nor social worker will be able to predict what the future has in store, but making informed decisions from experience will help recruitment businesses prepare for the coming month of lockdown and for re-entry into 2021 stronger and more prepared than ever before. We have grit, we have vision, and we can emerge stronger as an industry. That I truly believe.

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