James Kenealey Professional Services
Louise Ellis, HR business manager and Craig Saxby, recruitment manager for our HR division, have combined their expertise on the approaches businesses can take if there is a stall on recruitment drives as a result of COVID-19.
Louise: "Many industries across the UK are facing a decline in confidence and general spending. The same demand for services and capital to pay for products at pre-lockdown levels simply doesn’t exist right now.
For many businesses, the only way to make the cost savings needed to keep afloat is to cut back on large overheads – and that unfortunately includes salaries. It means many who implemented the furlough scheme at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic are left in a position where they can’t welcome staff back and are instead forced to make redundancies. And it means those who had major growth plans, and who had mapped out recruitment drives for rapid expansion, are frozen in their tracks."
Recruitment freezes are designed to protect existing staff; they provide more of a guarantee that a job role is safe during a challenging period, making employees and contractors feel more secure. However, recruitment freezes put fear into the likes of managers who are targeted with stringent year-end aims – those which rely on more manpower to achieve.
COVID-19 has thrown traditional business operations into flux; the situation with the pandemic is out of our control and many bosses recognise that. However, there is still a task on HR managers to analyse their existing employment structures and make a candid decision on the next steps to take, for the benefit of the wider business.
Craig: "Typically, we see three different approaches from businesses who find themselves in a position where recruitment needs to be put on hold. I describe these as:
We are seeing a number of companies adopting recruitment freezes to protect jobs in the long term. There are pros and cons to this - yes, it saves money, but it means teams must work harder to meet existing demand and managing long term productivity becomes more difficult.
For example, pre-COVID, we saw growth in publishing, and we were appointed to help teams scale up quickly; but this is obviously on hold for the interim. Meanwhile, industry sectors such as manufacturing are flying as they simply need to get their products out of the door – and quickly. For these companies, it’s not a case of a freeze, but more about a cautious approach to not overspend and risk business fragility.
The warm up
In such instances, you’ll see companies who initially introduced a freeze but have now broken that, considering recruitment on a case-by-case basis.
A pharmaceutical client, for example, is currently recruiting for 15 roles; this is rare for them, as they usually have between 70 and 80 available at any one time. Every single one of these 15 roles have required approval from the Board – which, again, is something that just didn’t happen before COVID-19.
There are also different types of roles being prioritised; generally, more expensive director-type roles are being recruited for. They come with a higher salary bracket in the short-term, but they also come with significantly higher targets as a result, meaning far greater revenue for the business in the long run.
Businesses in this situation are assessing where appointments are critical to survival; only essential roles are getting through. Recruitment budgets are being squeezed, but the fact that businesses are willing to consider some element of recruitment shows promise that there is internal confidence about the future.
While for some, recruitment plans are on hold, HR teams are looking at how they can use their existing resource to bridge gaps in operations and fill roles that are revenue-generating in the current crisis.
We are working with them to deliver significant consultancy across their business to understand which departments will deliver a profit and which will make a loss. Then we look at total headcount to see how the existing employee make-up can be restructured to ensure teams that need extra resource can access it, while other departments are scaled back.
For example, many sales centres are busier than ever, while front of house and admin roles aren’t required right now. In other industries, more manpower is needed on the factory floor, while some IT departments will remain closed. Teams that are overworked because of a lower than usual headcount or unusual demand for service will have to make individual cases to the Board about why hiring to their department is essential, and why, without it, there risks a detrimental impact on the business."
Louise: "As well as carefully considering recruitment, there is a lot of focus on how to assess operations to safeguard staff and implement new ways of working that protect their wellbeing and safety. The HR role itself is in major demand because of this, because businesses are more acutely aware of the positive impact a solid HR function can have.
An outsourced HR function or recruitment consultancy can add significant value to companies looking to strike a balance between making cost savings and securing enough manpower to meet demand. It’s something we’re particularly well placed to support with, thanks to our established RPO and MSP solutions."
Craig: "There isn’t a one size fits all approach to recruitment at the best of times; at the worst of times, as we are seeing now, it is even more important to look at a business as an individual entity and secure the resource required to solve their bespoke challenges. Individual businesses across multiple industries, that can get back on their feet and set a precedent for survival, will work to inspire others that there is an opportunity in adversity."