Despite the fear and uncertainty surrounding humanity’s current global challenge, economies around the world are still holding, our societies are functioning - almost- normally, and whilst some companies have paused their hiring processes, there are many that are able to continue with some elements of business as usual.
Angela Franks, Head of Frazer Jones Australia, explores the ramifications of coronavirus on the Human Resources marketplace, and the evolving trends and the impacts upon businesses in Australia.
Angela talks about marketplace trends in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, the issues and challenges that have emerged in the market, the sectors of the HR profession that have been hit impacted, inherent opportunities from this health crisis, and predictions and advice for HR Professionals and businesses for the future.
What marketplace trends are you currently witnessing in HR recruitment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic?
The initial trend for most of our clients was to prioritise the business impact of coronavirus. For those who could move to remote working, HR has been very busy trying to navigate the safety and productivity of their staff, along with other issues such as remote onboarding, remote training and then applying the job keeper scheme. Phase 2 has seen a lot of business reduce hours or salaries by 20-40% as a way of preserving cash and jobs for the long-term. For a lot of people in HR it has meant long hours with significant time pressures.
Naturally there has been a pause on most recruitment processes but we are still seeing ‘critical hires’ move forward. Some of these roles are BAU positions for companies that are considered an essential service, and then maternity covers or roles that require a niche skill set for organisations only mildly impacted by the virus to date.
The next phase will be managing the return to the physical workplace as restrictions ease and it will be after that has been in place for a short while that we anticipate hiring conversations back on the agenda.
Are any demographics (e.g Heads of, middle management, juniors etc) being hit harder than others?
Where HR has been impacted it has usually been in its totality rather than at certain levels. Organisations that have had to significantly reduce headcount will have included HR roles and kept a small skeleton staff on reduced hours. Organisations who went into COVID-19 under pressure will have likely restructured across the board. Specialist functions such as payroll, WHSE and ER/IR largely remain intact.
What we are currently seeing is candidates in the mid-level generalist roles thinking ahead and actively looking for a new role if they think down the track their roles may be at risk.
What are the major issues that employers will be facing – presently and in the near future – as a result of the pandemic?
Uncertainty will be the biggest concern for all organisations now. Those not having to manage VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) before COVID-19 will now certainly have to adapt and plan for it.
It will be difficult to look ahead in regard to headcount and hiring when you are unsure where the market will be in the next 6-12 months. Employers are also putting a huge emphasis on taking care of health and well-being to ensure that all stay feel safe and supported.
Conversely, what are some opportunities that can and will arise as a result of the pandemic?
For HR, the shift to a flexible and remote workforce has been the change they had been waiting for. For cultures where presenteeism was still driving activity, it will make for an interesting case study on the ‘other side’ to see what gains or losses they have had from the shift. With companies seeing the cost benefits of less people physically needing to be in the office and property costs being a major overhead, there will most certainly be a widespread review. The issue now is that many people have realised that working from home for more than 1 day a week does not appeal.
From the conversations we have had with clients, the value and importance of the face to face contact has increased. I think this is a space to watch.
Organisations will also be having to rethink their business continuity plans. Most plans were largely built on technology events so it will be interesting to see what innovation comes out of it.
What advice, if any, would you offer to HR Professionals coming through the ranks and/or those who have been made redundant/asked to reduce salary or hours?
For all of us, COVID-19 is unlike anything previously experienced from a professional standpoint. The fallout from the global financial crisis of just over 10 years ago, however, offers some lessons on resilience especially if you were outside of Australia at the time.
I have seen many organisations have a blanket approach to the reduced hours which has its pros and cons. It promotes comradery and sense of team in a time when we need to pull together. Those who have too much work need to highlight where they need help, those who don’t have enough work can even help others where possible. It’s a good time to understand the motivations of your team. It is harder to manage when specialist skills set, knowledge or confidentiality are associated with the job and you have taken a pay cut but working double the hours. My advice to those people is that - you will not be alone. I speak to people every day who would prefer to be longer hours than none at all.
For those who have been made redundant then I would advise them to be patient and keep speaking to their network and good recruiters. There are job opportunities out there which are proceeding, though of course the demand is high. A few quick tips – make sure your contact details are updated on LinkedIn and are visible on your CV (no hiding them in light grey font in a footer); there is no great need for lengthy emails or cover letters, just a short introductory paragraph is very helpful; and finally always apply for roles through the appropriate channels - when we have 200+ applications, emails can get missed and applying via a LinkedIn Invite to connect are not searchable.
What is clear is none of us can afford to operate as we have in the past. The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally shifted how we live and do business and is becoming the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime.
All business leaders need to take this opportunity to see all the possibilities, challenge perceptions, and lead during this disruption of work. This is an opportunity for all business leaders to show how to lead in a crisis and navigate the unprecedented journey that will continue post pandemic over the coming weeks and months.