We caught up with Kevin Green, CEO of What’s Next Consultancy and bestselling author of Competitive People Strategy to discuss what has changed in the UK talent management space since the start of the pandemic. If you missed the podcast you can subscribe here, or catch up with what you missed below.
In your opinion what have been the core challenges for HR and resourcing teams during the pandemic so far?
Let’s start by looking at the macro. One of the things that has clearly changed, in the UK, is that we went from a labour market with talent and skills shortages to one where we will have mass unemployment. We are on the cusp of a huge growth in unemployment over the next few months when the furlough scheme ends. We currently have around nine million people on furlough, two million people that are self-employed and being supported by the government and we also have unemployment currently at two million. This means that a third of people in the UK workforce are currently not working.
So what will happen? I think unemployment will get to around three and a half million, perhaps four million. The last time we had unemployment at around that level was around the early 80s, as even the recessions we’ve had since then have not been as severe. The last recession saw unemployment at 8.5% but this could reach 12-13%. This will be a new phenomenon for lots of people in HR and talent management.
What does that mean?
Retention: A lot of people will sit tight. One thing that HR teams will be struggling with is the fact that you want some turnover in the business, you want to bring freshness in, you want to bring new capability, new skills and new energy. During a recession where unemployment rates are high, people sit tight and do not change jobs. The challenge for organisations is; ‘How do I create some turnover so I am bringing new ideas, new energy and fresh thinking into the organisation?’.
Looking at that from a business perspective, if you have lots of people just treading water in your organisation productivity won’t be as high, their energy won’t be as great and they are more likely to be a bit disgruntled.
Attracting talent to your organisation: There will be lots of people looking for jobs, so if you have a job vacancy and you put it into the marketplace you will get a lot of candidates. However, loads of those candidates will be unsuitable. One of the big challenges for resourcing teams is that there will be few jobs in the market and an oversupply of candidates. As a result, you may need to spend a lot of time separating the wheat from the chaff and working out how to manage the hunt for skill and talent.
There are a couple of other big challenges too, such as ‘how do I go out to the marketplace’ and ‘how do I ensure a great candidate experience’.
Brand: People’s perceptions about organisations have shifted quite a lot during this period, and I think some of that might stick. Employees and candidates looking at an organisation are looking at how they have treated their people during this period. It’s a really important brand statement.
If you are making redundancies, it is not just about what you do but how you do it. There are lots of organisations which are going to need to make some talented people redundant. People they don’t particularly want to lose. One of the things which is absolutely critical is how you communicate with people; they need to understand the business rationale, and tell them it’s not their fault because it isn’t, it’s then about how you manage the redundancy process after that. Employer brand is more than a nice logo and a jobs page, it is your actions and how you treat the people that work for you.
Candidates are getting much more sophisticated at contacting people within an organisation before they choose to join it. You might find people on Twitter or LinkedIn to ask a few general questions, or look at an organisation’s Glassdoor rating. What you are trying to understand is how good these people are to their employees.
Let’s talk about productivity. Some people we have spoken to are getting tired of working from home, and some companies are now bringing people back to the office. What do you think the core challenges are here in terms of line management and productivity in general?
There’s challenge in all of this, but certainly also a great opportunity. One of the things which is interesting is that most people seem to indicate that while people have been working from home productivity has improved. That might be because they are working a longer day, people aren’t commuting, there’s less informal conversation and people are quite focused. As you mentioned however, I think that is waning. You have to remember that initially this was a bit of a novelty and businesses worked really hard at communicating and engaging their teams but several months on it’s hard to keep that momentum going. Secondly, I think people have just gotten a bit bored of it.
Hybrid teams: How do you manage teams when half is in the office and half is at home? How do you choose which people to bring back to work? Is it based on their personal circumstances, the length of their commute or how they feel about it? Will the people who physically come to work be managed in a different way to those that are working from home? These differences might cause people to think their treatment is unfair.
Management: The challenge for management and leadership is actually the same as their opportunity. They need to focus on outputs. The problem with how management is often acted upon on a daily basis is that you sit on top of them. If you articulate the outcomes you are looking for and judge your team on that, you no longer have to worry about how many hours they are doing and how much time they are spending online. You need to look at what is important in this person’s work and whether they are delivering it.
If you are consistent with how you manage and lead people you have the best chance of improving productivity and motivating the people that work for you.
Some people have pointed out some workers reluctance to return to the office, and indeed the fact that many people cannot work from home. What can businesses do about accessing the skills needed to meet the demand when things pick up again?
There are a lot of organisations which have found that their employees can work from home. What you need to ask yourself is whether you really need them to return or whether you can manage them differently and they can continue to work from home. I think there’s going to be a lot of changes to the psychological contract, and what many employers might say is ‘we aren’t going to have an office anymore’ or ‘what I really want you to do is to come in to a team meeting once a week’. For those that can work from home I think you are going to see a lot of this hybrid working.
If you are a waiter and you are meeting customers face to face you cannot do your job at home. Employers need to be sympathetic to individual circumstances and if there’s a health issue you need to make a decision about whether this individual will ever be able to come back and do the job as it needs to be done. Alongside that, employers will need to be creative and ask; ‘how could you do this job?’. If you have a great employee with great skills, then you need to be flexible. We are going to need to embrace flexible working like never before, partly because people who can work from home might want to and secondly because when people can’t do the job as it was originally done you’re going to want to retain some of that talent.
Previously, when businesses were based in London they often looked for talent inside the M25, or reasonably close by. Have these changes to ways of working expanded our talent pools?
There are now lots of organisations talking about non location specific roles, which means you can do your job anywhere. There are nuances to this, and organisations need to think things through, but if there is a particular job where you might only be required to come to the office once a month you can live in France or in the UK. However, if you want to live in New York you need to ask if time zones will have an impact on performance. If you have lots of people working in multiple time zones sometimes that can give you advantage as you can have people working 24/7 on one project. On the other hand, if you’re trying to organise a call between teams in Asia and the States it can be very difficult to get everyone together at the same time.
How much do you think a potential second wave of Covid-19 will impact the professional lives of an HR Director or Resourcing Director?
It would certainly make life difficult, because as we’ve mentioned that the lockdown in London is finishing but people are concerned about a second wave. The UK government has been quite clear that they think it’s unlikely to do another national lockdown but that they would try and contain things locally. If London gets another lockdown I think that will have a big impact on our economy, and as we have recognised that a lot of people can work from home we still have 9 million people on furlough.
It’s difficult to plan so it’s important to be agile with a long-term view of what this is going to look like. Teams will need to be able to flip back into lockdown mode if required if we have a second wave. Businesses are going to need to be very adaptable and responsive both to their employees and their customers.
We have seen through the course of lockdown some instances of where businesses are ‘renting’ talent. Businesses across industries have been collaborating, do you think we might see some more of that?
In the UK labour market there are four and a half million people that work as flexible consultants or freelancers – and that’s going to grow. This period of disruption will encourage a lot of people to go freelance as they may want to make up their hours. I think you will see businesses collaborating and trying to support other people in their supply chain. Whether renting talent will become commonplace will go back to supply and demand; if people have employees they want to retain but don’t need for a period of time and another organisation can use them then why not.
The really good organisations will be able to leverage this fragmented, flexible labour market. Organisations will need to be much more porous, with a mix of full-time employees and contractors so the workforce can be big and small all at the same time.