Reluctance to return to everyday commute a challenge to employers

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Robert Mac Giolla Phadraig, chief commercial officer of Sigmar Recruitment, has been thinking about changes in recruitment over the lockdowns and he now views them in a holistic manner.

“Effectively as employers, we have entered into long-distance relationships with our employees. And after the first year, we are seeing the impact of that new relationship.”

In his experience, people will want to travel, to open up to new experiences and new opportunities once the pandemic is over. And as companies ask employees to return to the office, many will vote with their feet.

Mac Giolla Phadraig refers to the Great Resignation. In the US, where figures are kept in these matters, some 4.4 million people resigned in September.

There are two cohorts affected in quite different ways by the lockdown and the subsequent opening-up again of society with its new rules. The first cohort is a lower-skilled workforce, previously nominated blue-collar, and now termed low-skill/high-touch work. This group includes retail, warehousing, supplychain. The jobs typically have weekly wages and are less career focused.

The lockdown has had a major impact on this sector as emigration from other countries has basically dried up, and there is now an extreme shortage of people to fill these jobs.

The other cohort is termed high-skills/low-touch employees, who have discovered Zoom and remote working. This cohort are doing the mass resignations and are looking for different types of jobs.

Gary Mullan, managing director of Prosperity, which specialises in digital talent, sees a similar shift in the latter cohort. He discovered at first companies needing digital players stopped hiring outright.

“The first lockdown in particular saw immediate hiring freezes as companies sought to assess the situation. There was a build-up of demand as a result and when the first lockdown was eased there was a rush to try and hire talent. This also resulted in a huge premium in salaries offered,” says Mullan.

But by then the goalposts had shifted, with people looking for more than salary – they were looking for lifestyle.

“The hybrid model offered by companies is vital because many people won’t return to the commute every day. A few days a week might be seen as okay but not the daily commute,” says Mullan. He cites Boundless as a good example of an Irish company offering flexibility, and points out that his own company offers hybrid work options, too.

Productivity jump

Of course, outspoken Seattle entrepreneur Dan Price in the States has been vocal on the subject of the commute. Price runs a payments company, Gravity Payments, and came to prominence in 2015 when he slashed his own salary by $1 million to give all his employees a basic salary of $70,000. Despite naysayers, this pay cut/pay rise has led to significant increases in productivity – and babies. On the subjects of commuting or unpaid work, Price points out the average worker logs an hour of unpaid work each day.

“I’m talking about the commute, which for decades has been taken for granted as a necessary part of the work day but which recently has been proven to be completely unnecessary for a large swathe of workers,” he said recently, pointing to a whopping loss of $4,800 annually for the median worker. He has opted to let his employees at Gravity Payments make up their own minds.

Mac Giolla Phadraig also divides the work sector into three distinct baskets: the workforce, the workplace and work patterns.

“The pandemic has disrupted all three, and in particular the work patterns. Before work was a place you went to and something that you did. Now, it’s something that is closely associated with every aspect of your life.

“For example, I rent a house next door to my home for my office. I have three small children, and when they come in from creche and school, I run down to see them. This interaction would not have obviously happened before, and the barriers are gone,” says Mac Giolla Phadraig.

Mullan agrees demands have changed but also there is a shift to all age demographics looking for permanent work.

“It’s because of the benefits package, which is very good in Europe, so talent may want hybrid work plans but they also want all the perks of permanent employment,” says Mullan. To accommodate companies, he finds Prosperity does a lot of near-shoring where the talent signs a permanent contract with his company but is contracted to a client. Local HR laws are determined by the headquarters of the hiring company.

Salary scales

Sigmar recruitment also witnessed a spike in job placements after the first lockdown in May.

“In fact, we witnessed a spike that was the highest number of job placements in any individual month in our 20-year history,” says Mac Giolla Phadraig. “It reached a peak in May and remained high even across the traditionally slow summer months. This is putting huge pressure on finding talent, combined with the churn in the marketplace.

“Culture is going to be critical in the war for hearts and minds. And this battle for attention will continue. Employers who stepped up and made a real difference in looking after the wellbeing of their employees are going to do well, and be better at attracting and retaining staff,” he says.

Mac Giolla Phadraig uses a sporting analogy of person first, player second and translates it into human first, employee second.

Prosperity is launching a salary survey this month. Mullan cannot reveal the details but the salary scale has definitely increased. It looks as though employees, in sectors that have not been closed, may all benefit from the rolling lockdowns.


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