I spend a lot of time in two worlds—technology and recruitment—and I’m struck by the parallels between them. Both are fast-moving. Both are experiencing rapid change. And with a shortage of skilled talent, employers in both sectors face a battle to attract and retain staff.
In recent years the volume of engineering job postings has revealed a sharp increase in demand for talent. In 2021, nineteen per cent of all UK vacancies were engineering-related; this year the figure is above 25%. The UK’s need for more STEM-qualified candidates is well-documented: the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) reports that we are short by 173,000 STEM workers, with at least half of UK engineering businesses struggling to fill vacancies.
If HR and hiring managers are losing sleep over recruitment, you can bet they’re losing it over retention too.
According to research by Oxford Economics and Unum, the cost of churn (or turnover if you prefer) per employee (earning £25,000 or more) in the UK is over £30,000. And last year, a PwC survey of over 2,000 UK workers found that almost one in five were very likely or “extremely likely” to switch employers within 12 months. The same report found that around 60% would prefer to work fully or mostly from home.
What caused the great resignation?
In the post-pandemic landscape, decentralised working and health and wellbeing go hand in hand, and employers lucky or determined enough to offer true flexibility have a clear advantage. Last year, an alliance of organisations including the NFP-community 4 Day Week Global, thinktank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign and researchers at elite universities conducted a high-profile, six-month UK trial of the four-day week. 61 companies participated in what was the largest trial of its kind in the world. The results were so impressive that 92% continued with the four-day week after the trial ended, while 18 adopted the new policy as a permanent change.
“Before and after” data revealed reductions in employee stress, anxiety and fatigue and improvements in their mental and physical health. The number of staff leaving participating companies decreased by 57% while 15% of employees polled said no amount of money would induce them to accept a 5-day week over a 4-day one. Once the threshold for minimum sustainable earnings has been reached, it’s clear what employees really value.
Reduced hours and flexible working are big “ticks” for employees and jobseekers, but having adopted this culture during the pandemic, many employers are now reverting back to pre-pandemic models. And we are seeing them lose people, while businesses that have truly embraced this new flexibility (or those new enough to have been born in “the new normal” and set their stall out accordingly) are thriving.
Other popular benefits
Jobseekers also want equity: not necessarily in the form of share options (though that is a popular benefit) but in some form of ownership, literal or metaphorical, of a business. This could be simply a feeling that they really do have a say, in a culture aligned with their values. Either way, some form of emotional or financial ownership of a company culture is in the top three or four attraction factors among Gerrell & Hard’s clients today. And yes, salary is important too, especially with the rise in the cost of living. But employers who can really demonstrate that they value employees’ time, wellbeing and freedom, and are aligned to individual goals, are winning out.
The G&H culture (in brief)
Recruitment is a notoriously high-churn industry.
We founded Gerrell & Hard in 2011 and have an average employee tenure of nine years, with six out of nine employees having been here for over a decade.
We feel very lucky with the great people we hired, but we also do our best to keep them happy with a flexible working culture: we work a nine-day fortnight and some of our team work a three-day week to accommodate family commitments or lifestyle choices. We’re fortunate in being agile enough to do this, but we’re also proof that it can work: we don’t measure KPIs as many recruitment firms do, instead preferring to hire good people and get out of their way—and our numbers speak for themselves. Many of our clients are exactly the same. We’re all in the right space to live and breathe these factors, knowing that if you keep employees happy, productivity follows.
How many brilliant employees quit because they’re not allowed to come back to work after maternity, paternity or sick leave on reduced hours?
How many talented individuals would stay put instead of continually changing employers if they were offered true flexibility and measured on productivity?
It’s not easy to be flexible, aligned and open, but it’s where businesses are winning today, and it’s a conversation we have almost every day with our clients.
What caught our attention this month
As Facebook owner Meta was fined a record-breaking €1.2bn for violating EU data privacy rules in time for GDPR’s fifth birthday, Nick Clegg (now Meta’s president of global affairs) expressed alarm that the legislation could lead to the breakup of the internet into national silos. It’s a contentious fine that shows how seriously European regulators are taking privacy breaches. This is one to follow, and it could have implications for all of us.
Elsewhere, just what is deepfake AI, and much do we need to fear it?
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