Franki Crosse, Associate Director of Profile, A WilsonHCG Company, discusses the impact of COVID-19 on the confidence of candidates looking to change roles.
Demand for talent across APAC has dropped in the face of COVID-19. Businesses are buckling up, sadly some are retrenching, and most are surviving the best they can. The mental health of both employers and employees has also suffered, reducing the bandwidth for thinking beyond pure survival. What does this mean for the talent market? Is there a lack of openness from potential candidates to explore new job opportunities now?
In April this year, we surveyed a large set of working professionals in APAC – 2,685 people based mostly across Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, China and Australia – on the effects of COVID-19 on working life in the region. We delved into how candidates are feeling in the current environment. (Click here for an infographic summary of who filled in the survey)
Whilst there is no doubt a huge increase in pressure on employees, both from a work and home life perspective, it’s fair to say most of us have had a moment of reflection over the past few months. It’s been a time for checking in with ourselves; are we on the right track? Are we spending our time in the most fruitful way? Do we have the right balance between work and home? Is our role and company taking us in the direction we’d like to go? Which parts of normality will we be in a rush to return to, and which will we decide or prefer to leave behind? In times of disaster or upheaval, there is always a wake-up call, and this is absolutely the case with COVID-19.
That said, we wanted to explore how this is playing out and impacting the confidence of potential job seekers. Whilst all the above considerations may lead candidates to proactively seek a new opportunity, are candidates actually confident enough to make the move? This, coupled with organisations working hard to engage and retain key talent in order to avoid the cost of replacing key employees, has certainly had an impact on mindsets.
Within our survey, we posed the question “Are you considering leaving your organisation in the next 6 to 9 months?” and gave respondents two options – ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Interestingly, whilst Singapore may still be in a fairly tight post-‘circuit breaker’ situation, employees in Singapore are actually most open to moving, with 45% saying ‘Yes’. Australia has fared impressively well in its COVID-19 response measures overall, with China and Hong Kong also now swiftly getting back on track work-wise; however, only 36% are open to a move in Australia, 37% in Hong Kong, and 39% in China.
Interestingly, and rather handily, we carried out a separate survey in December 2019/January 2020 with a similar number of respondents across the same countries, before the pandemic hit, and we asked the same question. The change, in just a few months, in people’s willingness to move is dramatic. Overall the number of respondents who said ‘Yes’, they were considering a move, has fallen from 55% at year-end, to 41%. A breakdown of this fall by country can be seen below, but, in short, it is uniform across the region.
We must keep in mind that whilst these numbers may still seem reasonably high, they also consist of a portion of candidates who may have been let go, and are therefore actively on the market. Dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that the number of professionals open to a move has reduced. The main reason for a move we uncovered in our pre-COVID-19 survey was overwhelmingly due to “lack of career growth and developmental opportunities”. Whilst this, coupled with the recently available time for self-reflection, may suggest talent would be even more open to a move, that is not yet playing out in action.
With few companies in growth mode, job advertisements in decline, and numerous hiring freezes across the market, candidates may perceive now to not be a fruitful time to explore their next opportunity. In recent years, candidate preferences have shifted towards ‘shopping around’; much like organisations often like to review a range of candidates and benchmark prior to making an offer, candidates too, like to explore a few roles before deciding on the right one. Given there are fewer opportunities to do so in the market, many candidates don’t see it as a good use of their time or energy to be hunting around right now. There are also questions around what the experience would look like onboarding in such a time, and whether candidates would be set up for success.
For the majority, this does not feel like the time to be actively rocking the boat. Retrenchments are taking place across APAC, often under the radar, and there is a sense of nervousness across the potential candidate pool that being ‘last in, first out’ is a very real possibility. People across the region are taking refuge in the safe and familiar, from baking bread right through to their job. Whilst many may be considering their longer-term plans and aspirations, for the near term they’re often working to preserve whatever security and constant is available to them, financially and emotionally.
Gender wise, males have come out slightly more open to opportunities than females at 43% vs 38%. Whilst this difference isn't huge, it further emphasises the statistics we’re seeing that females are more likely to be impacted and retrenched due to COVID-19. They, therefore, may be even more consciously choosing security. Add into the mix the regular juggling of family life, and we see why women may be opting to stay in their current role, and also may be lacking the time or energy to engage in an external search right now.
We then look at generational differences. Baby Boomers are the least likely to move at 35%. Gen X and Y, however, land pretty much equal at 41%. Past patterns dictate that Baby Boomers often take more of a focus on longevity in a role, and this coupled with the current insecurity organisations are facing, as well as potentially fewer opportunities open to Baby Boomers at their level, means many are hunkering down and not willing to take a risk or waste time looking.
There is also a sense of loyalty prevailing. For the companies and leaders who are successfully engaging employees and taking steps to reassure them, this is being gifted back. Employees are focusing inwards to their organisation, working towards the common goal of survival and hopefully future growth. Many have also been provided growth opportunities within their roles through this storm, or at least extra mental stimulation and challenge. This is particularly the case for HR professionals across the region, where 38% vs 42% non-HR professionals are open to new opportunities. There’s no doubt the HR function has been thrown further into the spotlight, and HR professionals are tackling rewarding challenges and changes every day.
Now is the time when, with some careful thought and an engaging approach, organisations can get ahead and retain top talent, utilising the self-reflection time staff have had, to their advantage. It requires an empathetic approach and an understanding of what is motivating their staff right now. As we shift to a new normal, and economies bounce back, employers will have little time to position themselves for the next phase of growth and focus on hiring top talent. Now is the time to not only support their current talent population, but also consider what future needs will look like to get ahead of the game.