Richard Letcher, Managing Director of Profile, A WilsonHCG Company, discusses candidate's thoughts and intentions to leave their organisation post-COVID-19.
As COVID-19 vaccinations continue to roll out across Asia Pacific, are companies across all sectors ready for the post-pandemic job market pick up?
In certain segments of the market we have already seen an uptick in hiring regionally, starting from Q4 last year (and even before in certain areas) for strong candidates, notably across financial services, digital and e-commerce, healthcare, education and supply chain. Overall, although there is a long way yet to reach the level of past boom years, things are certainly healthier now than the second and third quarters of 2020.
China is somewhat of an anomaly within APAC as the job market there started to bounce back in June last year. It has been gathering momentum ever since, particularly in the technology space (notably internet and 5G-related firms), healthcare and health services, as well as FMCG and luxury.
Over February and March this year, we conducted a follow-up survey to the one we did in April last year on the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on our working lives in Asia Pacific. Just under 2,000 people filled in the survey, ensuring a robust data set. The majority of people who responded were in Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, mainland China and Australia. Level-wise, respondents were in mid to senior roles, with 52% working in non-human resources positions. The information gleaned will form the basis of a series of blogs, of which this is the first. Below is a summary of who filled it in:
Currently, we are at a crossroads as we enter Q2. More firms are hiring, as evidenced by numerous data sources published by governments and job boards alike, with most job markets across the region having shown signs of life towards the end of last year.
That’s demand, but what about the supply of prospective candidates to fill this increasing number of roles?
In April 2020, we asked survey respondents if they intended to leave their organisation within six to nine months, and the results were quite marked. In fact, the response was the lowest we have seen to date, from several years of asking the question in our annual surveys.
This was mainly due to two main factors. The first was the (correct) perception that there were not many job opportunities out there, with many thinking, “why even bother to look?” The second was a real fear of being “last in, first out” if they were to join another company.
Fast forward nearly a year to March 2021 and people are still slightly reticent to make a move compared to the historic averages of 60-70% shown in the graph below, but it is clear that times are a-changing as more confidence seeps into the job market, and potential candidates take calls from headhunters more seriously.
There are also other forces at play leading to higher retention rates. We asked those respondents who did not intend to leave their organisation their reasons for staying in our most recent survey:
Within the top four, three are factors related to the people-element of work, such as culture and professional relationships. Could the pandemic have magnified these? In times of hardship, could it be that organisations have become akin to a family for many, enhanced by the benefits companies have rolled out (e.g., wellness allowances, reimbursement of childcare costs, “no computer screen” afternoons)?
For those content in their roles, Gen Y was the most vocal about what made them happy at work. “Working arrangement changes work well for me” and “I feel appreciated” were the top reasons for staying. Gen Y also identified other reasons which did not make the top six above, such as “job security”, “strong career growth and development opportunities” and “strong leadership from line manager”.
For those who do intend to leave their organisation, their reasons for leaving are remarkably similar to the results of a pre-COVID-19 survey we conducted in January 2020. The top six are the same as early 2020, with the “lack of career growth and developmental opportunities” as the top reason for leaving. However, “insufficient financial rewards” has been replaced by the more altruistic “lack of opportunity to make a difference”, which perhaps is not surprising.
Interestingly, from the March 2021 data, the survey respondents who intend to head for the exit door tend to be junior to senior-level managers, and not the C-suite or non-managerial staff. Not surprisingly, Gen Y is particularly concerned over their “lack of career growth and developmental opportunities”, as well as “insufficient financial rewards” and “risk of burnout”, the latter two not making the top six overall.
Those working in Financial Services had more gripes than respondents in other sectors, with particular pain points being “lack of career growth”, “politics”, “poor leadership” and “insufficient financial rewards”. In Singapore, respondents were more vocal than other countries, especially when it came to “lack of career growth”, “lack of opportunity to make a difference” and “lack of appreciation”.
As the job market pickup gathers momentum over the coming months, we expect that there will be a short-term dearth of potential candidates willing to take the risk and jump ship to another firm.
However, as populations in Asia Pacific are vaccinated over the coming months, the risk of additional COVID-19 waves will dissipate – in turn, as the positive cycle of economic growth continues, we expect prospective candidates to get wind of the fact that there are more opportunities out there, and also the fear of joining a new company, to be made redundant soon after, will fade.
That paid-for subscription to Headspace or the online gym may soon be forgotten and people will start to hanker after a bigger role with less politics and a higher chance of making a difference, with the result that the job market will head in a more northerly direction and we will see far more movement than there is now.
In some companies, this might come suddenly and pose an awkward problem to which they are ill-prepared. The perception of some employers that “staff have nowhere to go to if they did want to leave” has led to weaker retention initiatives and guards have been let down. Now is the time to start thinking about this, if it is not too late.
Although the number of candidates open to a move is expected to grow, demand in some areas will outstrip supply sooner than people potentially think. Things will undoubtedly become tighter, exacerbated by some expatriates moving back home from places like Hong Kong and Singapore. If growth is on the cards, with an accompanying increase in headcount predicted, firms need to put in place a robust talent acquisition, as well as retention, strategy sooner rather than later before cupboards become bare.