Over four-in-five (86%) businesses are concerned about losing their top talent due to the impact of COVID-19, according to the latest international research from specialist recruiter Robert Half.
The study of over 1,500 executives found that of those worried about their ability to retain key employees between now and the New Year, over a third (36%) cite salary reductions and the inability to increase wages as the main reason.
Though HR and office support salaries are expected to remain stable in 2021, employers are turning to alternative benefits to ensure they are able to secure qualified staff, with over a third (38%) of businesses planning to offer 100% remote or hybrid working going forward.
This latest research coincides with the release of Robert’s Half 2021 Salary Guide, providing salary information on in-demand HR and office support roles in the UK, including HR business partners, HR managers and talent acquisition managers.
COVID-19 salary trends
Despite the uncertainty surrounding long-term financial remuneration, the majority of companies have continued to compensate staff at pre-COVID-19 levels thus far in a bid to retain top talent.
Three-quarters of businesses surveyed (73%) are still offering salaries that meet or exceed pre-pandemic figures. Almost half of those senior managers(47%) said salaries had held steady since the pandemic began, while a quarter (26%) actually noted an increase in base compensation over the same period.
Most businesses plan to continue paying bonuses this year, with half (52%) expecting to make payments which either meet or exceed pre-COVID-19 equivalents, while 38% are offering less, year-on-year – evidence that the impact of COVID-19 has been far from uniform across all industries.
In the UK, the dramatic increase in remote working is having a significant impact on wages as managers use different approaches to calculate starting salaries for new hires. Two-in-five UK firms (42%) currently use the business’ location to benchmark remuneration – significantly higher than the international survey average of 28% – while almost a third (28%) focus on the applicant’s location, and 26% use a combination of the two.
Matt Weston, Managing Director of Robert Half UK, said: “Employees are a company’s most valuable asset for navigating both short-term disruption and achieving long-term growth. In the COVID-19 world, human resources teams have been essential to supporting with redeveloped policies, procedures, and expectations to define new ways of working.
“HR and office support professionals recognise the enhanced market value of their skills in this climate. While the opportunities to increase remuneration may be tricky in the coming months, employers should research compensation trends regularly and be prepared to move quickly and negotiate effectively – using both financial and non-financial benefits – in order to retain key employees or hire promising talent.
Alternative employee benefits
While salary definitely remains an important consideration, almost two-thirds of businesses (61%) are introducing new, non-financial employee benefits to compensate existing staff and attract new hires in lieu of salary increases going into 2021.
Amongst the five countries recently surveyed by Robert Half, UK businesses are more likely to provide mental health resources and assistance (51%), wellness programmes (47%) and an at-home office equipment allowance (47%) for employees compared to their mainland European and South American counterparts (42%, 32% and 44% respectively).
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance also continues to be a top priority for many. In addition to many companies exploring 100% remote or hybrid working patterns going forward, ‘flexitime’ policies that allow employees to structure their workday or week as they please have already been established at 61% of companies surveyed. Compressed work weeks (52%) and permanent part-time arrangements (51%) are also favoured by executives in response to COVID-19-induced changes.
Matt Weston commented: “Salaries will likely remain under some pressure over the coming months, but non-monetary benefits, such as a better work-life balance, will all figure prominently amongst COVID-19’s longer-term workplace legacies.
“As current economic volatility looks likely to continue, the prospect of a salary freeze over coming months can be made much more palatable for HR and office support professionals if managers can ensure that non-financial benefits are sufficiently attractive and add alternative value for employees.
“With mid-weight and senior professionals in this area historically enjoying very competitive benefits as part of their remuneration package, we expect to see a further rise in flexible working conditions as employers look to offer 100% remote or hybrid working to attract and retain qualified facilities staff.”
UK hiring demand still strong for HR and office support professionals
While the coming months will undoubtedly prove challenging for many, Robert Half reports that a number of key sectors across the UK continue to show strong demand for new admin and HR hires, including financial services, fintech, manufacturing, investment management, and retail.
In particular, smaller firms and those with standalone HR representatives have needed increased human resources and admin support throughout the pandemic as teams look to bolster their capabilities in light of the rapidly changing business environment.
Generalist practitioners with a diverse skillset, rather than specialists, are increasingly sought after at present with businesses looking for professionals to offer expertise across a range of areas and cope if roles are rescoped and broadened out further over the coming months.
An example of this is the current blending of executive assistant and office manager positions. Many firms are looking to combine what would have previously been offered as two separate roles by offering a higher salary to secure candidates with the right skillsets to do both.
Two-thirds of the technical skills being requested for HR staff are now digital-focused, with remote working looking set to stay for the foreseeable future, while candidates with HR qualifications are also becoming increasingly attractive. Nonetheless, ‘soft’ skills such as adaptability, communication, and the ability to perform organisational tasks remotely still remain key.
Matt Weston commented: “Without a doubt, unemployment in the UK has risen as a direct result of the pandemic, but the impact of COVID-19 has been far from uniform across all industries. There are still opportunities out there for HR and office support professionals – a considerable number of them driven by the shift to remote working.
“As businesses to begin to establish a ‘new normal’, HR representatives with the right digital, technical and ‘soft’ skills will be vital to supporting with redeveloped policies, procedures and expectations going forward. As such, employers need to offer competitive salaries and benefits to retain key personnel, as well as to attract and secure top candidates for the remainder of 2020 – and beyond.”