Writing a weekly recruitment blog has its challenges. Some weeks, like warm honey flowing through my fingertips, they just write themselves. A Recruiter does something immoral, a government agency blames a recruiter for hiring a conman, someone throws a punch at an awards ceremony – all of which make my blogging endeavours a walk in the park. Not only are these blogs easy to write, they’re also absolute bankers in terms of views, clicks, likes, and shares. I have one such blog up my sleeve which is going to make a future Friday morning an absolute dream. Once all this Covid-19 dust has settled, I’ll be writing a tap-in blog summarising all the recruitment firms and internal recruitment functions who have called it a day and shut up shop. Unfortunately however, I feel we are yet to see the true cost of someone chewing on a bat. Writing that particular blog right now would be like when Wayne Rooney “wrote” his first autobiography aged just twenty. There was more to come for him, and there’s more to come from our industry.
Instead, I want to look at the recruitment industry’s reaction to the current crisis thus far. Firstly, the total lack of a homogonous response within the industry demonstrates how unprepared businesses both large and small were when faced with a global pandemic. We’ve already seen some agencies closing their doors for good, a rare number of agencies retaining full headcount and hours, many offering reduced hours and salary following a drop off in trading after lock down, and a surprising number pull out the hatchet early and start culling before we’d even had a chance to login to Pornhub. Essentially, none of us have a clue what we’re actually doing. Instead, we spin the wheel and take our chance. The response which has, for obvious reasons, had the biggest impact on us at Rice Consulting has been those agencies or internal functions who pulled the pin early and either made post-lockdown redundancies or slashed salaries before we even knew who Ashley Bloomfield was. Almost overnight, we were inundated with quality agency and internal recruiters. This has, for the first time in about 10 years, created an oversupply of candidates, and that is a very strange feeling in our line of work let-me-tell-you.
I don’t know why, but I was mildly surprised by how many agencies and internal functions took such rapid action. It’s almost as if they may have used Covid-19 as an excuse to clear out some people they wanted gone. Nah, I’m sure that would never be the case. However, many Recruitment agencies and functions made the decision to move to reduced hours, and importantly, reduced wages before we even entered lockdown. Some have gone even further. My crystal ball told me that Michael Page will announce their exit from the New Zealand market on Monday. Big news huh? Let’s see if I’m right. This may be viewed as financially prudent, or unnecessarily severe depending on what side of the managerial fence you sit on. If we look at it from a Consultant’s perspective, how would you (or maybe “how did you”) feel when, after years of helping your boss pay for their Champagne lunches, you find yourself with reduced wages before you could even demonstrate what you could achieve working from home? I tell you how I’d feel. Slightly miffed. How would you then feel if your boss or directors of your company didn’t apply these same sacrifices to themselves? More miffed again I’m guessing. And how would you then feel if your bosses took to social media to state publicly how hard they are working for their own team, whilst simultaneously protecting their own position and shafting most of this team right up the kyber? I am lead to believe that in the minority of cases some or all of the above has happened. And sorry to be my usual judgmental self, without exceptional circumstances, I don’t think leaders doing this should feel too great about it.
There are two side to every story however. Every leader has had some tough calls to make. And if we are to agree that no individual is bigger than the collective, then we must agree that at some point we had to make decisions that may negatively affect the few to save the many. Like cutting off a gangrenous leg, better to limp into the future than to die at the roadside. History may prove that although unpleasant for the prematurely shafted recruiter, the end justified the means. Those businesses who took the slightly more efficient, calculated, and dare-I-say less humanist approach, might be the firms who survive this shit-storm and offer employment to people forever more. It’s a real toughy. What good is a leader if by some egalitarian hang-up, they bring a business crashing down for everyone on point of principal? For those old enough and British enough to remember, the British Mining Union leader Arthur Scargill took this “all or nothing” approach to laying off miners. The UK now buys its coal from Spain.
There is another narrative also. At some point in our careers, every one of us has been guilty of assuming that our bosses decisions are just that; their decisions. Then many of us become a “boss” and realise that we have moved up the chain but are still subordinate to another boss. And if you go far enough up this chain, there’s a chance that you’ll find someone who reached their elevated position by putting profits over people. The decisions of this Top Dog filter down the chain until it reaches some poor Manager who has to make his or her team redundant via Zoom. Excluding those who have lost their job, it’s this group that I feel for the most. Delivering decisions you don’t agree with is the worst part of middle-management and has pushed many decent people to their absolute limit.
No matter what side of the fence you sit, unfortunately there are no winners in this situation. You can either sacrifice your income or sacrifice your morals, and some us will probably do a bit of both. The most we can hope for is that, if we all work hard to treat each other with respect, we can still all have a beer together when this blows over.
Have a good weekend, wash those hands, and don’t travel the length of the country if you’ve just arrived from overseas.