What reassurances could employers give to potential candidates during the pandemic to encourage them to move?

There is very limited recruitment happening at the moment.  For many sectors of the economy a reduction in headcount growth may continue for months and possibly years.  However, there are professions where the impact of Covid-19 has been limited and companies may be in position to recruit new people while the pandemic continues around us.  Whilst much recruitment has been put on hold even for companies that have experienced minimal financial impact, there is a tipping point where the need for new staff overbalances the cautiousness in respect to hiring.  This could present an issue. 

There is an expectation within the broader recruitment industry that once companies start recruiting again, finding candidates for those positions will be easier than it has been before.  And of course, in certain sectors that will be true, particularly where there have been significant volumes of redundancies.  But industries where redundancies become common are not what I am considering here.  In sectors where people have generally hung on to their jobs there is likely to be much more reticence for potential candidates to move positions and no newly redundant people to fill new vacancies.

A contact of mine raised the following question recently and given that he made an excellent point (he usually does) I thought I would try and address it.  What reassurances could employers in historically candidate short sectors; largely financially unimpeded by Covid-19, do to entice reluctant potential candidates to move?  I have a few suggestions.

1) Get rid of probation periods entirely

As employment rights are very limited for the first two years of an employment contract, even in normal circumstances probation periods are largely unnecessary.  They can have a psychological advantage – that both parties can test the water for the first few months but in practice they do not really change a great deal except where particular additional benefits are awarded after a probation period.  But even in those circumstances the cost to the employer of these benefits tends to be fairly minimal so the value is more symbolic.

Employers can still rid themselves of ineffective employees for very little due cause in the first two years of employment irrespective of a probation period.  The only likely significant impact a jettisoning of probation period might be is in respect to a notice period i.e. that a new employee is on a one week or one month notice period during probation then an extended notice period after this.  It’s pretty rare that candidates leave a position during probation so one could offer the same extended notice period from day one that typically applies after probation.  An employer could allow a week or two ‘bedding in’ period when someone first starts in case someone leaves immediately (but don’t call it probation).

2) Don’t have benefits offered based on timed served. 

Offering the same holiday allowance, life insurance, pension etc. from day one that long termers receive would give reassurance that a firm is fully invested in new hires.  It would also likely not have a significant financial impact with the exception of possibly corporate non-performance related bonus schemes.

3) Bonus guarantees

If an employer pays a monthly, quarterly or annual bonus particularly if it has a performance related pay element then guaranteeing some of it until a new employee can realistically earn it could be advantageous i.e. a pro rata annual bonus for the number of months worked in a financial year and based on the average bonus paid to other fee earners.

4) Fixed term contracts

Another possibility, not without risks would be to offer a candidate a fixed term contract instead of a permanent one with the proviso that it will revert once the contract is up.  It mitigates the risk from both sides but also means you would be liable to pay a salary for the entire contract if a position ended early.  The same could also be achieved with a little less risk with a permanent employment contract with a long notice period, such as six months from day one.

5) Unequal Notice Periods

This would be a real show of commitment where you offer a potential employee less notice if they decide to leave than you would give them if you ended the job.  I am not a contract or employment lawyer but as far as I am aware unequal notice periods are lawful but uncommon.  This is largely because they are more at risk of being deemed to be unfair but if it favours the employee then I would imagine they would be okay.

6) Joining bonuses

Because they’re a one-off measure they are sometimes not as successful as people might think but a significant bonus for starting a new position might help.  In my experience joining bonuses are usually most effective when someone is choosing between two offers and not when you are trying to persuade someone to leave their current firm as people rarely consider moving positions entirely for financial reasons.  I would suggest that a joining bonus should not be the key piece of ammunition but may help as part of a range of measures.

7) Strong flexible and part time working policies

In a post-covid world, an employer’s attitude to flexibility is going to be crucial.  If you’re strong on this you will have a significant advantage.  Having enjoyed the flexibility, if not the lack of social activity, of home working for months, many employees will be reluctant to go back to working in an office every day or having a rigid working day.  This will likely be a reason why people look at leaving employers - the prospect of losing, post lockdown, the flexibility they now have.  Clear and active facilitation of home-working could be great signal of intent such as providing a phone, laptop and broadband subscription as part of a job offer and having incredibly flexible working practices.

8) Short-term increased holiday allowances or sabbaticals

Given that going on holiday will be difficult for most, if not all, of 2020 then adding, for example, an additional ten days’ holiday allowance to be used over 2 years could be a method of enticing people, allowing them to catch up on vacations lost.  Likewise, an unpaid sabbatical of 4-6 weeks could be offered for one-two years of service which would be much earlier than is currently usual but could be particularly attractive for people whose plans were cancelled this year.  It is a policy that could aid staff retention as well if it is extended to the entire workforce.

And that’s it.  It’s not an exhaustive list by any means there are, I’m sure, plenty of other measures that would help.  It makes sense to think about this now before there are pressures on recruitment so you are ready to persuade people to join your organisation when you need to.

Finally, if you’re reading this and you are a Patent or Trade Mark Attorney please don’t forget to complete our salary survey!

Pete Fellows.

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