Santa isn’t what he used to be…

Steve Herbert, Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits, discusses why HR professionals need to think differently in a difficult recruitment market

The latest employment statistics were issued by the government this week, and despite all the uncertainty around Brexit they still make for rather impressive reading.

The headline figures are:

  • 48 million people in work in the UK – the highest figure ever
  • Employment rate of 75.7% – a joint record high
  • Unemployment rate of 4.1% – at nearly a 40 year low
  • Real wages up by 3.3%

All of which only tells HR professionals what they probably already knew; that it’s currently really difficult to get the right candidates to fill vacant positions.  And this means that employers may have to become much more adaptable when they consider their recruitment practices.

Which takes me to a nicely seasonal (and entirely true) example of exactly that.

In the run up to Christmas 2015 my daughter – then aged 16 – was seeking a job that she could mix with her studies to bring in some much-needed extra cash for the holiday season.  This was achieved when she secured a job professionally “Elfing” at one of those shopping-centre North Poles that spring up around the country at this time of the year.

Her job as an Elf was to meet and greet the little ‘uns, and then introduce them to the Big Man himself.  And of course I took the opportunity to take her much younger sisters to that particular grotto to see Santa as well.

Small children:  Look away now!

Now I hope I’m not giving away too many secrets when I suggest that not all shopping-centre Santa’s are the real thing?  At least a few are actually paid employees who do excellent work in reinforcing the Christmas message to small children (except, of course, in  “Miracle on 34th Street” , where Richard Attenborough is of course the real deal.)

I accept that not every Father Christmas will look alike.  But whether it’s in the job description – or maybe an indicator of my own unconscious bias – I still really expect any given Santa to fit a certain broad physical outline, with the adjectives “Big” and “Old” being key components of the expected image.  Yet my daughter told me that one of the available Santa’s at this particular North Pole was aged only 17, and was also rather thin!

And there’s more…

After our visit to the grotto we visited a well-known fast-food outlet.  Two of the burger-flippers on duty in that workplace were both older and heavier than myself (and I am neither young nor slim).  So based on physical appearance alone, both would have been good ‘idealised’ fits for the Father Christmas position had they chosen to apply for it.

It therefore appears that workers are willing to apply for jobs that may not seem like a good initial fit, but are all employers prepared to take them on?

So where are we now?

The two examples above surely suggest that some organisations already recognise this issue and are already widening – or indeed totally changing – their expectations of potential new recruits to ensure that vacancies are filled.

And it’s a good thing too, because the UK working population is in a significant period of change.  Around a third of all workers are now aged 50 and above, and (of course) the influx of younger EU workers is currently stalling during this period of Brexit uncertainty.

So it follows that the way employers match jobs and applicants should also now change.  Jobs that have previously been seen as the preserve of younger employees (such as working in a fast-food restaurant) might now be taken by those from a higher age group, and the Santa example above demonstrates that there is no reason why that can’t work in reverse also.

Naughty or Nice?

All of which means that employers, their practices, and indeed compensation and Employee Benefit packages will need to be regularly reviewed to ensure that the offerings remain both suitable and attractive to potential candidates and existing employees.  Only in this way can organisations stay ahead in the rapidly changing labour market.

Employers that fail to understand this significant change in dynamics may effectively place themselves on the naughty list, and will doubtless miss-out as a result.

But those organisations and HR professionals that embrace change are likely to be rewarded with improved employee engagement, lower absenteeism, better productivity and, of course, lower recruitment and retention costs.  And which company wouldn’t want to find all that that under the tree on Christmas day?