In the early days of COVID-19 from 2020 to 2021, employees were generally cautious and didn’t look to change jobs because of the increased levels of economic uncertainty created by the pandemic. This trend could be seen across most industries, including global real estate.
But with the virus in retreat, staff are getting itchy feet and companies are looking long and hard at how they attract and retain the best talent. This includes what they are doing to keep personnel in a highly competitive built environment sector, while analysing best work practices in an everchanging market.
In recent months, staff turnover has increased dramatically – official data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics shows vacancies hit a new record high of 1,298,400 in the three months to January 2022.
“Candidates have more options than ever, often resulting in numerous offers of employment and fierce bidding between companies to secure the best [people] in the market,” says Yohann Broderick, principal consultant, general practice, Oyster Partnership.
He adds: “The real estate sector has bounced back dramatically, resulting in significant shift in supply and demand of candidates. This is particularly pronounced for recently qualified RICS candidates.”
To grab the attention of new and existing employees, companies are pulling out all the stops. From highlighting the ‘human side’ of their companies on social media, offering to train future employees in specific skills or helping them move within the company, they’re making every effort to woo potential candidates. And while the advice is to forget the gimmickry of the latest office fad as an enticement, money is still a strong incentive for some.
Candidates realise they are in a strong position and can achieve higher wages by moving in a candidate-short market, says Broderick. This is backed up by recent ONS statistics that revealed some employees are already seeing wages rise more than 10%, with average pay up by 4.3% in October to December 2021 including bonuses.
“There is a lot of hype around salary expectations,” says Noel McGonigle, UK human resources director at Savills, who believes a competitive market is leading to “a lot of over-offering on salaries to get key talent.”
Money isn’t the sole factor, however, for attracting or keeping staff. The chance of progression, a good work-life balance including working from home (WFH) and flexibility around working practices are also major factors.
“If money is the only motivation for a candidate moving, I would always advise they first ask their current employer for a pay rise to avoid wasting time and purely using another offer to achieve a pay rise,” says Broderick. He adds that money alone rarely solves the problem if a candidate is not happy in their current company. Broderick does concede, however, that companies are more likely to give key employees a rise as they are aware of the significant cost involved in re-hiring.
Savills has set-up a new graduate pathway specifically for ESG to train people in the specialisation. “We are creating our own talent and hiring apprentices into that area, as well growing talent from within. But that takes time, and a lot of the demand is now. The UK government set net zero carbon targets and everyone has to have a plan.”
“When you have been out of the office for two years, the bond that bound you to the organisation … has disappeared” Yohann Broderick, Oyster Partnership
“The key to keeping your best talent is to understand the needs and motivations of employees,” says Clare Daniels, HR strategy and planning manager at JLL. She believes the focus should go beyond traditional benefits of holiday and pensions, and go deeper to respond to things such as physiological needs and self-esteem.
This, says Daniels, includes being flexible in working, focusing on wellbeing and productivity, incentives, benefits, through to creating diverse teams, where “everyone can benefit from this diversity of thought, experience and background.”
Broderick adds that: “Companies who take onboard employee’s frustrations and try to accommodate their needs fare much better in retaining talent.”
McGonigle highlights the need for people to move within the organisation to experience different aspects of the company or work in a different location, including overseas. He says: “It’s not necessarily that people want to leave, it’s just that there’s a desire to experience more.”
What will not keep staff is novelty items such as a pool table or trendy coffee machine in the breakout areas, says McGonigle. “You can’t put lipstick on a pig. If the work and environment are rubbish, no number of gimmicks is going to sort that out.
“Depending on your audience there’s a place for that, but it can’t make up for a good job in a good business, where values are aligned, employees have got a sense of purpose and understand how their career is being developed, and how they’re rewarded for what they do.”
Ultimately, says Broderick, if someone really wants to leave, they will leave. McGonigle highlights the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly WFH on staff retention. “When you have been out of the office for two years, the bond that bound you to the organisation, your friends, the social activity, the learning environment, and being surrounded by other people has disappeared.”
As a result, says McGonigle, loyalty to the organisation is weaker. “People now take the call [from the headhunter] because they have been thinking about a move for a while.”
“You can’t put lipstick on a pig. If the work and environment are rubbish, no number of gimmicks is going to sort that out” Noel McGonigle, Savills
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