Tribe's Head of Business Admin & Support, Cathi Thomson, gives her take on the industry for Q2 of 2020.
I’ve recruited all levels of administration and support staff across all industries for over 15 years now, and there really has only been one other time where things felt so unknown. I have had flashbacks to my time starting out in recruitment back in Scotland, when the GFC hit in 2008. We got through that, so I'm sure we can get through this. The real impact and toll on business support roles took years to play out. Client expectations changed, roles merged, new roles emerged - it was the start of employers I dealt with really looking at hiring on potential versus hiring on skill.
So, what can we expect as we continue to fight COVID-19?
If we look to SEEK, there is an encouraging jump of 72.3 percent in job ads for May. However, this was from an extremely low point in April (due to covid). Even considering this, May’s figures were still far shy of what it was before the virus, down 58.2 percent compared to May 2019.
Tribe’s business support team have stayed close to our clients and candidates during this time and as we navigated from Level 4 lockdown to Level 1. We’ve been able to pick up on a few key themes and I’ve shared my thoughts on them below.
Automation and technology
Now, more than ever, clients have invested in automation and technology to simplify processes, improve customer experience and enhance data capabilities. As yet, COVID-19 hasn’t really changed the make-up of support level roles. However, it forced many businesses to press go on all things tech to utilise platforms they may never have dreamed of relying on and kick off processes that might have been put on the back burner. It’s forced organisations to utilise, train and empower staff to use them and to use them fast. For many, this was a massive learning curve - for others, it was an exciting opportunity. Either way, it showed us that while automation and technology will unlikely replace all administrative or support-related roles any time soon, it will certainly change them.
There’s an increased awareness of how powerful these platforms, tools and processes can be. What does this mean for candidates that now find themselves in the market? Be comfortable with change, be agile, be willing to learn and as we say at Tribe, #bebrave with expanding your knowledge in this area.
I recently saw a quote from psychologist Marla Gottschalk that really resonated with me:
"Empathy is the next work life superpower"
I believe the experiences you encounter through life really shape who you are as a person. It’s easier to empathise if you have had exposure or similar experiences. I have been through a fair bit in life but not a global pandemic. It would be easy to return to the office and expect life to continue the same way, but the last three months will have changed most people in some way or another. Empathy is no longer a nice to have, it’s a need. With the thousands of candidates and clients Tribe’s business support team have engaged with over the last three months, we’ve found an authentic, honest and empathetic approach has fared us well. It has opened doors, broken down barriers, built trust and most importantly, helped the people we’ve dealt with navigate what’s been going on. The pandemic has been managed reasonably well here, but the impact is not to be underestimated.
As an employer, empathy in this climate will enable you to connect or reconnect with your people. It will also enable them to feel heard and understood and in turn, will increase engagement.
As a candidate we suggest an open and honest approach when it comes to what you are navigating and how you have been impacted. We’ve seen organisations elevating their wellbeing programmes and level of support in this space.
Much like technology and automation, the last three months have pushed flexible working to its limits. In more instances than not, businesses have coped - work continued and productivity even increased in some areas. We’ve noticed candidates within the business support field have relished the opportunity for more flexibility. I, for one, know that as Auckland’s population increases and infrastructure struggles to keep up, the extra hours a week not spent travelling are absolute gold. I can be more present for my daughter, which helps with the mum guilt, and it makes me an all-round better human when I’m at work.
While we see this as the positive impact of flexible working, I'm mindful there are people who’ve struggled. Trying to find a balance since returning from lockdown seems to be top-of-mind for many clients. Some I speak to are still at home and phasing people back into the office slowly, while others have returned and are making it mandatory to be in the office.
Things to consider here are that business support candidates may have very different motivations to you. Having options around this may be a greater benefit to them then it is to you. Organisations are certainly starting to realise this and we see it likely to become more and more of a differentiator for candidates.
For candidates, we continue to suggest being honest and open about your expectations when it comes to flexible working. As most businesses look to review and update their policies, it’s important to have clarity from all parties.