Businesses fear loss of top HR professionals due to pay squeeze

Over four in five (86%) of businesses are worried about losing their top HR and office support talent due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

Salary reductions and lack of wage increases were cited as the main reason why businesses may lose staff between now and the new year, according to the study of over 1,500 executives by recruiter Robert Half.

Employers are instead turning to alternative benefits in lieu of pay rises, with over a third (38%) of businesses planning to offer 100% remote or hybrid working going forward.

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UK businesses are more likely to provide mental health resources and assistance (51%), wellness programmes (47%) and an at-home office equipment allowance (47%) for employees compared to mainland European and South American counterparts (42%, 32% and 44% respectively).

Yet despite financial concerns, Robert Half’s 2021 Salary Guide found 73% of companies are still offering salaries that meet or go over pre-pandemic figures.

Most businesses also plan to continue paying bonuses this year, with half (52%) expecting to make payments which either meet or exceed pre-COVID-19 figures and 38% offering less year-on-year.

HR and office support salaries are expected to remain stable in 2021 and the research found many sectors are still showing strong demand for new admin and HR hires, including financial services, fintech, manufacturing, investment management and retail.

Matt Weston, MD of Robert Half UK, said the full impact of the pandemic is yet to play out.

He said: “Without a doubt, unemployment in the UK has risen as a direct result of the pandemic, but the impact of COVID-19 has been far from uniform across all industries. There are still opportunities out there for HR and office support professionals – a considerable number of them driven by the shift to remote working.”

Smaller firms and those with standalone HR employees have needed increased human resources and admin support throughout the pandemic, the research found.

When recruiting new HR positions, two-thirds of the technical skills being requested for HR staff are now digital-focused demonstrating the continued trend of remote working. Candidates with HR qualifications are also becoming increasingly attractive.

Yet ‘soft’ skills such as adaptability, communication,and the ability to perform organisational tasks remotely are still a priority.

Weston added: “As businesses begin to establish a ‘new normal’, HR representatives with the right digital, technical and ‘soft’ skills will be vital to supporting redeveloped policies, procedures and expectations going forward. As such, employers need to offer competitive salaries and benefits to retain key personnel, as well as to attract and secure top candidates for the remainder of 2020 – and beyond.”

Remote working has also had an impact on wages as managers use different approaches to calculate starting salaries for new recruits.

Forty-two per cent of businesses currently use office location to influence salary decisions, while almost a third (28%) focus on applicant’s location and 26% use a combination of the two.

Robert Half’s 2021 Salary Guide explores salary trends across in-demand HR and office support roles in the UK, including HR business partners, HR managers and talent acquisition managers.