2020 job market: How candidates handled COVID-19’s impact
The global health crisis that’s defined 2020 created an economic shock that continues to impact industries, businesses and the employment landscape.

Australian employees – and those in the job market – also faced particular difficulties in the wake of COVID-19. So where has 2020 left them?

Research conducted on behalf of SEEK reveals their greatest challenges – and some surprising silver linings. Here’s a look at the key insights and how they may shape your approach to attracting talent and supporting employees.

No other year has matched the upheaval of 2020. In fact, 23% of Australians say nothing good has happened to them this year. 3 in 5 candidates who were working from home said that adjusting to remote work was their biggest challenge, while 27% reported that it was feeling isolated or disconnected from colleagues.

For those not working from home, almost 1 in 4 said their biggest challenge was having less work. Fear of losing a job was the top concern for 1 in 5 people.

SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read says it’s no surprise that the wide-scale disruption and uncertainty of 2020 has impacted the mental health of Australians. “The loss, the grief, the shock, the fear that people experienced could absolutely lead to feeling overwhelmed and hopeless,” she says.

“For some people working from home, there was a perception that the quality of their relationships had decreased because they need those regular touch points to feel like they belong.”

Read says transparency can help employees who are feeling anxious and uncertain.

“Employers often feel that they need all the answers before they communicate with their workforce, but who could have all the answers this year?” she says.

“When people feel that their employer is open to them and gives them a sense of agency and respect, it can help them to navigate most challenges and changes.”

Read more: How managers can support mental health in the workplace

This sentiment is matched by data that shows many Australians value the support of their employers throughout the year.

When reflecting on the year, 75% of employees think positively about their employers and 47% of use the word ‘supportive’ when asked to describe their employer in 2020.

Sarah Derry, Vice President of Talent and Culture (Pacific) at Accor Hotels, says a strong culture sustained the business in a year when hospitality and tourism were among the hardest-hit industries.

“You can’t expect to go into a crisis and emerge with a great culture if it’s not already in place,” she says. “We’ve faced a lot of difficult decisions and every conversation has been approached with our principles in mind, which are that people crave belonging, they want the real deal, and that every person has a story.”

Accor has 394 hotels across Australia and the Pacific. Prior to COVID-19, it employed 21,000 people but the number has reduced to around 15,000.

Derry says support for Accor employees has come in a number forms, from mental health resources to a ‘Pacific Taskforce’ made up of people and culture professionals whose focus was to “do anything and everything to support our teams”.

“We were also lucky in that our global CEO asked shareholders to hold back a portion of last year's dividend and, with their support, we created the ‘Accor Heartist Fund’ to support health workers in the community as well as team members in financial distress.”

Derry explains that Accor General Managers could submit grant requests to the Accor Heartist Fund for an employee in financial or emotional distress due to COVID-19.

“We've given away about A$4.5 million in grants this year and they were anything from A$1000 to A$5000.”

While the year has delivered significant challenges, many Australian workers have been able to upskill.

When asked the best thing that happened to their careers this year, 24% cite learning new skills. This was especially the case for those aged 18-24 (51%).

Derry says the pandemic caused Accor to think differently about the skills within its team.

“Our priority was to ask, ‘Who's got talent? Who wants to learn? Who in the company could do this job?’

“I think one of the additional benefits of JobKeeper is that it influenced employers to think about redeploying people who don’t necessarily have the skills in a particular role. If they have done this in a consultative way, people have been able to learn and grow.”

While the difficulties, losses and challenges Australian workers have faced in 2020 cannot be underestimated, Read says opportunities may also emerge – for employees, leaders and organisations as a whole.

“I don't like to sugar coat, but I think there has been an opportunity to reflect on what has worked,” she says. “What did we learn? What will we do differently? How did we help others? How would I like to reflect on this period in order to change direction?

“If we dig deep and reflect on those kinds of questions, I believe we could all come up with some answers that don't equate with hopelessness.”

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published November 2020.

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