6 insights to shape your candidate conversations during COVID-19
COVID-19 restrictions are slowly lifting, but the working lives of many Australians are far from normal. How are candidates and employees feeling about the sudden changes and how can employers and recruiters keep them engaged?

New research from SEEK has identified six key themes that provide a deeper understanding of candidate sentiment to help you have more informed conversations with your future – and current – employees.

1. Almost half feel nervous about job security

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on working lives, with redundancies, stand-downs and reduced hours a new reality for many Australians. It may come as little surprise then that 44% of candidates say they feel nervous about their job security.

Lauren Trethowan, Head of Organisational Development and Learning sat MYOB, says while it’s difficult for employers to guarantee job security in times of economic uncertainty, there are measures they can take to promote employee resilience.

MYOB partnered with web and app-based meditation program Smiling Mind in July last year to help promote employee wellbeing and resilience. Trethowan says this has been an invaluable resource during COVID-19.

“Some of our mindfulness resources, for example, focus on detaching your identity from your work, which can help build resilience,” she says. “Obviously you want employees to give you all of their discretionary effort, but at the same time, those who have other interests and do not necessarily tie their identity completely to their role may be able to cope better if they do have adverse outcomes.”

2. Mental health is in focus

Along with a greater sense of insecurity, SEEK’s research shows one in three candidates are feeling lonelier than ever and almost half believe that mental health is more important than physical health.

Trethowan says that individuals respond to change in different ways. While some may thrive working remotely, others can struggle with a sense of isolation or may have difficulty striking a healthy balance between work and home.

She says mindfulness resources have also been an important tool in this sense, along with remote work advice. “We have promoted our Smiling Mind meditations through our collaboration and social tools,” Trethowan says. “We’ve also provided tips for working from home in a healthy way, including making sure you're taking regular breaks from your computer screen.”

Read: How to better support your teams’ mental health 

4. Upskilling and reskilling opportunities have declined

Remote working conditions may have disrupted professional development programs – just 7% of candidates who’ve been working from home say they’ve received upskilling and reskilling opportunities during this time.

Professional development is a valuable attraction and retention tool, so now may be the time to consider shifting some of your programs online to cater to remote workers.

“We’re viewing this as an opportunity,” says Trethowan. “We have employees in Australia and in New Zealand and we’re not sure when we’ll be able to travel between the two countries, so having the virtual offering means we can continue to deliver learning across both locations.”

3. Routines have changed

Almost half (48%) of Australians claim their daily work routine has changed completely as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has also affected the nature of roles, with one in three saying their job or role is now completely different.

Communication is vital in helping people adapt to change, says Brodie McDougall, Regional Director at PageGroup. Connecting with clients and discussing a return to work as a team have both been valuable forms of communication lately, he explains.

“We organised a client webinar in early May on the neuroscience of adaptability with a behavioural scientist and coach, Milo-Arne Wilkinson, where we heard fantastic, practical insights about how our brain responds to change, which we can apply to our mindsets as we navigate through COVID-19,” he says. “Furthermore, prior to returning to the office, we started a discussion on how the return might look and how we would feel and to discuss any concerns well ahead of the day.”

Read: 5 ways to help your team work well from home 

5. Working conditions are extremely important right now

SEEK’s research shows that 50% of candidates now rank their working conditions or the environment as the most important consideration when looking for a new job.

Trethowan says COVID-19 has encouraged MYOB to reconsider the role of an office. “We are focusing on creating the office as a space for collaboration and for socialisation, whereas home will potentially be the place for deep, focused work where there are fewer interruptions,” she says.

“I think more people will look for a reason to go into a workplace, so it’s good to be able to promote that the office is fit for purpose. We’re opening a new office soon and it’s good timing in that it has been designed to create great experiences for people when they come into work.”

Read: A simple guide to workplace flexibility 

6. Technology is an enabler

Technology has been vital in keeping the wheels turning for most organisations –  two in three Australians say new technologies have enabled them to work from home more efficiently during COVID-19. One in three say they work more efficiently from home than from their workplace.

McDougall says COVID-19 has provided time to reflect on how employers can work best with their team in an environment that combines both remote and office-based work. “Trust in colleagues and employees is now a given following our work from home experiences,” he says. “It has shown that when we truly believe in our purpose and values, we can adapt to any circumstance and move through this crisis stronger, together.”

At MYOB, employees work efficiently from home with the help of a team charter, which outlines how each team agrees to work flexibly together. “It may be that Wednesdays are designated for team meetings, for example, but Thursdays might be the day for deep thinking without interrupting each other,” Trethowan says.

She also suggests that employers regularly check in with their teams about attitudes to working from home. “We know that most of our people are happy to continue working like this indefinitely, but working from home may not suit everyone and some may work more efficiently from the office,” she says. “Clear communication is always the best approach.”

Read: 4 tech tools to help your team work remotely