Different states of recovery and how employees are being impacted
Now we’re halfway through 2020, businesses and communities are still navigating COVID-19 and its impacts – and what that process looks like varies greatly across different parts of Australia.

In some areas, COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, and businesses are preparing to return their staff back to the workplace. In other areas, however, a return to business as usual is further away – Melbourne and parts of Victoria still face weeks of lockdown restrictions in response to a surge in cases.

So, what does this mean for the employment market, and how are employees and candidates feeling about their working lives?

Job ad growth for most states

The latest SEEK employment data shows in the fortnight ending 5 July, job ad volumes were at 66.6% of pre-COVID levels. In the past fortnight, there has been growth in most states and territories with the exception of Victoria, which has seen a decline of 6.1% with job ad volumes 55.9% of pre-COVID levels. A return to lockdown restrictions that includes metropolitan Melbourne is expected to delay any recovery in Victoria’s job ad volumes.

The industries with the most job ads on site, which are close to pre-COVID job ad volumes, are: Healthcare & Medical (87%), Manufacturing, Transport & Logistics (88%) and Community Services & Development (99%).

Old and young most worried about job prospects

Slightly more people say their working lives were returning to normal in June (up 1% from May). However, a return to restrictions in Melbourne, for example, could impact this normality once again.

Optimism in the job market has remained stable at 59% for May and June, independent research conducted on behalf of SEEK reveals. However, two groups stand out in the job market: older workers are the least confident about their future job prospects and younger people (aged 18-24) are feeling less in control of their working lives compared to other groups.

Less than half of all workers over the age of 55 (46%) said they felt optimistic about their future employment in June, a drop of 14% on the previous month.

There remains a perception among job seekers that there aren’t enough jobs out there (50% agree), which younger candidates (aged 18-24) are feeling more in June than they were in May (up 9% from May).

People’s sense of job security in their current role dropped slightly in June, particularly amongst those aged 35-44 (down 11% since May) and females (down 8% since May).

The rate of job search activity has been in decline since May, predominantly among female job seekers. Research shows 24% of females were actively searching for jobs in May, and this fell to 17% in June.

Hudson Recruitment’s Chief Marketing Officer for the Asia Pacific, Vivianne Arnold believes it’s not a case of them not being interested; many are simply too busy. A number of Hudson’s female candidates have reported taking up additional carer responsibilities for children or elderly parents. Add that to home schooling and working in the evenings, and Arnold says some say they’ve pushed too hard for too long and need a break.

Providing support through job loss

Many businesses could be in the tough position of having to let go of staff in the months ahead.

Arnold says it’s more important than ever to invest in career transition services to support those employees you may need to let go in the weeks and months ahead. 

A bad departure experience from one worker can lower the morale and productivity of the colleagues they leave behind, as well as damage your company brand. Enabling your staff to exit with respect and grace, says Arnold, can leave them more willing to return when your financial situation improves and you begin to rebuild your team.

If you’re an employer who needs to cut staff hours or make staff redundant, you’ll also need to manage the legal and practical steps, as well as the emotional toll. These 6 tools to help you manage redundancies and changing staff needs could help you manage this process and communicate clearly through it.

Plan your future workforce

If you are ready to plan for the future, however, there are key steps you can take now.

Arnold says in spite of the market uncertainty, businesses should be thinking ahead to prepare for the workforce that will keep them ahead of their competitors on the road to recovery. Arnold recommends getting back in touch with those applicants you may have put on the back burner, particularly for high-demand candidates such as those with digital technology skills.

If your business is in a position to hire now, there are simple adjustments that can help you adapt your hiring process for COVID-19 and beyond – including adjusting your job ad, effective remote interviewing and onboarding differently. Identifying transferable skills in candidates could also benefit your hiring process.

Flexible working is the way of the future

Flexibility hasn’t necessarily been the norm in Australian workplaces, however the work from home experience has bolstered trust in that model. Fears it would lead to a drop in productivity have, in general, proven unfounded.

Mid-level employees are the most likely to have been working from home (at 34%) and, of these, two in three (67%) indicate they want to do more of it in the future. Although entry level, graduate and junior employees are the least likely to be working from home currently (24%), almost half of them also said they would look to work from home more often.

After finding success in adopting flexible and remote working, some companies are considering how they bring these arrangements into their regular working practices.

Karly George, Principal of Candidate Engagement at BHP says the organisation embedded a flexible work culture long before COVID-19. It achieves this through strategies such as job sharing, adjustments to rosters or remote working options.

George says workplace flexibility and technology support helped teams cope with the new COVID-19 environment thrust upon them by allowing them freedom to adapt their work in response. “Our first priority was making sure our people and their families felt fully supported during this difficult time,” she says. “We all know that when you are happier and not worrying about external matters you are more focused, more productive and may be a better team member.”

Helping your employees to work well from home can come down to providing the right support and motivation – such as encouraging connection through team chats, setting up channels for regular feedback, and tapping into shared sense of purpose. Ensuring your team have the right tech tools to work remotely is another way to help them stay collaborative, productive and motivated.

Sources: SEEK job ads listed on seek.com.au for the fortnight ending 5 July 2020, and independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK. Interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published July 2020.