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A sudden storm – how will COVID-19 change the job market?

Regardless of whether you are reading this while sitting on your balcony in some nice quiet town in northern England or getting ready for a video call in your apartment in New York, the COVID-19 pandemic has already impacted you in some way. Entire countries are under lockdown, people suffer, and many tremble in fear for their lives. But there is also another important factor to this pandemic – its impact on the economy and the job market.


Economic forecasts


The situation is changing rapidly, and so are the forecasts – on March 25th the International Labor Organisation (ILO) warned that the COVID-19 pandemic may eradicate around 25 million jobs worldwide – and on April 8th, it warned again that the virus may eradicate around 195 million jobs in the second quarter of the year – which is a huge leap! It all looks like the job market is about to take a serious hit – much more serious than during the last crisis over a decade ago.


Of course, some industries are more endangered than others. Travel and tourism are in the worst position right now – especially airlines. With high costs of maintenance of their fleets and very strong workers’ unions, many small European airlines may not survive the crisis. Even big players on the market are being forced to reduce their staff, which in turn causes the unemployment rate to grow. This new pandemic is also a nightmare for all hotel owners around the world – without travel, there is basically no need for hotels which puts them in a bad spot.


But that is only a tip of the iceberg – in the age of globalisation, a multinational pandemic is also a grave threat to many manufacturing industries – since supply chains are most often global and the production of many parts is being outsourced, only the closure of the production plant in Birma may cause the entire chain of manufacturers in France to grind to a halt. And the longer this situation remains, the worse – current supplies are not going to last forever, and as time passes, more and more industries are going to suffer.

Of course, even in those difficult times there are some lucky industries that are not only surviving, but sometimes even thriving. Healthcare, e-commerce, IT and the food retail industry are making their way through the pandemic relatively unharmed – the same goes for the government sector but… at least for now. We must remember that the longer this state of affairs lasts, the worse the situation will become.




Risks and chances for human resources


For HR professionals all around the world this is a difficult time – millions of workers are losing their jobs whereas the remaining ones are being forced to work remotely, and the job market took quite a sudden turn. We are going to divide this change into several crucial factors and go through them separately in order to understand precisely how the job market is going to change.


Remote work on the rise


Even though I said many times that remote work is the inevitable future of our job market, no one was aware that we were talking about such near future – the pandemic has forced millions of workers all around the world to work from home and with very different results. Some professions and companies were already implementing at least partial remote programs, and as such, they were quite prepared for this sudden change – they already had all the know-how and procedures in place so all they needed was just to increase the scale of remote work.

But more often companies were forced into remote work without any preparations which not only caused their productivity to fall down, but it also severely harmed the morale of employees.

Now we have talked about this many, many times before – you can find plenty of my articles concerning all aspects of implementing remote work, both it in times of a crisis or in standard circumstances. So instead of going through the entire process again, I will just remind you about one simple truth – once the pandemic is over, we don’t necessarily have to return to the old ways. Remote work is the future, and, even though we were forced into its loving embrace a tad bit faster than we have expected, once we started getting a hang of it, there’s no reason to stop. Once the change comes, we will have an advantage over our competitors who will still be clinging to stationary work with higher maintenance costs and lower productivity.



The rise of an employer’s market


Let us jump back a little bit, to late fall of 2019 – or to any recent moment in times before the pandemic, really. Unemployment in many countries is extremely low, skilled professionals are being searched for, and more and more companies outsource their recruitment processes, since the competition to find workers became something akin to fight to the death. Now, switch back to the present moment – none of this remains. The coronavirus has caused massive layoffs in every industry and the unemployment rates are skyrocketing. The scale of those negative effects of the pandemic may vary depending on how much each government will invest and subsidize businesses, but it may only ease the pain… not reduce it. The painful truth is that an employee’s market is no more. Once the smoke clears and we are left to rebuild our economies, unemployment rates will be much higher, and workers will no longer be able to be picky.

I know, I know – you would think that after such layoffs caused by a sudden crisis, most employers will just rehire those they fired? Unfortunately, that is not how macroeconomics works.

In times of crisis companies not only fire their employees, but they also learn how to go by with a smaller crew. This means that once the crisis is through, some of them may not be likely to sacrifice newfound savings for rehiring old employees.

It doesn’t mean that all the industries will suffer to the same degree – for now the IT industry is still moving on generally unharmed and that makes it possible, that after the crisis a good programmer will be able to remain picky when it comes to job offers. But in many industries, it heralds the end of the companies searching for employees – it won’t be employers needing help now, but employees. Add the new rise of technologies connected with the necessity of working remotely and we get a clear picture of millions of people rendered practically unable to find a job. Therefore, HR professionals will have to consider switching to the other side and helping employees to find a job.




The role of the HR department


In those difficult times, human resources departments should focus less on recruiting and more on reassuring – in order to keep the morale and productivity high enough, employees must feel that they are being cared for by the company. This can be achieved in number of ways:


  • Properly introducing remote work – now we have written quite a lot about that and there’s no need to repeat ourselves – if you’re interested, go and check out my previous articles! Don’t just implement one new tool or invest in a 30-minute webinar for your team… this is not even close to proper remote work implementation and it’s definitely not even a short-term solution.

  • Caring financially for employees – now this one is a bit tricky, because it depends solely on the possibilities and will of an individual company. But it is not unheard of that some companies are creating special funds in order to support those employees who have suffered the most during the pandemic or making a promise to rehire employees as soon as the economic situation allows it. You cannot always keep all the workers onboard, but you can make sure that even in those difficult times they feel remembered and valued as coworkers and professionals.

  • Being communicative and supportive – while being sent to their homes for the first time in their careers (professionally speaking, I really hope they are not forced to work 24/7 at gunpoint ), many employees will experience a painful feeling of loneliness and abandonment – add to that the fear for their position and you have a truly nerve-wrecking situation. The most important function of anHR department in time of crisis is to provide trust – trust in the company and its loyalty to employees. Make sure there are regular video calls in order to check on your workers – not only regarding their work progress, but also concerning their wellbeing and how well are they dealing with this new and difficult situation. Make sure to choose and recommend one dedicated communicating tool to your employees in order to not only work efficiently, but to also catch up with coworkers and spend some quality time with them. Have a clear HR policy concerning consulting any doubts and questions about the new way of doing things – after all, we’re talking about a completely new situation for most of them so we cannot just leave them hanging! Create a well-prepared FAQ for your employees in order to answer the most basic questions but have your HR department ready to pick up the phone at any time. Make sure they still feel that they are part of your company, and you will get through this together. It seems like it’s time for a huge test for all companies claiming to be pros in employer branding, doesn’t it?




Of course, those are just general recommendations concerning your HR department’s next steps. The truth is that the longer the pandemic and the restrictions take, the harder it will get for us to avoid losses – both in staff, productivity and revenue. As with every period of crisis, this one is also marked with rising uncertainty and a rapidly changing situation – all we can do is to gear up, prepare ourselves in the best way we can, and hope for the best – after all, hope springs eternal!


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