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Survey reveals risk to top talent


According to a study of 1,500 executives conducted by Robert Half UK (, 86% of businesses are concerned that they will lose their top talent due to their inability to raise salaries due to the impact that COVID-19 has had on the business.

In the UK, the dramatic increase in remote working is having a significant impact on wages as managers use different approaches to calculate starting salaries for new hires.  Two-in-five UK firms (42%) currently use the business’ location to benchmark remuneration – significantly higher than the international survey average of 28% – while almost a third (28%) focus on the applicant’s location, and 26% use a combination of the two.

“Employees are a company’s most valuable asset for navigating both short-term disruption and achieving long-term growth.  In the COVID-19 world, human resources teams have been essential to supporting with redeveloped policies, procedures, and expectations to define new ways of working,” says Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK.

“HR and office support professionals recognize the enhanced market value of their skills in this climate.  While the opportunities to increase remuneration may be tricky in the coming months, employers should research compensation trends regularly and be prepared to move quickly and negotiate effectively – using both financial and non-financial benefits – in order to retain key employees or hire promising talent.”

While salary definitely remains an important consideration, almost two-thirds of businesses (61%) are introducing new, non-financial employee benefits to compensate existing staff and attract new hires in lieu of salary increases going into 2021.

Amongst the five countries recently surveyed by Robert Half, 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 their mainland European and South American counterparts (42%, 32% and 44% respectively).

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance also continues to be a top priority for many, with almost three-quarters of managers (71%) committed to offering remote work for the foreseeable future.

‘Flexitime’ policies that allow employees to structure their workday or week as they please have already been established at 61% of companies surveyed, while compressed work weeks (52%) and permanent part-time arrangements (51%) are also favoured by executives in response to COVID-19-induced changes.

“Salaries will likely remain under some pressure over the coming months, but non-monetary benefits, such as a better work-life balance, will all figure prominently amongst COVID-19’s longer-term workplace legacies,” continues Weston.

“As current economic volatility looks likely to continue, the prospect of a salary freeze over coming months can be made much more palatable for HR and office support professionals if managers can ensure that non-financial benefits are sufficiently attractive and add alternative value for employees.”

While the coming months will undoubtedly prove challenging for many, Robert Half reports that a number of key sectors across the UK continue to show strong demand for new admin and HR hires, including financial services, fintech, manufacturing, investment management, and retail.

Those with a diverse skillset, rather than specialists, are increasingly sought after at present with businesses looking for professionals to offer expertise across a range of areas and cope if roles are rescoped and broadened out further over the coming months.  An example of this is the current blending of executive assistant and office manager positions.  Many firms are looking to combine what would have previously been offered as two separate roles by offering a higher salary to secure candidates with the right skillsets to do both.

Two-thirds of the technical skills being requested for HR staff are now digital-focused, with remote working looking set to stay for the foreseeable future, while candidates with HR qualifications are also becoming increasingly attractive. Nonetheless, ‘soft’ skills such as adaptability, communication, and the ability to perform organisational tasks remotely still remain key.

“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 accounting and finance professionals – a considerable number of them driven by the shift to remote working,” comments Weston.

“Those with in-demand commercial, data analysis and cash management skills will be core to business recovery over the coming months, and 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.”

The findings coincide with the release of Robert’s Half 2021 Salary Guide (, providing salary information on in-demand HR and office support roles in the UK, including HR business partners, HR managers and talent acquisition managers.

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