For job hunters and recruiters, salary expectations are just the latest in a long line of changing demands that come with the pandemic.

The world of work as a whole is in flux. From new ‘gamifying’ technology which makes use of digital experiences to match candidates to roles, all the way through to the move towards hybrid, more flexible working models, together we are seeing a large-scale overhaul to the ways in which we work. Disruption and development have been the buzz words of the year. And candidates’ salary needs and wants are no exception. 

Amid a wealth of noise around mass redundancies and economic uncertainty, we undertook some research of our own, to get a better understanding of something much less reported: how the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted candidates’ salary requirements. For hiring managers, understanding the outlook of those they are meeting with, interviewing, and often also welcoming into their organisations is critical to be able to ensure a smooth, positive and fit-for-purpose recruitment process.

The insight: It’s not a cut-and-dry situation

While conventional wisdom would dictate that, in a difficult job market, those looking for work would be prepared to plump for lower salaries, the situation is far from black and white.

Our responses showed that, while many reported no impact on salary expectations, 

25% of those looking for work reported asking for a higher salary in the wake of the pandemic. On the other side of the fence, just 10% responded that the pandemic had led to them request a lower salary in their job hunt.

Case study 1: Care workers – salary expectations on the rise

Our insights showed that the majority of those we surveyed recruiting for roles in the care industry noted an increase in salary expectations. 

In the context of the much-publicised risk involved in these roles in 2020 – jobs with no option for working remotely, with heightened chance of health implications involved as part of the job (for example, interacting with large numbers of people on a daily basis meaning greater potential exposure to the virus) – it follows that the financial reward requested should be higher.

The feeling of those coming into contact with the nation’s unwell and vulnerable is summarised by one of our network of hiring managers, who commented: “Our nurses and NHS care staff have asked whether they get any additional money for being at risk on the front line.”

Case study 2: Education – No change in salary expectations

Recruiters from another facet of the front line – the UK’s teachers, tutors and teaching assistants – told a different story.

The vast majority of those looking to fill roles in the education sector reported no change in salary expectation in the face of the pandemic – with a section of candidates more accepting of lower salaries in late 2020.

We spoke with Daisy, a languages teacher currently looking for a new role in secondary education in Cardiff to give her view. “The threat of the pandemic and the associated financial fallout ushered in the very real possibility of further cuts to state education budgets coming around the corner. 

“So, while education professionals are aware of the risks we face coming into work every day – it’s hard to keep children wearing masks properly! – we love our jobs and want to keep doing what we do. Which goes some way in explaining why many of us are prepared to accept pay cuts – we know it’s a difficult time for schools financially and we want to do our bit to shoulder the burden.”

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The findings from our research and from conversations with our network revealed that depending on industry, salary is becoming less of a dominant deciding factor among those looking for work.

What does this mean for recruiters in 2021 and beyond?

Where previously job-hunters may have looked at salary as a binary figure, there’s now a bigger picture to consider. Salary is often just once piece of a much greater puzzle.

Hiring managers will need to look more broadly at their offering as a business and as a potential employer – and at what they are asking of their teams.

What level of risk does the role involve?

Can your people work from home? If not, what level of safeguards are you putting in place to mitigate the risks your colleagues may encounter? 

There are many different ways of protecting your teams and reassuring new recruits that you are taking their health seriously. These will vary in necessity based on the type of work your teams are carrying out – possible requirements could include everything from providing full PPE to colleagues, setting up screens between workspaces, allowing regular outdoor breaks, ensuring air is circulating across the site, and installing hand sanitising stations on walls. Central to this is communicating the measures you are taking, to reassure your employees and reinforce safety messaging.

What does working remotely mean for the employee?

For some – particularly those in traditional desk-based roles who operate using a laptop or desktop computer – working from home means saving money and time on commuting. With few extra materials to think about setting up or purchasing, working from home can prove the equivalent of £5,114 saved (the average cost of a London commute in 2020, according to location-agnostic company Tyto) and countless hours won back – and may be a factor in these colleagues being willing to ask for decreased financial recompense. 

For others whose work requires equipment that may be more expensive and/or difficult to find space for at home - not having a dedicated workplace to carry out their duties from may look like a negative. It will perhaps mean the team member needing to book their own studio space or work in unsuitable conditions from their houses. For these individuals, then, not being able to work from an office may be an element driving them to ask for a boost to their salary.

What professional benefits are on offer?

Benefits go far beyond fruit deliveries to the office and an annual Christmas party. 

Job-hunters want to get under the skin of the benefits that come along with a role – often these can be the deciding factor when choosing between one job and another. 

According to our 2020 Employer Brand Research report, work-life balance is the second most important factor (only below attractive salary) that employees perceive the ideal employer to offer. 

Outside of these two key elements to a role’s attractiveness to a new team member, what else could differentiate you from the competition? 

  • Are you offering valuable in-house training which will boost your team’s skills and demonstrate that you’re investing in their futures? 
  • What healthcare or dental benefits come as part of being a member of your company? This could range from everything from free eye tests to comprehensive mental health support for colleagues to access when they need it, along with time off to attend sessions
  • How does your pension scheme compare to others in the market? According to the Pensions and Lifestyle Savings Association, the State pension alone is unlikely to be able to support retirees with a comfortable retirement – making a generous company pension invaluable to colleagues at every stage of their career 

It’s clear, then, that the impact of the pandemic on candidates’ salary requirements is as varied as each of the candidates themselves. The role for hiring managers at this time is to take the opportunity to get to know the unique situations facing each prospective colleague – and consider what these mean when it comes to making that all-important salary offer. 

This two-way communication and adaptability will also prove important when it comes to handling the gender pay gap and ensuring fair salary setting across the organisation. Recent research from Universum has raised the red flag that while men’s average salary expectations have increased since the outbreak of Covid-19 (£40,500 to £41,600), women’s have conversely dropped (£31,400 to £31,000). Hiring managers will need to be mindful of this gender disparity so as to not widen their own company gender pay gap.

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