2020 has been a year unlike any other in recent memory and its cataclysmic economic impact will be felt for many years – if not decades – to come.
By July an estimated 730,000 people had lost their jobs in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), with the property sector hard hit during the first lockdown.
Many frontline sales staff were either sacked or furloughed, and the unexpected property boom that followed left many firms struggling to cope with demand.
It’s scarcely surprising, then, that many negotiators are hunkering down, reluctant to jump ship, while job applicants are putting work-life balance at the top of their wish-lists, according to specialist property recruiters.
Gareth Broom, Managing Director of GCB Recruitment, says many staff who were furloughed during the first lockdown didn’t hear from their employer for weeks on end. As a result, those looking to move are being very choosy about who they work for.
“People’s mindsets have changed a lot since lockdown – people value their work/life balance a lot more. Clients need to think about their culture,” warns Broom.
People’s mindsets have changed a lot since lockdown – people value their work/life balance a lot more. Clients need to think about their culture… it matters more than ever. Gareth Broom, GCB Recruitment.
“It’s very much coming down to clients selling their culture, selling their success, talking to us about the levels of business they do, target earnings, what people can achieve. Culture plays a big part, and after what happened this year it matters more than ever. Job security, too.”
Another factor affecting job movements at the moment is the big backlog of sales due to the sudden surge in demand, and the inability of conveyancers and surveyors to cope. This has left negotiators with commission that may not materialise until Spring.
“You’ve got people who have gone back into the industry in June/July, built up their pipeline, and because conveyancing has been very slow they’ve got a big pipeline of sales ready and waiting to go through and ultimately a lot of commission as well. So are they now going to jump ship when they’ve got a big pipelines in their current brand? Possibly not.”
Broom says some companies are confident of the future and taking on staff, while others are being more cautious, but are making an effort to look after the staff they’ve got.
“Nobody knows how things are going to go. I think it will be a slightly cautious start next year but I think it will actually be quite a good market for us – I think with a vaccine coming out that will give people a bit more confidence.”
Anthony Hesse, Managing Director of Property Personnel, agrees that taking care of staff and focusing more on work-life balance has becoming a key factor in 2020.
“What we’ve noticed in the last three months is that good staff are being looked after and being retained. They are also busy, so they are motivated and they are earning money and not looking around,” he says.
Good staff are being looked after and being retained. They are also busy, so they are motivated and they are earning money and not looking around. Anthony Hesse, Property Personnel.
Looking after staff
“It’s important to look after your good people. We’ve noticed that employers are becoming far more flexible with their employees with regard to working from home, and the working hours, work/ life balance. I think it was happening anyway but this has sped it up. We’ve even picked up roles recently where they are mentioning that you can work some of your time from home, and that’s very attractive to an employee at the moment.
“I’ve literally just got off the phone to someone who is prepared to do a job share if I can find two people who want to share the hours. There is an abundance of talent out there that can’t commit from 8.30 in the morning to 6.30 in the evening and every other weekend.” He believes that while commission will always be a key element for sales staff, paying a good basic salary is also becoming more important. “Some of the clients we deal with are out of kilter with the industry. They wonder why they can’t recruit decent people – it’s because they are not paying a competitive enough salary,” he observes.
Russell Jervis, Managing Director of Rayner Personnel, has heard of talented staff saying they won’t work for an organisation because of its actions this year.
“A lot of people want to know about culture, what’s the culture of the organisation, how they have treated their staff – there is definitely a distancing of certain organisations from others about how they have treated their staff in this pandemic,” he says. “More and more people are wanting to work in a culture that offers a less prescriptive working practice.”
People want to know about the culture of the organisation – there is definitely a distancing of certain organisations… about how they have treated their staff in this pandemic. Russell Jervis, Rayner Personnel.
Company founder Josh Rayner confirms there is a shortage of good talent at the moment, and agrees with Broom that outstanding commission is a factor. “Lots of people are tied into bonus schemes that pay out at the end of March,” he notes. “To get people to walk away from pipelines is difficult. Lots of clients are putting in a performance-related bonus or some kind of incentive for people to walk away from their existing employer.”
Lynn Cannell, founder and director of LCA Jobs, echoes other recruiters on how work/life balance has really come to the fore this year. “When I started out in this business it was about hard work, commitment, dedication, targets and money,” she says. “If you found time to enjoy it as well that was a bonus, that wasn’t what you went to work for.
I have seen a big change and it is really important for clients to think about the wellbeing of their staff. They are much more interested in the bigger picture rather than just the money. Lynn Cannel,l LCA Jobs.
“As an industry it has been very target driven, and has attracted people who are target driven, but I have seen a big change and it is really important for clients to think about the wellbeing of their staff. They are much more interested in the bigger picture rather than just the money, and I think there has been a real cultural shift in candidates’ expectations.”
She says it’s been a difficult year for agents in terms of staffing, laying staff off during the first lockdown, then struggling to cope with the boom that followed.
“Many companies have learned lessons they never thought they would be learning. Most are expecting another lockdown in January but are feeling positive that if they can get through this year as well as they have, they should be able to continue their good work next year.”
All agree that quality is critical when it comes to recruitment. “In a good market you don’t need an exceptional person because the properties sell themselves, but positive as they are they know next year is going to be more challenging,” says Cannell. “It is going to be a bumpy road, and they are going to need the quality and the resilience that will get them through next year, so they are also looking for people who are adaptable.”
Given the scarcity of trained staff, she suggests new blood could be found among those who have been laid off in other sectors this year, such as retail, leisure and tourism.
“I think there are some really good quality candidates out there that with training could be exceptional, but there hasn’t been a demand for trainees from our clients; the demand has been more for experienced people. They have been unsure how to plan for the year – because it was so busy they needed people who could hit the ground running, and didn’t have time to train, but I would urge them to consider that because their most talented people were trainees once, and there is a big pool of talent out there.”
It’s a theme picked up by others. “There are many, many stories of very successful branch managers now who have left the retail, hospitality and travel sectors and gone into agencies,” says Russell Jervis. “But while attracting trainees is a really good thing to do, at the moment most agents want people with experience, because they are so busy.”
Gareth Broom echoes the sentiment. “We are getting more and more calls from people from a sales background who want to get into the property industry. Maybe retail people, the automotive industry – car sales people looking for a change.
“Those skills are very transferrable; you can look at a recruitment background, car sales, maybe retail to a certain degree, people who have got that selling skill but not the property knowledge. We don’t see that maybe as much as we would like, but obviously clients are paying us to find someone who can slot in and hit the ground running.”
Anthony Hesse adds, “When we advertise roles where they will consider people with no previous estate agency experience, it’s been frightening how many candidates have applied – we’ve had literally hundreds for one job.
“We have actually placed a number of people in the last three of four months from the hospitality sector and airlines, and two or three recruiters as well.
“Recruitment skills are very transferrable. They are good with people and their customer service skills are excellent; they’ve got the right attitude, they’ve got the right presentation skills, they’ve got the right communications skills. They understand quality service is important, and they are coming from industries where they are used to earning less money and working longer and more anti-social hours – so it’s a win-win for them.”
Recruiting new blood is vital for any industry, and all agree that waiting until a vital member of staff leaves is the wrong approach.
As Josh Rayner says, “Even if you haven’t got a live vacancy my motto is always be recruiting, see one person a week. People rush into kneejerk decisions when someone hands in their notice and nine times out of ten they take on the wrong person just because they have a hole.”