Before COVID-19, most of us had never heard the word ‘furlough’. Yet it’s become one of the buzzwords associated with the pandemic, as the job market has become incredibly difficult to navigate for employers, employees and job-seekers.

As part of our Road to Resilience series, leading journalist and broadcaster, Naga Munchetty, spoke to Steve Ingham, CEO of PageGroup, a global recruiter that employs over 7,500 people across 36 countries. This is the story of how an agency tasked with finding people their dream roles is keeping its employees, candidates and clients on track through a global crisis – and beyond. You can watch the full episode, or read on for a summary. 


A relentless focus on employee health

With a workforce as large and diverse as PageGroup’s, some employees were inevitably going to struggle more than others with the lifestyle changes forced by COVID-19.

Given that employees often work in small teams, it’s easy for people to quickly feel isolated. PageGroup recognised this and immediately put measures in place to ensure employees and managers stayed in regular contact.

“We’re constantly training and reminding managers to stay engaged with people on a regular basis. That means being visible so they can pick up on individuals who may be finding things challenging.”

Keeping the social aspect of work intact has been vital. PageGroup has put on a variety of virtual events to bring people closer together – whether bookending the day with breakfast meetings and “Beer o’clock”, holding quiz nights, Strava virtual running challenges, workout groups, internal webinars and presentations – “you name it, we’ve done it.”

PageGroup also regularly shares company successes to foster a spirit of togetherness. 

“Every Friday we share a barometer that shows our offices reopening (48 as of May 29th). People share pictures celebrating being back in the office (while socially distanced, of course).

“90% of our staff said they wanted to go back to the office full time or part time,” Steve added. “Now people can see light at the end of the tunnel. People can see there’s hope.”


Adapting candidate and client interactions

“People are nervous about losing jobs and feeling insecure. So first and foremost, they wanted reassurance that we were there for them. To have somebody to talk to about the job market and their options.”

Before the UK went into lockdown, PageGroup had already learned a lot from its 8 offices in China. “We used that experience to advise clients and candidates what to do – particularly around keeping people safe and how to communicate.”

PageGroup immediately urged its own managers to stay engaged.

“Some of our people are fairly new to the business – we made sure managers were there to lay out the new working day and ease them into this new way of working.”

PageGroup also used Business Intelligence to give employees digestible info for constructive conversations with clients and candidates.

COVID-19 has also accelerated the need for virtual interviews.

But when COVID-19 struck, PageGroup’s clients weren’t thinking about hiring – the first thing on their mind was the safety of their current employees. 

“I knew we’d be needed and we should maintain our platform, where our own employees are there to give advice.

“And after the first week was spent getting things up and running for remote working, we then found clients and candidates more engaged than before.”


Traditional working is out – for employers and candidates

“Traditional job roles have long since disappeared. We need people who can adapt to different situations.

“Ever since the Financial Crisis, there’ve been different challenges in different markets – Brexit, social unrest etc. We have to adapt, and so do the candidates we place with our clients.

“Things move fast, so job titles and job content are continually evolving. Job descriptions change and you have to change with it. That’s what businesses are looking for.”

As if to reinforce this point, PageGroup itself is embracing digital to better interact with clients and candidates.

“Salesforce has allowed us to use our information to be more relevant. To speak more accurately to the right candidates at the right time and relaying that to the client at the right time.”

Steve also believes business leaders will be judged on how they handle people returning to work.

PageGroup is listening to local government advice and taking additional measures if needed. “People have the choice to work from home if they want to, or if transport makes commuting impossible.”

“No one should be forced to come back to work. We have to respect that.” 


Advice for companies recruiting in the future

Steve believes finding, nurturing and retaining talent is the biggest challenge companies face.

“The speed we come out of lockdown will be defined by the virus – but also by companies themselves and their talent. Companies with the right talent, motivated and engaged, will accelerate out of this faster than their competitors.”

Areas like IT and Digital will take on more value as businesses realise the importance of enabling remote working so staff can work flexibly.

Having been in a near-fatal skiing accident that saw him become a wheelchair user, Steve is also passionate in his belief that everyone should be comfortable to be themselves in the workplace.

“There’s nothing worse than an environment where you can’t be yourself. PageGroup has always judged people on performance – I want people to feel comfortable working with us.”

When Steve became CEO, he re-hired PageGroup’s now Global Diversity Director to ensure that’s the case. In fact, every Director has diversity objectives written into their contracts.

“We have an almost 100% maternity returner rate – I don’t want to lose good talent because they also want to have a family.

“We’ve got to embrace that, and things like flexible working will only help diversity and inclusion – COVID-19 could be a watershed moment.

“We take time to find out how people feel, reassure them and message consistently. We’re all different, but we must make sure people can bring their whole selves to work.

“When I started 35 years ago, we had 240 people worldwide; now we have over 7,500. PageGroup has been a huge part of my life. This is something I take personally.”

You can watch the full conversation between award-winning journalist and broadcaster Naga Munchetty and Steve now for even more advice and insights.