Office workers sitting on a wall eating lunch around a lawned area surrounded by office blocks
Feelgood factors: a pleasant environment and opportunities to collaborate in person are among the draws for many jobseekers, recruitment agencies say © Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images

Employers across the UK are having to be more creative in how they attract and retain staff, as basic salary rises are failing to keep up with inflation. And while some companies are looking to pay more, recruiters say this approach, alone, is unlikely to work in the face of rising costs.

“Employers providing a range of attractive benefits are more likely to win in the war for talent in an ever-decreasing pool of skilled staff,” argues Michael Stull, managing director of recruiter ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions UK.

The agency achieved a silver classification in the hospitality category of the Financial Times-Statista ranking of UK recruiters and Stull says there is no shortage of creative thought being applied to the types of benefit on offer — from mind, body and soul therapies to supporting staff with childcare needs, fitness, and subsidised meals.

Other recruiters agree that such benefits are playing a greater role in attracting candidates.

“Salary is still a huge driver for staff to switch roles — however, there are lots of other tactics we will encourage employers to use to attract and retain staff,” says Gaelle Blake, director of permanent appointments at recruitment group Hays UK and Ireland — another group featured in the FT-Statista ranking.

She says that employers are increasingly highlighting their flexible working and career development opportunities when hiring.

Blake adds that an organisation’s mission is important to employees when assessing a new role. “Whilst purpose can account for a company ‘doing good’, there’s also plenty of ways for employers to ensure staff feel a sense of purpose in what they do,” she says. “This can include meaningful projects and work, as well as offering options such as volunteering days so staff can support projects in their local communities.”

For most employees, though, the benefit of greatest value is flexibility, say recruiters — and employers that do not offer some form of hybrid working will be at a disadvantage when hiring.

According to a Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development survey into flexible working, published in May, 66 per cent of companies that offer hybrid or remote working said it allowed them to attract and retain more staff. Conversely, the research found that a lack of flexibility was prompting career changes among some employees.

When considering a new role, 71 per cent of workers said being able to have a flexible working pattern was important to them and 69 per cent said that the ability to work remotely was important. When asked what sort of flexibility was wanted from an employer, the most popular response — from 46 per cent — was variable start and finish times. One-third cited flexibility around rotas.

Stull says companies that offer flexibility are hiring twice as fast as those that do not. He advises employers to weigh up the costs to the company before offering it, but adds that flexible working can be a low-cost option for employers looking to improve their benefits packages. Businesses can also reap the rewards through improved job satisfaction, loyalty, and business flexibility.

When staff do come into the office, however, they want to feel it is worth their while and recruiters are advising companies to provide an environment that is comfortable and well thought out, with opportunities to collaborate in person. Blake says companies that had not previously provided office perks are now doing so, in the form of “subsidised lunches, free exercise classes, and subsidised travel”.

Recruiters say other factors that jobseekers pay close attention to are whether career progression is discussed and is transparent, how diverse and inclusive an organisation’s culture is, and whether the employer is committed to supporting the wellbeing of its workforce.

Lucy Morgan, chief executive of consumer recruitment group PodTalent, says that, while pay is a principal concern for jobseekers, companies should look beyond salary.

“If you make an opportunity all about salary, then the negotiation is all about salary,” points out Morgan. “What is more important to most is future progression, personal development, and flexible working.”

Morgan adds that flexible and remote working can also open up new candidate pools in new locations — often where the cost of living is lower.

Yet, despite the rise of competitive job perks, recruiters say there is still a mismatch between what workers want and what employers are offering. ManpowerGroup says it conducted a recent survey of jobseekers and discovered job descriptions were going unread because they were not offering the skills growth that workers want.

“Employers need to be clear about the progression opportunities and what is being offered in terms of training,” says Stull.

“There is a fundamental mismatch — the skills that are needed by employers are not necessarily the skills that the majority of workers have, which is creating this ongoing candidate-led market.”

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