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Recruitment in 2020: a rollercoaster
28 January 2021

2020 started with such optimism. We were handling a record number of job opportunities across all sectors within Luxembourg’s financial services and had recently moved offices from Avenue Monterey in the centre of Luxembourg-ville to the business district of Kirchberg to accommodate a growing team. Then, a new word entered our vocabulary: Coronavirus.

We look back at how the Coronavirus pandemic affected recruitment in 2020, and the impact it had on jobseekers and employers, based on our customer conversations:

Early reactions

As soon as the first Coronavirus lockdown hit Luxembourg in March 2020, 90% of the employers we were working with decided to put their vacancies on hold. As everyday life was upended, the local employment market held its breath. Recruiters froze and jobseekers panicked.

Jobseeker cautiousness

With the future suddenly looking uncertain, job security became a hot topic during the first half of 2020. Professionals who had been actively looking for their next career move, now held back as they no longer wanted to risk being the ‘last one in, first one out’ in a new role. The staff turnover that companies naturally experience in a normal year slowed to a standstill, stifling recruitment opportunities and talent management.

Professionals who continued to pursue a new role, did so more cautiously. Employers now found that they needed to sell themselves more than usual at interview, to reassure candidates of their stability and commitment to new hires.

Sector stability

Only one sector continued to recruit consistently throughout the year, albeit more cautiously: law firms. Legal roles, especially within investment funds, tax, and banking and finance, remained in steady supply for experienced professionals willing to make the leap.

For the rest of Luxembourg’s financial services, it took seven months — until October 2020 — to see a genuine uplift in available roles. As the Covid-19 timeline became clearer and organisations adjusted their plans to cope with the unexpected, confidence returned. By the end of 2020, banks, corporates, asset management and fund services firms were recruiting again at almost the same level as the start of the year.

Recruiting remotely

Once corporate Luxembourg had processed the initial shock at the start of pandemic, it began to adapt. As a recruitment consultancy that prioritises getting to know our customers, we know how vital it is for people to meet during the recruitment process. How a face-to-face encounter tells you so much more about the person you’re interviewing and the work culture you’re assessing.

Since we were unable to set up in-real-life interviews due to lockdown restrictions, we helped our clients to replicate their recruitment processes digitally and regain momentum. By April 2020 — within weeks of the first lockdown — we had facilitated our first job placement where the employer and candidate hadn’t physically met each other. Knowing our network so well allowed us to make a great match while everyone got used to interviewing over video conferencing.

Digital onboarding

The move to digital recruitment affected more than just interviewing. While checking in with our network post-hire, it became clear that staff onboarding was proving a challenge. Professionals often commented that it took longer and was more difficult to feel a part of their new company. Though they completely understood and accepted the need to join remotely, new hires still looked forward to physically meeting their colleagues one day and feeling more a part of the team. This highlighted the difficulties employers faced when inducting new hires remotely.

Learning & development

The lack of face-to-face contact also made it harder to train new and existing employees ‘on the desk’. Many existing roles and work set-ups had never been conceived to be done or learnt entirely remotely, and the employees in those roles hadn’t joined on those terms. Despite their best efforts, employers were being asked to change the way they developed their people at short notice and with or without many resources.

We know that anecdotally, managers sometimes struggled to oversee colleagues working from home, having never been trained to manage staff remotely themselves. Indeed, management roles stagnated in 2020 as their nature suddenly changed from managing in-person to managing remote teams, and existing managers focused on developing their management styles.

Staff performance

While some personalities thrived away from their offices, others simply weren’t set-up to work effectively at home or isolated from their colleagues. The sudden move to remote working led in particular to the loss of informal communication opportunities, such as ‘coffee machine’ moments where rapport is built and ideas might be discussed informally between staff.

Year-end appraisals rarely evaluate someone’s work duties alone, but also look at broader social impacts such a teamwork, initiative and office behaviour. For companies still trying to figure out their remote working practices, they risked being unable to record and rewards these behaviours in the interim. With evaluations affecting bonuses, this became a high-stakes issue for employees.

The future

There’s no doubt that the rush to work from home, caused by pandemic lockdowns, tested companies in various ways: from putting new processes in place and rolling out the IT infrastructure needed, to managing teams remotely and recruiting new employees.

When talking to employers about their evolving working-from-home policies, we encountered mixed reactions. Despite the range of approaches, a majority of Managing Directors resisted implementing working-from-home measures unless necessary. Among the reasons cited was the belief that financial services checks and procedures are handled more efficiently in the traditional office environment.

With Luxembourg acting primarily as an operational centre, only time will tell how its financial services firms adapt their approaches, resources and practices to thrive, rather than survive, as the coronavirus pandemic continues into 2021.