Challenges and the future. How have recent crises changed recruitment?


The last couple of years have been difficult, perhaps even extreme – first the COVID-19 pandemic and then the war in Ukraine. Both of these are ongoing, meaning that isolation, fear and uncertainty will be with us for some time. These kinds of events bring about many changes in habits, plans and expectations; in addition, similar changes happen in our professional lives. Here are some findings illustrative of the current situation that every employer should take into consideration.

Willingness to change jobs

When the COVID-19 crisis began in spring 2020, it was somewhat astonishing that the willingness and readiness to change jobs did not decrease. Admittedly, there were people with families who decided to put off changing their jobs for the time being, but this pattern was definitely not predominant. There is a partial explanation for this – at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, there was an expectation and a belief that the situation would be resolved in a couple of months. But things turned out differently, and the length of the crisis can now be measured in years. By the time war began in Ukraine, people were rather fatigued and strained, and the lesson learned from the COVID-19 crisis was that this crisis will not be a short-lived one with short-term effects. Both the fatigue and strain caused by COVID-19 as well as a more realistic evaluation of the situation have, at least for the moment, reduced the willingness to change jobs. Naturally, the people looking for jobs are those who have not had one for some time or who have just lost their job for whatever reason. Employees in permanent jobs are now less willing to change jobs compared to six months ago.

Freedom to choose place of employment

There has been a great deal of speculation about what working practices should look like after the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 crisis end. Can employers expect employees to return to the office from Monday to Friday? Naturally, a distinction must be made between jobs that are relevant to a certain location and for which alternatives are just not feasible. All jobs that are not location-dependant will no longer require a return to the office from Monday to Friday. There are certainly employees who want to return to the established working practices. However, employees’ expectations have permanently changed. The last couple of years have led to an extraordinary experience regarding home office and remote working opportunities and they have also provided personal responsibility and freedom. Consequently, there is now a desire for more freedom to choose where to work, whether it be in an office, at home or perhaps even somewhere exotic.

Limited possibilities to recruit foreigners

The possibilities for recruiting foreigners began to change with the start of COVID-19 in spring 2020. In the past, local employers were interested in foreigners moving to Estonia, but travelling and moving were put on hold for a while. When it became evident that COVID-19 and its related restrictions and inconveniences were not temporary, plans had to be rethought and, wherever possible, remote working was offered to foreigners on a temporary or permanent basis. The Estonian Business and Innovation Agency conducted a survey in 2021 regarding the current situation and needs of foreign recruitment of employers; Ukraine (19%) and Russia (11%) were the two primary countries from which Estonia recruited foreigners. The war that began in February changed these options indefinitely. We still have an interest and willingness to recruit Ukrainians, but we must take into consideration that the profile of those who arrive from Ukraine and those who will be arriving in the near future may not address our critical needs, such as the increasing shortage of labour in the construction sector.

 High expected salary

Certainly one of the hot button issues in recruitment is salary expectation. Job-seekers’ salary expectations are never low enough for employers, but the current increase has not been seen for years. A distinction has to be made between salary expectations and real salary growth, which Eesti Pank forecasts at 7.9% this year. Every person can formulate their own expectations and, at this point, three common reasons stand out. First of all, the widely reported and feared high inflation brings about the expectation that salary growth should follow suit. Second, there is a perception of deadlock among employers, and we are still dealing with a labour shortage, underpinned by a reduced willingness to change jobs. Third, there is a lot of uncertainty and insecurity in regard to the future, which means that changing jobs entails higher risks, and taking those risks should be materially justified.

Mental health and significance of work

Everything related to mental health has received more attention than before, and with good reason. The last couple of years have required changes in personal life as well as professional life. Constant uncertainty and fear add to the tension. Mental health was previously significant, but the crises are making certain that people are more aware of this problem. This topic has another aspect – as mental health becomes more valued, the significance of work becomes more important. In particular, and more than ever before, this means that choosing a job happens with the heart not the head. People prefer to work somewhere that is in accordance with their personal values and where they care about the health and wellbeing of the employees. Fewer and fewer people choose a job purely on the basis of money and material rewards.

Management and organisational culture

Besides the significance of work, the environment in which meaningful work is done is important. Employees are more sensitive than in the past, and this sets new expectations on management and the organisational culture. During the recruitment process, it is important to get to know the values, the working processes and the attitudes towards new employees of the organisation and also the potential new boss. Consequently, in addition to the job content and conditions offered, the organisational culture and the manager are significant components in deciding whether to accept a job offer. The organisation should take this into consideration, both when selecting managers and developing the company. Rather than hiring a manager who is only an expert in their subject matter, the manager should involve new employees and retain and appreciate existing employees.

Current employer vs new employer

If the employee tenders their resignation, the employer’s counter-proposal is the rule rather than the exception. Employers who are aware of the current circumstances understand that there are limited potential candidates on the open market, the willingness to change jobs is quite limited and salary expectations may exceed the organisation’s budget. Therefore, it is easier and cheaper to try and retain a departing employee rather than recruit a new one. Due to the additional risks involved in changing jobs, especially considering current crises, there is a high probability that the employee who wants to leave will decide to accept an offer from their current employer and remain in their familiar surroundings. It remains unclear how long-term that kind of decision is, as there are often circumstances other than years of stagnant income that make it necessary to look around and apply somewhere else. 

Is recruiting possible during a crisis?

The observations mentioned above describe the current situation and even though the situation sounds complex, the focus should be on opportunities and the fact that there are factors that can be applied to retain existing employees and recruit new ones. Whether it is giving employees the freedom to choose where they work, building trust and certainty, supporting mental health or developing an organisational and management culture in a way that supports employees to thrive even in the most stressful times. Organisations that adequately evaluate the situation, adapt to the changes and value their employees can retain their current employees and recruit new ones, even in complex circumstances.