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Kathleen McCudden on the job market and Seek’s guiding principles

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In this episode of Work Conversations, we speak with SEEK’s Group Human Resource Director, Kathleen McCudden, whose role is focused on creating a positive work environment for employees while also assisting the company in achieving its growth agenda and purpose. After almost five years in this role, Kathleen shares some interesting insights into the ways the pandemic has impacted the job market, both globally and here in Australia, and the principles SEEK used to assist in guiding the organisation through this challenging time.

SEEK is primarily known as a technology platform that brings hiring managers and candidates together, with the overarching purpose of helping people live more fulfilling working lives and assisting organisations in their success. What people might not know however, is that SEEK operates across 18 different geographies, and also creates technology-based learning assets to provide education to students and those looking to transition to new careers. It is, as Kathleen describes, a “global organisation operating in global markets.”

Over the course of the pandemic, the uncertainty, economy and government response have all impacted greatly on the job market, Kathleen explains. And what SEEK has seen is a direct correlation between the level of restrictions and the number of jobs being advertised and candidates looking for work. In March, when the pandemic had well and truly hit Australian shores, SEEK saw a significant drop of 70% in job ads. This is only comparable to 2008 during the Global Financial Crisis, however Kathleen points out that while that instance saw a steady decline over several months, the pandemic’s impact was almost instantaneous.

However as the pandemic progressed, it appeared employers were beginning to gain greater understanding of the situation and how it impacted their business, customer behaviour and workforce. Progressively, this has seen the job market improve, and SEEK has found that nationally, job ads have returned to 90% of their pre-COVID levels. What’s interesting to note, Kathleen says, is that this varies quite dramatically from state to state depending on the level of restrictions, and from sector to sector. For example, in the industrial sector, which consists of manufacturing, farming, mining, resources and energy, there is actually greater demand for employees. The same is true for the public sector, given the jobs are related to healthcare, community services, government and defence. Sectors such as consumer and professional services, which deal more in retail, hospitality, administration, accounting and marketing, are taking longer to recover because businesses are seeming to be more conservative with their hiring strategy before diving back in.

It’s not only employer and hiring behaviour that has changed, but also that of candidates and job seekers. In most organisations, SEEK found that the attrition rate declined, with uncertainty around the virus seeing less people inclined to leave the comfort of their current organisation for another, where stability may not be guaranteed.

When it comes to the Christmas period, which is typically quieter over December and January, Kathleen explains that it’s hard to know exactly what the job market will do, and there will be many factors at play. She notes that it’s important for employers to be careful when looking at their past seasonal trends and applying that to their current strategy, as there’s no real indication that this year will resemble those previously.

So, just how did SEEK manage its own workforce during this time? Kathleen admits with a laugh that it’s been a very busy time working in HR and is unlike anything she’s experienced in her career thus far. She explains that SEEK was always guided by the principles of first and foremost looking after its workforce’s physical and mental wellbeing, and that this would look slightly different in each geography. In Australia and New Zealand, for example, flexible work is something that’s relatively common, so moving the workforce to remote work was more straightforward. However in some other countries, they needed to factor in cultural factors, different levels of government support, and even access to the internet when it came to working from home. Despite these challenges, Kathleen says the company was clear on its priorities from the outset and were fortunate that they didn’t have to resort to redundancy programs, reducing hours, or pay cuts.

Though mental health has always been a key focus for SEEK, during this time managers were encouraged to be more empathetic and generous when it came to offering leave, especially in those countries where support such as carers leave wasn’t available. As Kathleen explains, the pandemic didn’t just affect SEEK employees’ working lives, but their whole lives. People were tasked with caring for relatives, home schooling children, while also dealing with global fear and stress over their own job security. It was this that made it imperative to SEEK to prioritise wellbeing, encourage employees to reach out, and provide them with the tools to keep themselves physically and mentally safe.

You can find out more about Kathleen on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathleen-mccudden-a395161/

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