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Recruitment and retention during a pandemic

We may be operating in extraordinary times, but people will still be leaving their jobs and managers will still need to appoint new members of staff. What factors need to be taken into consideration when appointing with restrictions in place? Yvonne Hardiman gives some advice for those wishing to retain their staff as well as to recruit.

Summary points

• Many factors that will be attractive to new staff will also be reasons why others will not want to leave.

• If parts of your recruitment process are carried out remotely, make sure that the principles are still retained.

• Consider carefully your induction process and how the content can be transmitted safely.

There are few workplaces that haven’t been affected by the global pandemic. We carry on doing our jobs to ensure that our services and products are delivered as smoothly as possible but, in many respects, it’s not quite business as usual. Many of the core challenges remain, but the way we face them may be different.

This article focuses on the challenges of recruitment and retention in a global pandemic.

Reasons for leaving

First, we will look at retention. To gain an insight into how to improve staff retention it is necessary to understand why people leave.

In recent years staff retention, especially among teachers, has been a challenge. Teachers say the main reasons for leaving the profession are:

• volume of work

• the amount of time spent on non-teaching activities

• lack of job satisfaction

• lack of support

• not feeling valued by management.

(Perryman and Calvert, 2019)

During the pandemic, additional factors have been added to the list of reasons teachers may be considering switching careers.

• Anxiety is high on the list. Headteachers say this is largely attributable to the amount of time they have had to devote to complex administrative issues and looking after the physical and emotional welfare of staff and students. Teachers say they suffered the most anxiety due to the need to teach via live video.

• Loss of confidence is another factor. General research across all sectors reflects that working mothers and women responsible for dependents are feeling the least confident about their future work (LinkedIn, August 2020).

• Undoubtedly, there will also be some anxiety around the issues of physical and mental health in relation to the pandemic while having to attend the workplace.

• Less interaction among colleagues due to social distancing may cause feelings of isolation.

Attracting candidates and retaining existing staff

As has always been the case, the recruitment process provides an ideal opportunity to portray the workplace as an employer of choice.

More than ever, candidates will be attracted to employers who show empathy with their workforce. They will be looking for workplaces that understand their challenges, that are doing everything to protect their health and wellbeing and show that they really value their staff. They will be looking for workplaces that know how to react in a crisis and what they do that makes them stand out.

Consideration should be given to demonstrating a knowledge of the risks and how they are being mitigated. Not only will applicants want to know how the environment is being made as safe as possible, but also what the additional benefits are. This is where it’s helpful to go back to the reasons why people may consider leaving.

Communication with job applicants, existing staff and parents and pupils can be carried out on many different platforms. It can be done via the website, through social media, in newsletters and, of course, in any material provided in relation to advertising vacancies, such as the advert or the job information pack.

Aspects to consider may include:

• offering the possibility for atypical working patterns to help those with caring responsibilities

• where possible, allowing some remote working to reduce the amount of time staff spend in the physical workplace

• highlighting training opportunities that go above and beyond what might normally be offered to help with the new ways of working

• considering job shares

• emphasising support for emotional and mental wellbeing and building resilience

• creating opportunities for more staff interaction online, such as Zoom calls with colleagues and managers. These could include interacting socially, such as quiz nights, to replicate as much as possible what happened pre-Covid-19.

The recruitment process

When it comes to the recruitment process itself, most of the traditional methods can be adapted to some form of online method. It is essential to think about the old processes and to document what needs to change in this new world of work.

Consideration will need to be given to:

• deciding the requirements of the new role

• producing the job information pack

• advertising

• collecting applications

• distributing applications to hiring managers

• screening applicants

• communicating with candidates

• carrying out any pre-employment screening

• interviews

• further shortlisting

• communicating the outcome

• HR administration, including drafting paperwork and file maintenance

• onboarding.

Hiring managers may need extra support as they find themselves having to grapple with new technology and new ways of working. Training is key to ensure that they have all the knowledge they need about the systems and how to carry out interviews online. This is essential so that they can put nervous candidates at ease.

While interviews should be as relaxed as possible, it is important that they are structured in the same way as face-to-face interviews, as far as possible. For example, if there is a panel of hiring managers and they are all in different locations, ensure that a pre-meeting is held to agree everyone’s role. This may involve deciding who is going to open and close the meeting or who is going to ask what questions.

New recruits want to feel safe and reassured that their health and safety is of paramount importance. They may be afraid of being in a physical workplace. Let them know the steps you are taking to allay their concerns. Additionally, they may be feeling stressed about seeking a new role during a pandemic. Regular friendly communication throughout the process will help.


The recruitment process doesn’t end when the new hire has been made. Onboarding is a critical part of ensuring that the new hire settles into the workplace as quickly and effectively as possible. Any essential training, such as safeguarding, equality and diversity or data protection can be held online, as can introductions to managers and colleagues. Creating an induction plan to mirror existing processes will help to ensure that nothing falls by the wayside.

There is no doubt that recruiting in a pandemic is challenging, but there is no aspect that is insurmountable. Following the approach that is right for your workplace will help to ensure that your recruitment process is a positive experience for all.


Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

• Form – Recruitment and retention in a pandemic

About the author

Yvonne Hardiman, Chartered MCPID, MA (Management) began her management career at BSI, heading up a publishing, printing and warehousing division. In 2005 she joined a law firm as HR Director and Partner. Today Yvonne enjoys running her own HR consultancy assisting organisations with all aspects of people management. https://twopurlrow.com/

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