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2021 – A Year of Contrasts

Steve Brown, Managing Director APAC

2021 enjoyed a remarkable rebound from the challenges of the previous year, with many organisations exceeding pre-pandemic levels of growth and revenue. This has also manifested in a new war for talent, in what has been aptly named as ‘The Great Resignation’ or ‘The Big Quit’.

Many employers have been blindsided, with their top-talent being sought out for bigger and better career opportunities. If we have learned one thing in 2021, it must be that CEOs and CHROs should double down on talent and engagement initiatives across all levels of the organisation. There’s no time to procrastinate around building a better and more inclusive culture, flexible working, developing leaders and employees, career mobility, and more lucrative total rewards policies.

We wish all of our HR friends and their families a wonderful holiday season and hope that everyone gets some quality time to recharge.

Graham Tollit, Senior Director

2021 really was a year of two halves, divided by the most unconventionally dynamic summer we have witnessed in Europe. The first half of the year remained consistent in terms of steady growth and activity as companies and economies recovered from the pandemic. Whilst market activity was trending upwards throughout, things really accelerated from June/July onwards where we saw the start of the ‘great resignation’ or from our perspective what felt like ‘the great refresh’.  Many HR leaders needed a change, a break or a ‘refresh’ after 18 intense months. Most notably in Europe, we saw an increase in senior HR talent in the larger corporates moving into smaller organisations, driven either by big company fatigue, a sense of purpose, or the opportunity to make more of an impact at a more senior level in a smaller ‘pond’. Professionals moving between larger companies were also looking for ‘something different’ whether that be sector or purpose. This has been a significant retention challenge for larger organisations.

In general, we’ve observed HR leaders are now prepared to take more of a risk with career moves to achieve something different and energising. There also seems to be less of a stigma around quick stints if moves don’t work out. This has led to the most dynamic market we have seen in years across all locations.

The other debate which is ubiquitous across our HR community is the hybrid working conundrum and managing the return to the office. HR leaders are at the centre of formulating plans around this, but when it comes to their own preference, most HR professionals value a blend of physical and virtual set ups when considering a career move. Organisations that can provide both in healthy doses have stood out as employers of choice. Those where there is a requirement to be physically present more than four days a week have struggled to attract the best talent. Likewise, organisations that show limited flexibility on location are struggling to keep up with more agile organisations. Talent just isn’t relocating as much across the region as in previous times, with the majority of talent wanting to be closer to families whilst the pandemic continues.  

It’s been a fascinating year from an HR search perspective and we look forward to seeing what 2022 brings.

Stefanie Cross-Wilson, President and COO

2021 has been the most polarizing year I can remember – personally, professionally, and politically. On a work front, it has also been a major time of ‘coming together’ for many folks from different walks of life. The hybrid working conundrum is an interesting case which highlights the challenges of the past year. I estimate from a US perspective, 80% of ChapmanCG searches are in a specific location, or set of locations for a minimum of 3-4 days per week. Conversely, I estimate close to 80% of our HR talent who are looking for roles expect to be fully remote, or at minimum in the office no more than 2-3 days per week. There is a mismatch between what HR talent is looking for as employees vs what they are asking for as employers. Granted, executive search firms are given a disproportionate amount of ‘difficult’ work and therefore a greater proportion of ‘in office’ roles would come to search firms vs what is available in the market. Nonetheless, there is a huge contrast between what employers and employees aspire to – even within the small and tight global HR community.

We are also observing the same with the ‘great resignation.’ For example, many CEOs are admittedly ‘old school’ in CPO searches, and they look for loyalty and minimum job changes – with ‘jumpy’ career histories being called out immediately. On the other hand, the ‘great resignation’ is not only well underway but is recognized and applauded by the global HR fraternity. Many HR leaders in rewarding and well-paid roles are choosing to take a different path. In the past these departures were shocking. Today, not so much and they are viewed as admirable and very justifiable!

For any HR professional looking to get their head around an employee population, I am struck by how tolerant, forgiving, and open-minded you need to be these days. I heard/read that somebody paid approximately US$2.4 million for a block of land in the metaverse very recently. I find this completely mind-blowing, yet I am convinced this is the start of something much larger. However, whether you ‘get’ (or even like) the concept of the metaverse, this is amazing just to consider. HR professionals of the future will need to deal with employees who believe this is an inevitable future reality vs those who fully disagree – and everything in between. What a weird and wonderful world we live in! It is a more challenging, more polarizing world than ever before. And despite all the complexities and difficulties, it is a wonderful time to be a part of everything that is going on.

Wishing you a wonderful end to an eventful 2021 and a fabulous start to the new year!


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