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HR Market Update for the Start of 2009

Quarter One 2009 is shaping up as one of much indecision in terms hiring across all HR specialisations in the Asia Pacific Japan region. As multinationals use the period between Christmas and Chinese New Year to re-think regional structures, it comes as no surprise that we have seen the hiring of quite a number of HR positions across the region either put on hold indefinitely, delayed into Quarter Two 2009, or removed altogether from the company’s headcount plans.

The good news is that HR remains essential to the smooth functioning of successful organisations in the region, and smart companies are their investment in HR during these tough times, especially in Talent Development and, in some cases, Talent Acquisition. Unlike in the recent boom years, none are being rushed or reckless in their hiring, and virtually across the board we are only seeing absolutely essential HR positions being hired at the moment.

Common strategies being adopted at the moment include:

Putting HR Positions on Hold – Often driven from the global or regional headquarters, the hiring of many HR positions is being put on hold until either economic conditions improve, the current downturn looks to stabilise or costs can be reduced to a sufficient level. Wherever possible, we encourage our loyal contacts to continue meeting exceptional HR talent that may be useful for the future. For HR candidates involved in these proactive meetings, we’re being as transparent as possible to ensure that time is not being wasted.

Delaying HR Hiring Into Next Quarter – Again largely driven from global or regional headquarters, we began seeing companies adopt this strategy in late 2008 in order to push hiring costs into 2009. Now in Quarter One, with continued economic shakiness, we’re seeing further delays of hiring in some cases from Quarter One to Quarter Two. The positive aspect in these situations is that sourcing and interviews for these positions can take place at a more reasonable pace. The downside is that candidates involved in such interviews need to be prepared to be patient, for the ultimate decision-making to proceed to final stages.

Eliminating the New HR Position Altogether – Unfortunately, we’re seeing some HR positions simply being ‘shelved’. This is happening particularly for high-level, high-visibility HR positions that may involve a high cost. We’re also seeing this for HR positions that may have been ‘nice to have in an up-market’. These tough times are definitely making organisations think about what HR positions are critical to the efficient functioning of the business. In such situations, where open or anticipated HR positions are not being replaced, existing HR talent within the organisation is being asked to either take on extra positions (with no role change) or being asked to step up to take on the extra responsibilities (which often involves a promotion). We are seeing lots of HR movements within companies, and many HR people are being asked to take on two or three portfolios. Ironically, now is an excellent time for many HR staff to be ‘stretched’. ​

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