Like many of us, I have been doing a lot of reading, listening to podcasts and television binge-watching in order to occupy myself through the tedium of isolation and to escape the steady onslaught of unfathomable news. All that escapism might provide some needed mental health salve, but there is no escaping the multi-vector impact of COVID-19 on our lives, the lives of our families, loved ones and our livelihoods.
Like it or not, around the globe, business owners and workforces have been thrown into unpredictable and uncertain times. We have not experienced anything like COVID-19 in our life times. We are not in control. And yet, I would suggest that we can assert some measure of control. However, that last bit is for a follow-up article.
We were there. We are now here. But where exactly is here? And once we get past “here,” what is “there” going to look and feel like. Yet another unknown and further uncertainty. Are you still with me?
These are the questions this article addresses as it focuses on the recruiting industry with a particular focus on the sector that services the demand for private service staff for high and ultra-high-net-worth households.
The subject matter is broad and has been divided into two sections: COVID-19 in the here and now, followed by a second piece that addresses possible go-forward roadmaps for the domestic staff recruiting industry once the dust begins to settle.
This crisis happened quickly and there are likely only a handful of businesses that built into their crisis management strategies plans for a global pandemic. It is, therefore, expected that recruiting firms would have been caught completely off-guard by the pandemic.
When COVID-19 hit, recruiters sank deep into the land of Oz with no Wizard, no Dorothy and no Good Witch Glinda. To mix metaphors, they waited for one show to fall after the other.
Pre-COVID, recruiters likely had job openings that, one-by-one, were placed “on hold” much to the frustration of applicants. The decline in business, in most cases, was incremental as recruiters learned more about COVID 19 and governments began taking actions to mitigate the virus.
In a recent article published in businessleader.co.uk, David Morel (CEO of Tiger Recruitment) estimates that between March 2nd and March 20th of this year, there was a 70% reduction in new permanent jobs briefed to recruiters. (April 3, 2020)
That is a significant number. I would venture to guess that the figure is much higher for private service staff recruiters. So, why is that?
Private service staff recruiting has always been a highly niche and idiosyncratic business. It does not follow the norms of the recruiting industry as a whole. That the crisis would have a different impact on this sector of the recruiting world should surprise anyone. Here are a few explanations as to why:
- While virtual interviewing is an imperfect tool for hiring new employees, it has become most accepted within the public workplace. The same cannot be confidently said for families seeking to hire a Private Chef, Personal Assistant or Housekeeper. At some point in the hiring process for a domestic staff member, an in-person meeting will be necessary. Take, for example, a Private Chef. What family would hire a Chef for their home without sampling their food and kitchen hygiene practices? It is a common sense question that requires a common sense answer. The same argument can be made for a Housekeeper. How do they organize a wardrobe, pack a suitcase, wash a cashmere sweater or a marble floor? In Private Service, paid working trials/interviews are common for precisely these reasons. Mandated Social Distancing measures (an absolute necessity during a pandemic) have made such tools impossible, which, in turn, places a freeze on the hiring process. The hiring process can only go so far.
- An additional explanation can be found in a qualitative difference between public and private work environments. The latter is a highly intimate space. Families are literally inviting strangers into their homes to perform needed roles, whether it be looking after their children, preparing meals, monitoring highly technical mechanical systems or cleaning and maintaining fine surfaces and furniture . While employees in a public work space perform valued work, the environment in which they complete their tasks is not an intimate one when compared to a home. Office employees, for example, will likely not be privy to family conversations or arguments. They won’t see family members at their best… or worst. They won’t see their employer in her nightgown or know a family member’s televised guilty pleasures. They won’t know all the idiosyncrasies that make families, well, families and all that is entailed by the word. All of these things contribute to a feeling employers have that necessitates an in-person meeting with a prospective staff member at some point in the hiring cycle — a meeting that helps establish a platform for trust.
- For every employer who feels queasy about inviting a stranger into their home, so too do applicants feel about accepting a position with a family who they have not met other than through virtual interviews and a home that they have not “toured.” In Private Service, a job is so much more than a job description. Private Service jobs are best described as reading between the job profile’s lines as reading the lines. Recruiters, employers and job seekers will use language like “fit” and “personality match” while going through an interview process. These words are somewhat clichéd in that world, but they are so because they are also very true. And there is nothing like meeting someone in person to get a gut feeling for the quirks and eccentricities that go beyond the black and white print of any job description. These things cannot be captured on paper or a website. When you will be working in someone’s home, this matters.
So, as important as Social Distancing has been in saving lives and containing a pandemic, it also put a freeze on a highly-personal sector of the recruiting industry. This is, of course, a generalization. There are those who have hired and will continue to do so during this time. They are content with virtual interviews because that is exactly how their businesses run. That said, they are the exception and not the rule.
So, where do we go from here? What kind of transition do private service staff recruiters face? Post COVID-19, what will the domestic staff recruiting industry look like? What will be required of recruiters? What new technologies will be introduced? How quickly will the market recover? What will it take to thrive in that brave new world?
These questions and more will be addressed in Part II — “Recruiting and COVID-19: A Roadmap for Uncertain Times”. Stay-tuned folks. Things might feel mighty gloomy, but there is hope and opportunity to come. Of that, I am convinced.
Written by Scott Munden, who is the CEO of Portico Inc