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I will wager that the recruitment agency you work for has delivered less revenue this year than they did last year. Yes, there will be exceptions, but in the most part, things have been tougher than the two previous years. I say this with a level of authority. We see a lot of things here at Rice & Co, and recruiting across so many recruitment firms, who in turn recruit across so many industries, gives us an insight into what’s happening out there. Markets that are slow create Recruitment firms who are slow to hire consultants from us. And if you pick up the phone enough, and go for enough beers with clients, you can’t help but spot a few trends along the way. In its most simplistic form, white & blue collar construction, and blue collar temp have fared the best. IT and digital has done “okay” in a market that is typically fantastic. Accounting & Finance has been tough going, as has HR, and Sales & Marketing, and internal recruitment (of which there are no vacancies so don’t ask) has been dire. The industry is of course littered with exceptions to this, and your recruitment firm’s success isn’t purely limited to the industry it serves. There is another trend which I have noticed. Another deciding factor which separates those firms who would recruit a recruiter right now, and those who want to wait until 2024. A big, fat elephant in the room of a factor that high-billing, senior consultants would rather not be exposed.

If you haven’t guessed already, we’re talking Work From Home.

Almost every client of mine who is hiring right now (and I mean hiring, not offering for a New Year start), either doesn’t support or doesn’t encourage Work From Home. The agencies who have spent less time in the office in 2023 are less likely to be in a position to carry a new starter over the festive period. I do not believe that this is a coincidence.

Before I’m accused of thinking like a Victorian Industrialist, I should probably explain. If you are an experienced recruiter, billing north of $500k, I absolutely believe you have the skill and discipline to continue to perform from any location. And if you’re lucky enough to work in or own a firm where everyone bills these kind of numbers, then I’m not talking to you. You can work where the hell you want. Where I have seen the struggle is the other firms who have mega-billers all the way down to greenhorn candidate managers. It is these firms, who went home during Covid and never really came back, who are not recruiting this side of Christmas. As nice as working from home is for some, we are now seeing that WFH has consequences for junior recruiters, and the dildo of consequences rarely arrives lubed.

The problem of course is that junior recruiters, and young people in general, see WFH as a birthright. Those who don’t see it as a birthright certainly see it as a good thing, and are more likely to join a firm that offers it. However, famously, us humans don’t know what’s good for us. As much as junior recruiters tell me that they get so much done working from home, I strongly question the quality of what’s being done, and the professional development that this kind of self-directed recruitment delivers. The people doing this sub-standard recruitment, delivering sub-standard results, don’t have a million dollar biller next to them showing them how it’s done. Young recruiters, billing less than $300k, working mostly from home, do not realise their potential. And if you find yourself in this situation, come into the office even when not mandated, or find a firm that will make you. If you’re really new, or have just changed disciplines, get into that office and stay as close to the high-performers as humanly possible. WFH is not creating the future generation of big billers. Those who have started in the industry post-covid and are delivering big numbers already, work for firms that are largely office based. You can have coffees with your lazy mates at the weekend. Well, they can drink coffee and you can get stuck into the Veuve Mimosas.

The solution is of course more complicated than just bringing everyone back into the office. For many, doing this would feel like a benefit being removed. Large firms also need to contend with piss-takers, so policies can’t be common sense – they need to be set in stone in an onerous employment contract. Hence we have firms with rules on how many days in the office and how many from home. This is a middle ground aimed at pleasing your high billers who do the school run, and giving some structure to the newbies to get them performing. I’m not sure it typically works for either. In my opinion, it is better to say that we work from the office, but give flexibility when required. Got a tradie coming round? WFH. Got the kid’s sports day? Off you pop. Got proposals to write? All good. And the more you bill, the more you get this. And when you bill loads, then work where you please. However this level of flexibility needs to be earnt, because recruitment is a meritocracy. Well…it used to be.

Anyway, some slightly cynical food for thought for you WFHomers on a rainy Friday. Have a good ‘un.