Four-in-five businesses fear losing top talent due to COVID-19 impact

Over a third of businesses will offer 100% remote or hybrid working to retain strong HR support

  • Over a third of businesses cite salary reductions and inability to increase wages as their main concern for retaining top talent in the near future
  • Despite commercial uncertainty, most companies have had to keep salaries at pre-COVID-19 levels thus far to boost talent retention
  • However, businesses are now turning to alternative employee benefits in lieu of pay rises in the longer term to retain and attract HR and office support personnel
  • More than a third (38%) of employers are planning to offer entirely remote or hybrid working to secure qualified HR support in the coming months
  • The Robert Half Salary Guide explores salary trends across in-demand HR and office support roles in the UK, including HR business partners, HR managers and talent acquisition managers

London, Thursday 8 October: Over four-in-five (86%) businesses are concerned about losing their top talent due to the impact of COVID-19, according to the latest international research from specialist recruiter Robert Half.

The study of over 1,500 executives1 found that of those worried about their ability to retain key employees between now and the New Year, over a third (36%) cite salary reductions and the inability to increase wages as the main reason.

Though HR and office support salaries are expected to remain stable in 2021, employers are turning to alternative benefits to ensure they are able to secure qualified staff, with over a third (38%) of businesses planning to offer 100% remote or hybrid working going forward.

This latest research coincides with the release of the Robert Half Salary Guide, providing salary information on in-demand HR and office support roles in the UK, including HR business partners, HR managers and talent acquisition managers.

COVID-19 salary trends

Despite the uncertainty surrounding long-term financial remuneration, the majority of companies have continued to compensate staff at pre-COVID-19 levels thus far in a bid to retain top talent.

Three-quarters of businesses surveyed (73%) are still offering salaries that meet or exceed pre-pandemic figures. Almost half of those senior managers (47%) said salaries had held steady since the pandemic began, while a quarter (26%) actually noted an increase in base compensation over the same period.

Most businesses plan to continue paying bonuses this year, with half (52%) expecting to make payments which either meet or exceed pre-COVID-19 equivalents, while 38% are offering less, year-on-year – evidence that the impact of COVID-19 has been far from uniform across all industries.

In the UK, the dramatic increase in remote working is having a significant impact on wages as managers use different approaches to calculate starting salaries for new hires. Two-in-five UK firms (42%) currently use the business’ location to benchmark remuneration – significantly higher than the international survey average of 28% – while almost a third (28%) focus on the applicant’s location, and 26% use a combination of the two.

Matt Weston, Managing Director of Robert Half UK, said: "Employees are a company’s most valuable asset for navigating both short-term disruption and achieving long-term growth. In the COVID-19 world, human resources teams have been essential to supporting with redeveloped policies, procedures, and expectations to define new ways of working.

“HR and office support professionals recognise the enhanced market value of their skills in this climate. While the opportunities to increase remuneration may be tricky in the coming months, employers should research compensation trends regularly and be prepared to move quickly and negotiate effectively – using both financial and non-financial benefits – in order to retain key employees or hire promising talent.

Alternative employee benefits

While salary definitely remains an important consideration, almost two-thirds of businesses (61%) are introducing new, non-financial employee benefits to compensate existing staff and attract new hires in lieu of salary increases going into 2021.

Amongst the five countries recently surveyed by Robert Half, UK businesses are more likely to provide mental health resources and assistance (51%), wellness programmes (47%) and an at-home office equipment allowance (47%) for employees compared to their mainland European and South American counterparts (42%, 32% and 44% respectively).

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance also continues to be a top priority for many, with almost three-quarters of managers (71%) committed to offering remote work for the foreseeable future.

‘Flexitime’ policies that allow employees to structure their workday or week as they please have already been established at 61% of companies surveyed, while compressed work weeks (52%) and permanent part-time arrangements (51%) are also favoured by executives in response to COVID-19-induced changes.

Matt Weston commented: "Salaries will likely remain under some pressure over the coming months, but non-monetary benefits, such as a better work-life balance, will all figure prominently amongst COVID-19’s longer-term workplace legacies.

“As current economic volatility looks likely to continue, the prospect of a salary freeze over coming months can be made much more palatable for HR and office support professionals if managers can ensure that non-financial benefits are sufficiently attractive and add alternative value for employees.

“With mid-weight and senior professionals in this area historically enjoying very competitive benefits as part of their remuneration package, we expect to see a further rise in flexible working conditions as employers look to offer 100% remote or hybrid working to attract and retain qualified facilities staff.”

UK hiring demand still strong for HR and office support professionals

While the coming months will undoubtedly prove challenging for many, Robert Half reports that a number of key sectors across the UK continue to show strong demand for new admin and HR hires, including financial services, fintech, manufacturing, investment management, and retail.

In particular, smaller firms and those with standalone HR representatives have needed increased human resources and admin support throughout the pandemic as teams look to bolster their capabilities in light of the rapidly changing business environment.

Generalist practitioners with a diverse skillset, rather than specialists, are increasingly sought after at present with businesses looking for professionals to offer expertise across a range of areas and cope if roles are rescoped and broadened out further over the coming months.

An example of this is the current blending of executive assistant and office manager positions. Many firms are looking to combine what would have previously been offered as two separate roles by offering a higher salary to secure candidates with the right skillsets to do both.

Two-thirds of the technical skills being requested for HR staff are now digital-focused, with remote working looking set to stay for the foreseeable future, while candidates with HR qualifications are also becoming increasingly attractive. Nonetheless, ‘soft’ skills such as adaptability, communication, and the ability to perform organisational tasks remotely still remain key.

Matt Weston commented: “Without a doubt, unemployment in the UK has risen as a direct result of the pandemic, but the impact of COVID-19 has been far from uniform across all industries. There are still opportunities out there for accounting and finance professionals – a considerable number of them driven by the shift to remote working.

“Those with in-demand commercial, data analysis and cash management skills will be core to business recovery over the coming months, and employers need to offer competitive salaries and benefits to retain key personnel, as well as to attract and secure top candidates for the remainder of 2020 – and beyond.”


Notes to Editors

About the 2021 Salary Guide

Robert Half has reported on salaries since 1950. Information in the Salary Guide is based on the thousands of job searches, negotiations and placements managed by Robert Half's staffing and recruiting managers. Continuing or ongoing salaries are not reported because many external factors — such as seniority, work ethic, job performance and training — impact the salaries of full-time professionals as work histories develop.

Additional Information & Resources

Robert Half understands that it takes time and effort to evaluate the best talent strategy for different businesses. For further independent advice to assist with your recruitment and workforce planning efforts, visit


About Robert Half

Founded in 1948, Robert Half is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm. The company has more than 300 staffing locations worldwide and offers hiring and job search services at

1Robert Half commissioned research amongst 1,502 respondents using an online data collection methodology during July 2020.This was comprised of 300 interviews in Belgium, 300 in Brazil, 301 in France, 300 in Germany, and 301 in the United Kingdom. Respondents included General Managers, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Information Officers with hiring responsibilities across small (50-249 employees), medium (250-499) and large (500+ employees) from private, publicly listed, and public sector businesses across the five countries.