Professional Hiring Index – January 2012

Despite the uncertain economic outlook, almost three quarters (72%) of UK executives are more confident in their company’s growth prospects compared with last year.

  • Three quarters of UK executives more confident about their company's growth prospects than last year
  • A net 12% of executives plan to add professional level staff in the first half of 2012
  • 73% of senior executives are concerned about losing top performers

London, 23 January 2012 – Despite the uncertain economic outlook, almost three quarters (72%) of UK executives are more confident in their company’s growth prospects compared with last year.  A third (33%) of senior executives of UK companies are planning to recruit permanent, professional-level staff in the first half of 2012, according to the latest Robert Half Professional Hiring Index (the ‘Index’).  One-in-five (21%) executives plan to decrease permanent headcount, leading to a net employment increase of 12%.

The Index, which is the first bi-annual recruitment survey of its size and scope to focus exclusively on professional-level hiring in the UK, shows that the biggest drivers for increased hiring levels are ‘rising workloads’ and ‘business growth’, while the top reasons for decreased hiring are the slowdown in the economy and cost management strategies.

There are clear differences between company types when it comes to hiring plans for the first six months of 2012.  Private companies expect a net 14% increase, with 33% planning to add permanent headcount and 19% anticipating declines.  Publicly listed companies are the most bullish on expansion, with 42% planning increases and 20% forecasting decreases: a net 22% hiring increase and 10 points above the national average.  

Phil Sheridan, Managing Director, Robert Half UK said: “Private and publicly listed companies have above average confidence in their businesses’ ability to grow this year.  This positive belief in their future success is the main driver behind stronger predictions for new hires over the next six months: more than three-in-four (76%) of private companies and 80% of publicly listed companies are confident in their businesses’ growth prospects.”

Despite reported challenges facing the public sector, almost a quarter (23%) of executives in professional occupations plan to increase their permanent headcount, while 24% expect declines, leading to a net 1% decrease.  Unsurprisingly, cost management is the main driver for reducing professional staff in the public sector and was cited by one in three executives who plan to decrease their headcount.

Profession-specific trends:

Accounting and finance hiring

Hiring within accounting and finance will remain relatively upbeat in the first half of 2012, with nearly four-in-10 (37%) CFOs expecting hiring increases and 19% forecasting declines, a net 18% increase.  Rising workloads is the leading reason for CFOs planning to add headcount to their teams.

According to the Index, hiring for accounting and finance professionals within the financial services sector is accelerating, with nearly three quarters (73%) of CFOs planning to increase their headcount and only 4% reducing staff levels: a substantial net 69% increase.  In common with executives in other sectors, those within financial services point to rising workloads and business growth as the main drivers for hiring.  However, the move towards greater transparency and risk management creates a further reason to increase hiring levels: the implementation of financial system upgrades.  This was identified as a driver by 22% of respondents in the financial services sector.

Executives are increasingly worried about  finding and retaining talented staff with nearly three-quarters (71%) citing concerns over losing top performers to other job opportunities in 2012.  Retention worries in the finance and accounting function are exacerbated by the difficulty in finding strong candidates.  Nearly eight-in-10 (79%) finance leaders report that it is at least somewhat challenging to find skilled finance professionals, with medium-sized and publicly listed organisations finding it the most difficult with 92% and 85% respectively.

Sheridan continues: “There is always fierce competition for top performers, even in uncertain economic conditions.  Proven skills and experience are in high demand within all job functions and industry sectors, but particularly in the finance and accounting function and in financial services.  We would advise employers to take proactive steps to retain their best people as they build on plans to grow their businesses in 2012.”

If retention efforts fail and staff are lost, it can take employers an average of six weeks to fill a vacant staff-level position and eight weeks to fill a management role, according to the Index.  

Sheridan says: “When a member of staff leaves, other employees pick up the slack until a hiring manager fills the role.  But this ‘empty desk syndrome’ can create lost productivity of between one and two months on average, so we strongly suggest that organisations factor their response to leavers into their recruitment strategies from the outset.”

Technology hiring

Technology hiring is also set to see strong gains in the first half of 2012 as executives move forward with projects and investments previously put on hold.  Four-in-10 CIOs plan to increase the number of permanent IT personnel in the next six months and 9% expect declines: an above average 31% net increase.  CIOs are finding it difficult to fill vacancies, with 84% reporting that it is at least somewhat challenging to find skilled IT professionals. The top four most problematic functional areas are application development, software development, networking and security.

Human resources and marketing hiring

In other functional areas, such as HR and marketing, the hiring forecast is less optimistic than in finance and IT.  Just over one-in-five (21%) HR directors expect to increase the headcount of their HR teams in the first half of 2012.  However, 26% plan to decrease hiring plans, leading to a 5% net decline.  A slightly higher 23% of human resources directors indicate that they have plans to increase permanent headcount in marketing departments, with 26% expecting declines: a net hiring decrease of 3%.  There are stronger prospects for marketing personnel within publicly listed and large organisations, which predict net hire gains of 8% and 3% respectively.

Administration and office support hiring

Nearly three-in-10 (28%) HR directors expect to see increased headcount within their organisations’ administrative teams, with 27% forecasting declines: a net UK increase of just 1%.  Macroeconomic considerations are the major contributing factor to this decreasing headcount, cited by 34% of HR directors, followed by cost management strategy at 26%.

Hiring plans, by region

Regionally, senior executives in London expect the strongest hiring forecast in the country, with nearly half (49%) planning to increase their permanent personnel in the first half of the year and 18% forecasting declines.The net London increase of 31% is 19 points higher than the national average.  In other regions, hiring remains steady with approximately one-in-four managers planning to increase staff levels.