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Tough Test for HR

The fact that hiring is taking place again is the best indication that we are slowly but surely leaving the pandemic behind us economically, says Jürgen Müller.

The fact that people are hiring again is the best indication that we are slowly but surely leaving the pandemic behind us economically. Companies are currently looking for skilled workers across the board. Indeed reports a 22 per cent increase in job advertisements for the current year. The fashion trade and industry are also desperately looking for people. Last week at the Katag CEO conference, this was the topic of many discussions.

The past 15 months have been tough, for the companies and the employees. Across the industry, organisations have been restructured and streamlined, jobs have been cut or not filled for the time being. For those affected, it was tough. The online retailers have hired thousands of employees in the course of the Corona boom. This year alone, 5000 Amazonians will be added in Germany. But they can’t do anything with a sales assistant from P&C or a salesperson from Esprit. And anyone who has designed shop windows at H&M will not want to pick parcels in the logistics centre.

Now people in the fashion trade and industry are realising that they overdid it with cost-cutting in one place or another and that the marketing manager is good for something after all. In addition, many employees have left for other sectors that were not affected by the pandemic or were even crisis winners. The fact that some have lost faith in the future of their company and that the fashion business as a whole is suddenly regarded not only as a dirty but also as an uncertain industry are signals that must also interest those players who have not had any problems on the labour market so far.

The fact that the Corona crisis has accelerated developments that were already underway is a truism that also applies to the HR sector. Many HR managers experienced something like the ultimate baptism of fire in the lockdown. They were challenged like never before and played a key role in keeping things running – organising short-time work, enabling mobile working, devising and introducing flexible working time models overnight, digitising recruiting and training within weeks, etc. All things that are normally difficult for HR to do under normal circumstances. These are all things that under normal circumstances would have taken several years of project work, if there had been a budget for them at all.

In many companies, HR work is still something that somehow runs in the background and, above all, is supposed to function. An administrative task, not a creative one. Exceptions confirm the rule. Behind this is often an outdated attitude that sees employees primarily as cost factors and not as performance factors. Managers’ Sunday speeches sing the praises of the team and the employees, “without whom none of this would be possible”. From Monday to Friday, however, the priorities are often different. If you ask top managers prospectively about the biggest challenges, it is usually about profit and turnover growth; retrospectively, the biggest problems were always employee and leadership issues. And while CEOs naturally never miss a fashion fair, you rarely meet them at career fairs.

If you can offer a purpose – all the better. For most companies, if they are honest, this purpose is to earn money. In the end, this also applies to the employees. Table football and team events lose their appeal when everyone in the circle of friends earns more.
If it is true that competition is also decided by the quality of employees, then this will have to change. After the crisis, the labour market is becoming more than ever an employee market. And in recent months, employees have often acquired a taste for remote work, less travel and more relaxed working. Flexible working hours and home offices are becoming more and more commonplace, even if decentralised work in creative departments, for example, does not necessarily produce the best results and home offices are simply not possible for sales staff. How companies deal with diversity and sustainability is also increasingly becoming a criterion when choosing an employer. And if you can also offer a purpose – all the better. Of course, for most companies, if they are honest, that purpose is earning money. In the end, this also applies to the employees. Table football and team events lose their appeal when everyone in the circle of friends earns more.

It is not enough to address all these issues. You also have to talk about them. Conversely, one should not communicate what is not. In this respect, employer branding is no different from other marketing communication.

Incidentally, the “war for talents” has long since been taking place not only within the industry, but across all sectors. The increasing size and complexity of organisations have led to a massive specialisation of functions. The increasing verticalisation in companies requires an intelligent interaction of the most diverse and highly professional experts. Digitalisation requires completely new competences that most traditionally working companies do not even have internally. The rate of academics in trade and industry is quite different today than it was ten years ago. The industry, which is actually united by a love of products, has to make itself beautiful for techies who couldn’t care less about fabrics. And who could also work at Porsche, Biontech or Apple.