Thursday 18 July 2019

Why would I want to work for you? Balance of power shifts from employer to employee

Jobs in demand

Pot luck: employees at, where staff can avail of unlimited days off. Photo by Maura Hickey
Pot luck: employees at, where staff can avail of unlimited days off. Photo by Maura Hickey
More staff working at home: Christopher Paye from Photo: Maura Hickey
Employee benefits
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

The balance of power has shifted from employer to employee in a growing number of Irish workplaces as companies struggle to recruit and retain staff.

With unemployment dropping to 5pc, companies are offering pay rises, retention bonuses and lavish perks to attract and hold on to skilled staff.

New recruits are being given longer holidays, greater flexibility about working from home, and a range of exotic perks including free beer on Fridays, yoga classes and meals cooked by Michelin-starred chefs.

And sometimes, with companies competing for the best staff, the interviewee is almost interviewing the employer in order to ensure that the work suits them.

More staff working at home: Christopher Paye from Photo: Maura Hickey
More staff working at home: Christopher Paye from Photo: Maura Hickey

That is if they turn up at all. Those trying to recruit staff are increasingly complaining about "ghosting", a term used in dating.

Job applicants go through the recruitments process, but then vanish without making contact and sometimes they even fail to turn up for interviews.

In many of these cases, they may have used a job offer as a way of ramping up their salary with a counter offer from their existing company - a practice known in the trade as "buyback".

Maureen Lynch, director of Hays recruitment, says the shortage of staff is particularly acute in areas such as IT, engineering, science, financial services and construction.

The shortage of qualified chefs is so acute that the Government recently made it easier for cooks from outside the EU to get a work permit.

Recruiters say many of the staff shortages are also in unskilled areas, and some employers are lowering qualification requirements.

The multinational job search company,, which employs 850 people at its base in Dublin, no longer requires many of its staff to have degrees.

"The problem is that there are more jobs than people," says Lynch of Hays recruitment. "We recently released our salary survey for 2019, and 97pc of employers we surveyed experienced skills shortages in the last year."

In a tight jobs market where the job applicant holds the cards, interviewing has become a two-way process.

According to Lynch, applicants are looking at employers and asking: "Are you the right fit for me? Will you be able to provide me with the career and prospects for personal development I am looking for?"

According to recruiters, the millennial generation of employees may have different priorities in the workplace to those of their parents.

While the salary is still important, job applicants increasingly see "work/life balance" as crucial - and are also likely to look at the culture of a company.

"One of our surveys showed that 72pc of applicants would be deterred from applying for a job if they could not see the company was committed to diversity and inclusion," says Lynch.

A growing number of companies are improving their holiday benefits in order to compete for staff in what has been termed the "war for talent".

Staff at the Dublin offices of have been attracted by the promise of "unlimited holidays".

When it introduced the policy, management at the company said it wanted to give staff "flexibility to meet ambitions, dreams, travel, family commitments, whatever it might be".

It may look extremely attractive on paper, but how many employees would actually get away with taking three months off in a year?

Increase in days off

There has been much debate about workplaces offering "unlimited holidays", and some commentators have speculated that they could lead to staff actually taking less time off.

Laura Hegarty, a senior communications manager in, tells Review the unlimited time off was available to all staff who were "performing their function".

"The introduction of unlimited paid time off has led to a 20pc increase in the numbers of days taken off by employees," she says.

Staff at Paddy Power Betfair in Ireland are also offered unlimited holidays as a perk.

James Mailley, sales director at the employment site Monster Worldwide, says: "Many recruiters are looking aghast at what is happening in the jobs market. The transition has happened so fast and the balance of power has definitely shifted to the candidate."

Patrick Robertson of Performance Reward Consulting says: "If you want to recruit good people nowadays, you have to be slick and move quickly to hire them.

"You can't be dragging them through the hoops - if you are giving them three interviews, they are likely to drop off."

Job applicants with certain skills, particularly in IT, are in such heavy demand that they are reluctant to go through cumbersome application processes that take weeks on end.

Research by Hays recruitment shows 81pc of applicants will even be put off filling out a job application form if it takes more than 15 minutes.

Working from home

James Mailley says: "Some companies hire talent by the hour. If you are an IT specialist with a mobile tech language like Ruby on Rails, you could be the worst culture fit for an organisation - and you could have two heads - but they will still hire you.

"They will give you a job offer without even meeting you, because they know that five other companies will instantly want you as well. Recruitment becomes less to do with the person and more to do with the skill."

In many of these jobs where the number of skilled workers available cannot meet supply, staff are allowed to work from home - and may not have to interact with other colleagues at all.

Working from home is now one of the most valued perks in the jobs market, and a growing number of applicants are asking for it, according to Christopher Paye, general manager of

"I have recently been doing research on this and there are now 220,000, or 10pc of the working population, who work at home at least some of the time."

Among Irish jobseekers looking for work on, the numbers seeking to work remotely away from an office has surged by 170pc over the last two years.

In a working environment where skills are in short supply, companies are now conscious that they have to have an employment brand to attract the best staff.

As well as decent pay, some employers are coming up with ever-more flashy perks to attract employees.

"I know of one company in Ireland where they give staff €10,000 on their first day so that they can do what they want with their desk," says Paye.

The American tech companies were the first to offer the flashy perks with companies such as Facebook offering three free meals per day, an on-site laundry, paid sabbaticals, as well as extended maternity and paternity benefits.

The tech companies commonly have games rooms, massages on site, gyms and happy hours with free beer.

Paye says conspicuous perks are no longer the exclusive remit of American tech companies.

"Other businesses have to keep up with them to compete for staff. You might have an accountancy firm now bringing in someone to do a yoga class at lunchtime."

At the Cork headquarters of the multinational outsourcing firm VoxPro, staff have their own garden where they can grow fruit and veg.

As well as the gardens, the "Voxgro" project in Cork, overseen by a horticulturist, has a chicken coop, a "biodome", outdoor bar and a disco ball pizza oven.

So, with the big companies offering such ostentatious perks, how do smaller, indigenous employers compete for staff?

The benefits in the multinationals may be eye-catching, but they can often come at a price in terms of time.

"The Googles and the Facebooks all have nice food with a chef on site, and you might have a gym with a masseuse," says James Mailley.

"But you are doing a deal with the devil and it is accepted that you might be working there 12 to 14 hours a day."

Smaller Irish businesses can offer a more personal atmosphere, where employees know the senior staff well and have greater opportunities for personal advancement.

Christopher Paye of says: "When I started in this company, it was very small and the chief executive knew my name. So there were more opportunities for personal development. You might be working on a project with someone who is 10 years ahead of you.

"At a big company, maybe you can give someone a yoga class. At a smaller company you might be able to give someone a 9.30am start because they have children and need to get to the school or crèche," he adds.

Perks and benefits may look attractive, as companies try to woo employees with promises of unlimited holidays, free snacks, jazzy games rooms and beanbags.

But sometimes they are not always what they are cracked up to be. Employees have to be discerning about how valuable some of the gimmicky benefits really are, and younger staff can easily be lured by offers that are only better on the surface.

Patrick Robertson of Performance Reward Consulting says: "Employees can lose sight of the benefits of a good pension and private health insurance.

"They might be offered a higher base salary to move to another company, but the benefits package that goes with it may be very skinny once you look into it."

Moving on after two years

It is widely accepted among recruiters that young employees switch jobs much more frequently than their parents' generation, and it is extremely common for staff to move on after two years.

Chris Paye says: "The generation in their twenties may feel the need to bulk up their CVs.

"After two years, they are looking for the next challenge to give themselves a more rounded skills base. This generation realises that they need to update their skills all the time."

In an environment where skilled staff can pick and choose their employers, employees place a high value on the workplace atmosphere and culture.

A Hays survey found 45pc of employees said they had been deterred from pursuing a job due to a negative first impression of an organisation. Among those surveyed, 64pc said the internal working environment appeared unwelcoming.

According to Christopher Paye, young jobseekers will want to know about the company culture, and they are not just interested in the bottom line.

"They will want to know what the company strategy is, what it does to help others around them and whether it gives anything back."

Of course, the fruits of the recovery are not evenly spread across the country, and not all jobseekers can be so choosy.

The latest figures from the Central Statistics Office show that average household disposable income in the Eastern and Midlands regions grew by 5pc to €54,000 in 2017.

But in the West and border counties, the growth was not nearly as fast and the average household income was €39,000.

You only have to look at the boarded up shops and pubs in many towns in remote areas to see how patchy the recovery has been.

If you drive a digger in Leitrim, or work on a farm on the side of a mountain in Mayo, nobody is likely to turn up to offer you a yoga class, free beer on Fridays - or unlimited days off.

Even in the employment hotspots of metropolitan Dublin, recruiters also know that the balance of power is likely to swing back sharply in favour of the employers when the economy takes a downturn.

Some jobseekers may take a cavalier attitude to employers now, even failing to turn up for interviewers and "ghosting" companies that want to hire them.

But when times get hard and jobs are in short supply, they may have to go looking for a job with the same boss, and this time they won't be able to pick and choose their perks.

As James Mailley puts it: "You only have to look at construction to see how there are peaks and troughs.

"You have to be very careful in this country in the way you treat people.

"If you treat them badly, it could come back to haunt you."


Jobs in demand


Quantity surveyor

Chef de partie


Software developer





Just the job


The unemployment rate in 2019


The unemployment rate in 2011


Average salary in Facebook, not including bonuses


Firms with a skills shortages


Average pay hike in 2018


Firms that increased salary last year


Firms that increased salaries last year by more than 5pc


Percentage of employees deterred from pursuing a job due to a negative first impression of an organisation


Employees who moved jobs last year.


Seven secrets of successful jobseekers

Employee benefits

1 Target your search

Careers consultant Colm Cavey of says with numerous jobs on offer, it is crucial not to take a blunderbuss approach by copying and pasting the same details for dozens of applications.

Consider every role carefully and match yourself to the job specification to see if it tallies with your experience and skills.

The first 4, 5 or 6 items listed under 'Job Requirements' are usually the most important requirements, while the rest may be aspirational.

2 Cultivate your contacts

Finding the right job can still be about who you know as much as what you know. Colm Cavey says: "People tend not to pay enough attention to personal contacts, which are hugely important. And they could come through anyone you are talking to. Your best contact could be the brother of the man who fixes your car."

Cavey says the best way of sounding out a contact is often to ask for advice rather than asking for a job directly. "It's a nice gentle way of dropping information in their ear that you are on the move."

3 Anticipate the interview questions

Don't be caught cold by competency-based interviews, where you are asked how you would apply you skills in certain situations. It is easy enough to research the most common questions on the internet such as "Can you tell us of an occasion when you had a problem at work - what steps did you take to overcome it?" Careers consultant Colm Cavey says you should think of a number of situations that showed leadership, organisational skill and teamwork.

4 Don't be dazzled by flashy perks

A company may offer free breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as laundry facilities, but that can mean they expect you to be there morning, noon and night. You may be impressed by swanky games rooms and gym memberships, but could miss out on more valuable long-term perks.

Patrick Robertson of Performance Reward Consulting says: "Employees can lose sight of the benefits of a good pension and healthcare. You should look at the value of the whole package and not just the salary."

5 Never 'ghost an employer'

Some skills may be in heavy demand now, but job applicants should always treat employers with respect. Recruiters find it annoying that some applicants go through the entire application process, but then vanish without making contact if they get a better offer.

Recruitment consultant Peter Cosgrove says applicants should be aware that the market can quickly turn, and when jobs become much harder to find, you never know when you have to go back to an employer.

"I still know the names of the two or three people who shafted me - that is people who go through the recruitment stage but then don't turn up without letting anyone know," says Cosgrove.

6 Delete your seven drunken nights from Facebook

Careers consultant Colm Cavey says job applicants should be careful to clean up their image on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Your wild and tipsy spree in the fleshpots of Vegas chronicled on social media might be amusing for friends and family, but will deter potential bosses. On the other hand, for many jobs you should have a conspicuous online presence.

7 Look for honest feedback

If you are having difficulties getting another job, try to overcome your shortcomings by seeking feedback. You won't get it from companies that turn you down, for legal reasons, even when you ask. Peter Cosgrove says the best way of finding out the cold and honest truth about how you need to improve could be from friends and colleagues.

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