Eloise’s July 2020 News – My views on furlough, returning to work and redundancies

Welcome to July

Welcoming you to July I imagined I would be talking about the schools finishing, the sun shining and the excitement of us all going on summer holidays. Instead, with the pandemic causing unprecedented times for us all personally, an economic freeze, and the most extraordinary and challenging time for businesses I sit here amazed at how much life has changed in the last three months.

Firstly, and most importantly, I hope you and your families (and businesses) are safe and well as you read this.

I want to talk to you this month from the heart. Without trying to be overly self-indulgent I would like to explain the impact of the past few months on me, my team, for Vanilla, and business and recruitment in general.

I can barely believe that it was three months ago since we were told to “work from home” if we possibly could. My team and I walked out of the Vanilla office back in March facing a huge amount of uncertainty.

I will be honest and tell you that this will be a time that I will remember forever and some of the toughest I’ve had as MD of Vanilla over the past 15 years.

In our business of permanent recruitment, almost overnight 80% of our roles went on immediate hold with almost all the rest following over the next two weeks. As if that wasn’t tough enough, all of the new starters we had scheduled to begin their new job roles for the next few months were gradually told it wouldn’t be happening or placed on hold with no guarantees. It is safe to say it wasn’t a good place to be and recruitment was on the back burner for the masses! 

Then came furlough…

Then the government threw businesses the possible lifeline of the Furlough scheme, and at the time I met this with mixed emotions. This unprecedented intervention would no doubt protect our business and the team from consequences I didn’t even want to think about, but we are a TEAM, I would go as far to say a family, and this decision would mean a big disruption to our solid unit, and who knew what the impact of that would be. But accepting the government’s job retention scheme was the only realistic thing to do, and so the majority of team Vanilla were put on furlough.

Keeping connected during furlough

However, we’ve done our best to not let the distance between us be a huge problem. We’ve all stayed tight throughout by keeping in contact as much as possible. We’ve had chats and shared links and photos over our Facebook and WhatsApp group and tried to keep each other positive and sane as all the weeks have merged together. On our weekly zoom calls we have watched Sarah Clarke progress through her pregnancy, played bingo and quizzes and laughed at all our bizarre new hairstyles.

(We recommend you watching our great video on YouTube showing the full virtual HRHuddle meeting “Managing Motivation of Employees during COVID 19” with guest speaker Graham Ravenscroft. It’s quite long but full of really great advice.)

Getting back to business

So, how does a recruitment company or in fact any company survive through a pandemic? Ultimately when do you take the plunge and start to “unfurlough” staff?

I am not one to give up very easily and what this situation did give me was the absolute knowledge of how important the team is to me. Regardless of whether the usual business was there, I continued to be at my desk at 9AM every morning, day in day out so I could do everything I could to help ensure we all had a company to come back to.

The thought of us all being back together was the motivation I needed when things were really difficult. I am also fortunate to be part of a mastermind group with many other recruitment business owners, and their training, support and shared experiences proved invaluable in helping me through.

We were given training on new and different approaches to conducting our business during this unusual time, and so over the course of the last 3 months I have tried reaching out to as many clients as I possibly could. Not to talk about recruitment, just to talk and find out how they were coping, how they were feeling and what problems they were facing in their businesses. I have to say I have been really touched by how well this was received.

Concentrating on certain markets, once I felt I had reached out to as many existing clients as I could, I started with new ones!

Throughout this time, and because of all the great communication it’s been great to see that we have actually had new vacancies from new clients and also forged some fantastic new relationships.

The one important lesson I have learned is; be myself, be honest, be interested and seek to listen and ask questions and the rest flows. In our usual business lives we have become so used to relying on emails as our first means of communication, but actual real one to one conversations, whether they are over the telephone or video calls really do hold huge value.

Be sensitive, be curious, be mindful but be there as you can be very quickly forgotten.

How to go about returning to work

So, the next question, when do you take the plunge and “unfurlough” staff?

It does currently feel like a time of transition from the lockdown of the past to the gradual easing we are now seeing. Many businesses are slowly introducing staff back into work, which is a great thing to see. At Vanilla we have also started this process which is the best feeling right now for me, and I knew the time was right when the personal workload felt so great that I was risking not being able to get everything done and therefore failing to meet all of my promises.

I think it’s also important to consider the individual members of every team, their unique situations and how furlough is impacting them in their day to day lives. For those with children at home the opportunity of furlough may be a slight relief so that the pressure of working is removed. However, for many others who maybe live alone or have felt isolated, then work may provide the focus they need to keep them going throughout a very challenging time.

(We recommend you watching our great video on YouTube showing the full virtual HRHuddle “Mental Health of Employees during COVID 19” with guest speaker Kat Marlow. It’s quite long but full of really great advice.)

Operation Reunite

The months of working with a very small team were reminiscent of the early days when I first set up Vanilla and took the initial steps of hiring my very first staff members. I have spent some time contemplating where we’ve come from and where we want to be in the future. I’ve personally done a lot of soul searching and planning and as a result, “Operation Reunite” is in full swing at Vanilla HQ and the momentum is building. At the beginning of July with the introduction of the flexible furlough scheme, we have brought more team members back and so we can help support more clients and candidates on their unique recruitment journeys.

Each one of my team has come back very positively and they will all be learning new skills within their positions over the coming weeks. While we will live with the current circumstances for a while to come, some things are out of our control, but we definitely have a choice over how we approach things right now and whether our attitudes and actions make our teams stronger as a result.

We’re moving ahead as positively as possible and we will continue to be here to support you, and to help you to positively move forward too.

(We recommend you watching our great video on YouTube showing the full virtual HRHuddle “Back To Work Post Lockdown” with guest speakers Jacqui Stretton, Anna Stretton and Keeley Baigent. It’s quite long but full of really great advice.)

The employment market after Covid-19

We are now really starting to see the impact that COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown has had on the jobs market in the UK. Unemployment rates have increased by 40.5% in Market Harborough and 28.7% in Leicester between April to May and continue to rise.  The ONS figure for claimant counts in the Leicester and Leicestershire area has increased from 4.2% in April to 5.3% in May. Nationally, as I’m writing this there are still nearly 8 million people on furlough, and Leicester had the 2nd highest number of people on furlough in the Midlands. (Source LLEP Business and Economic Intelligence Update)

Redundancy numbers are likely to grow

Thousands of people in Britain are set to lose their jobs after a large number of companies continue to announce plans to reduce the size of their workforce. Businesses in all sectors are struggling with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic with the retail and aerospace sectors being hit particularly hard.

Many firms across the UK have fallen into administration in 2020, while others are balancing on a knife-edge. It seems that a number of companies are being propped up by the government’s job retention scheme, and with the rules changing over the coming months with businesses needing to contribute to employees’ furlough pay then an increase in redundancies is inevitable.

(We recommend you watching our great video on YouTube showing the full virtual HRHuddle “Redundancies In The Context Of COVID-19” with guest speaker Keeley Baigent. It’s quite long but full of really great advice.)

The ‘war for talent’

The employment landscape is definitely in a pendulum swing at present. The ‘war for talent’ is becoming more about the reduced availability of jobs. But despite the rise in the number of candidates in the market, the skill shortage is still prevalent. Professionals with in-demand skills that will help businesses get through this tough market will still be retained and maintain strong career prospects and may have numerous opportunities to consider.

A catalyst for change

In my view COVID-19 has been and will continue to be a catalyst for changing how people want to work going forward. Where remote working was seen as only an option for certain job roles it has proven to be an option for many people and is now seemingly the new norm. Companies are looking closely at their options and reviewing their remote and flexible working policies, with productivity increasing from some workers, and requests for flexible working have significantly increased.

Even though we are in a far more competitive job market, employers who are hiring may be surprised that they still need to engage strong talent attraction strategies, as people who are currently in a secure job will be uncertain about changing. I would also strongly recommend enhancing your efforts and to focus your strategies in order to retain your existing talent. This should absolutely be a priority for any business right now.

What happens next?

Does anyone really know what’s going to happen over the next 3, 6 or even 12 months and beyond? So much is unknown at the moment and most business owners are rightly concerned about the future. I personally believe the next 3 months are going to be very important and may well determine the economic future of this country over the coming months and even years. We will all eagerly be listening to any Government updates with the hope that the right assistance can be offered in the right places in an attempt to kick start our economy once more and hopefully reduce the number of people out of work. There is a fine balance that needs to be maintained and we will soon know one way or the other how much of an impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have had on the UK. I live in hope and am doing all I can to minimise any negative impact on my business. I urge you all to do the same where you can.

That’s all from me for this month. Thanks for sticking with me in what is a far heavier blog post than usual. There is so much more detail I could go into, and I’m well aware that things are changing on an almost daily basis, so feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss anything further. I’ll be back in touch with more Vanilla goings-on and recruitment news next month. Until then, remember that we are here for you now and in the future and I hope you have a safe and healthy July.

Best wishes


We recruit throughout the East Midlands covering Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Rutland and the surrounding areas, especially Market Harborough, Lutterworth, Leicester, Corby and Kettering. We help people find their perfect job and match suitable jobseekers with businesses looking to hire the best candidates across our five specialisms – SalesMarketingAccountancy & FinanceHR and Office