Oakleaf Market Insight – Heightened Optimism in the HR, Payroll and Reward Markets

As I sit here looking out to autumn morning darkness it’s a reminder that the clocks go back this weekend – something to look forward to for all you sleep lovers out there and let’s face it having something to look forward to is so important! I read an article posted a week or so ago from Paul Farrer, Chairman of Aspire Group – the man who inspired me to get into recruitment 20 odd years ago and it got me thinking…we need to surround ourselves with as much optimism and positivity as possible at the moment. Optimism is an essential state of mind required to maintain energy levels, keep us driven and striving for development. At times like this it is easy to let pessimism creep in, yet it is so often when things get tough that opportunity rears its head. We are not often forced to be innovative, create new ideas and challenge the status quo. An obvious example is how long have people been advising on the benefits of flexible working?  We may have been forced to flip from one end of the spectrum to the other currently. A balance will almost certainly be found and the die-hards of old will undoubtedly have seen that change is possible and presenteeism can be challenged. The outcome of course is that that balance leads to a happier more driven workforce that achieves more!?

There have also been countless studies supporting the health benefits of an optimistic mind and at a time when mental health is a the forefront of corporate and HR thinking it is important to understand that optimism breeds a happier, less stressed and more fruitful life – you simply get more done and typically to a higher standard! Optimism is also highly infectious (take that Covid!) so the more of us that are feeling positive the more we should share that feeling. Positivity breeds positivity whether that is across peer groups or as leaders with teams. The engagement and motivation required to achieve goals and be progressive all comes from optimism and positive leadership…

So, with that in mind I bring you some real optimism in the HR recruitment market. I am writing this off the back of our biggest jobs week since the beginning of March (pre Covid!), the highest 4 week average number of direct HR adverts since January 20 (see the graph below – source:Vacancysoft), new data from APSCo stating a 17% increase in vacancy numbers (both perm and contract), a % drop of year on year data too, ONS stats also revealed vacancy increases and Broadbean, the applicant tracking technology revealed a sharp decrease in the number of applicants per vacancy across its platform and this they stare that this normalisation brings an air of optimism to the recruitment landscape.

The general sense is that employers are over the shock effect and having facilitated remote working, contingency plans, and operational solutions so they will be able to remain more efficient even in the event of further lock down measures.

We have seen some very obvious changes over the last two weeks to suggest a change in mood and thinking in regard to HR recruitment – there is more hiring from £25-50k, temporary hiring volumes are on the rise and we have just had a surge in talent acquisition roles – this is a lead indicator for us – and a very positive one!

As per our ongoing series of insights this week we take a deep dive into the Reward, Analytics and Payroll markets with John O’Brien and Sam Clark sharing their thoughts and views.


It’s now been 2 months since I last wrote about the state of play within the payroll market and over this short period of time the industry has taken a number of giant leaps forward and even better for us and everyone concerned the recruitment landscape is very healthy.

We have now recorded our biggest job number over this past week which had beaten targets set before lockdown and the roles on offer have been a real mix of governance, payroll & benefits plus junior hiring across all markets. Even the hospitality and leisure markets are hiring which was a big eye opener for the team and our clients have such a healthy appetite to find the right people and grow their relevant brands that they will surely come out of this downturn in a far stronger position.

Job leads have gone from 250 in August (since lockdown) across London and the South East to over 500 which clearly shows what a buoyant market we are now in and the calibre of candidate open to hearing about new, relevant roles is excellent.

Payroll & Benefits is still firmly in the spotlight and with the new and challenging demands that are now put onto professionals across all industries we have seen a rise in salaries because clients want and need the best so the attraction has to be there from the get go.

It was such a pleasure to also welcome back my team as we were two heads down due to furlough, Jack Burns and Ross Bennett have come back like a storm and hit the ground running. They are already working on a number of positions across financial and professional services and commerce sectors.

Linda Giacomantonio and Jodie Wolrich have both done exceptionally well working through the past several months and their professionalism, market intel and drive has also kept me going at times. The results are there for the wider Oakleaf team to look at and I’m very proud of them.

The roles that we have been working on continue to be very hybrid and diverse and we are still seeing the same trends:

  • Senior hiring across financial & professional services and the salaries tied to these roles are still rising with percentages now at 30% to 40% on average. More recently the roles have had more global & EMEA responsibilities where back in August is more UK centric
  • The hiring across financial services has been more senior whereby professional services we have had more junior to mid-level hiring and volume.
  • Across commerce & industry the hiring has now developed into more senior positions across IT, tech, fintech, pharma, media (online digital) and production and we still have the influx of junior to mid-level roles across most markets.

The most positive news is that our clients are not in a recession mindset. They are focused on hiring the right people. Whilst direct hiring remains a preferred route, we are finding that many clients are recognising that they do not have the networks to compare to a reputable, specialist consultancy.

Our experience is that these clients view using a trusted specialist recruitment partner as less of a risk, and my belief remains that Oakleaf’s Payroll Division continue to provide the best solution as we represent the best talent in the market.

Reward & Analytics

Over the last few months since our last update on the reward market we have seen some unsurprising reactions. Hiring has crept up across the board and we have seen some steady movement across financial services, tech, FMCG and telecommunications sectors in particular. Recruitment seems to be centred around the mid to senior level reward manager /specialist level appointments with direct hiring across most businesses being on the agenda. From our conversations with many people exploring the reward market at present, the lack of response to applications and feedback remains a frustration so It will be interesting to see the repercussions of this once we enter a more buoyant market.

In our “Spotlight on Reward” we will focus on many of the trends across financial services, professional services and broader commerce; here I highlight some of the recurring trends we are seeing from a hiring perspective:

Year-end support reward support  – traditionally we are swamped at this time of year with business requiring additional support through pay and bonus review, and lean on our network of career interim reward professionals to jump in and support through the busy period; this year it appears many businesses are trying to make-do with their teams without this extra resource. Whilst not being entirely surprised by this given the spotlight on spend, it does raise the question around wellbeing of reward and HR teams during a period which, in normal times, requires many late nights and extra hours. Add to this the fact that many have missed out on their normal summer breaks and time off this year, the risk of burnout within reward teams feels like a real concern.  It will be interesting to see if this all shifts once the reality of a long winter and even longer working hours hits.

  • Benefits and wellbeing – somewhat contradictory to the above but there is an upward trend of businesses turning their attention to their current benefits offering in line with supporting the wellbeing of their employees. Benefits feel more in the spotlight than ever and many are reviewing uptake and communication, putting out surveys as well as looking at different ways to incentivise those who are key workers and have to travel to the office. This is mirrored in the consultancies who have highlighted that much of their current project work is focusing on the softer side of total reward.
  • Data analytics – we are seeing a surge of hiring in the HRMI analytics / business analyst space in light of change projects due to org design and redundancy programmes across businesses, allowing to make more informed decisions. The furlough scheme and job retention scheme have added to this need and we have seen a heightened need for new headcount.
  • HRIS and project work – in April many projects were put on hold, new HR systems implementations that were about to kick off were pushed back as company priorities were reassessed. We are starting to hear about more and more of these projects that are being pipelined for the back end of the year. There are also many organisations that have seen strong growth this year and are having to put infrastructure in place to support this.

On an Oakleaf Reward team note, we welcomed back our furloughed team members two weeks ago and I am encouraged by the positive impact they are already having on job numbers from their conversations with their networks. In our “Spotlight on Reward” this week they are sharing their insights since returning to their respective markets. We welcome any thoughts or insights you wish to share with us.

Oakleaf Talent Talks update:

Jenny Scrivener has put together three more compelling episodes of our Talent Talks series and has more in the pipeline.

Please do refer to our Oakleaf Partnership LinkedIn page or click on the links below if you haven’t had a chance to watch these yet:

Episode 4 – “Trans and Non-Binary Inclusion” – Emma Cusdin (She/Her/Hers), Change & Transformation Specialist and Director of Global Butterflies

Episode 5 – “Kindness” – Lara Cullen, Executive & Leadership Coachand founder of The People Person Ltd

Episode 6 – “Resilience” – Lindsay Murdoch, Business Transformation and People Specialist

Our next insight will feature our Commerce & Industry and Regions businesses.

Simon Hunt
Managing Director

Tel: 0207 220 7030 | Mob: 07739804159

Skip to content