Oakleaf Partnership Market Insight – Demand to Hire Significantly Up In Specialist Reward and Payroll Markets – June 2021


Over the last month it has been immensely energising and rewarding getting to see so many colleagues face to face again. A great many of the Oakleaf team have been beginning to venture back to the office 1, 2 days or 3 days a week as lockdown eases and vaccine uptake has increased. It really has been so refreshing to catch up with people in person and it feels like it has given everyone a huge lift. We have of course still been bound by restrictions and even with these many customers are equally keen to meet face to face and re-engage as they once did. Long may it continue! There is much noise currently about whether the next phase of easing will now happen – as much as we all want it I think I would also take the status quo at the moment over going backwards in another month – fingers crossed that is not something we need to consider.

The broader overview of the HR recruitment market remains positive. As you can see, the general trend is upward although I would point out that through most of April and May we did see job volumes plateau a little (as per the data above). The last 2 weeks have seen a real increase as the volumes of work again with marked improvements across reward, core HR in financial services and core HR in commerce. We are now not far off 75% of where we were pre covid as opposed to being at 30% of BAU. We are seeing more day rate work and the impact (although early still) of IR35 is not great. Our customer based is more diverse which is also bringing some interesting mandates for people to consider. There remains a sense that this will only continue as we work through to the second half of the calendar year.

This month we bring back John O’Brien and Sam Clark to the table to provide insight into the payroll and reward markets respectively both of whom have some great news to share.


The new financial year has kicked off in impressive fashion and we have seen a significant increase in job flow which is highly encouraging. More importantly, the quality of the roles on offer are of a completely different standard. Our clients are now looking for what we call the “modern payroll & benefits professional”. Payroll positions increasingly have more scope to influence and have a seat at the table.

What is clear from clients’ expectations and job descriptions is that they want more ownership experience, a “roll your sleeves up” type attitude when needed and a willingness to business partner extensively internally and externally across the UK and global landscape.

From an executive perspective, the roles that we are working on have full budget control, particularly with systems implementations. This is a key indicator that organisations are taking their payroll offering seriously, and handling the responsibility firmly with the business owner.  The most significant impact of this is reflected in the salaries and benefits on offer along with agile working patterns from the get go.

An interesting fact from our 2020/21 performance is that we worked with 57 new clients during what has to be one of the toughest years on record. Encouragingly, this is continuing and showing no sign of slowing down.

Financial & Professional Services

We have a had a great start to the year with a number of high-end executive instructions and a 100% conversion rate which has clearly cemented our position as the best in class and our continuing network of industry relevant candidates across all levels is simply unrivalled.

Mid-level hiring has also been increasing week on week and the calibre of roles on offer is very pleasing and attracting an amazing bounty of talent.

Our temp business has seen a massive drive for fixed term contracts over day rates which is in line with IR35 but we are hopeful that clients will see the light at the end of the tunnel and move forwards, as they need to.

Commerce & Industry

This will be our biggest offering for 2021/22. We are actively hiring consultants to support our build out in this space and after making some bold decisions we are optimistic that this year will be our most successful to date. The increase in mandates to hire across our commerce clients already supports this.

So far this financial year, we have worked with 19 new clients and are reaching out to many more who need to experience the Oakleaf love. The conversion rates alone speak for themselves. Lead generation is at an all-time high and we appreciate that clients wish to do their own hiring but 54% of these have now been converted which is a great sign of things to come.

All I have left to say is watch this space.

Reward, MI & Analytics

Looking back on our last update back in February on the Reward HR analytics and HR technology world, there was a sense of optimism in the market following a year of sporadic hiring.  Three months on and there have been some positive signs of life with the market picking up especially in commerce and industry and pockets within the investment management and private equity space. It feels like we are moving back into the candidate driven market that we tend to operate in especially on the interim and FTC side with much of the immediately available talent who were swept in covid related redundancies and IR35 changes having now started in new positions. Businesses are having to move more quickly and act more decisively again to secure top talent. We are still hearing mixed feedback on candidate experience in recruitment processes which is influencing the ability of many businesses to land top talent. Quite simply those with the slickest and most engaging processes are beating those with even the most exciting of propositions. Below I round up some of the key trends and insights across the compensation, benefits, global mobility and HRIS/HR analytics world.



We have been having some interesting conversation with our Reward networks. Reward teams have been under pressure, but most have found the year end processes have run relatively smoothly despite being managed almost entirely from home. Many are taking stock and there is a general sense across the financial services world of being asked to do more with less resource - cost-cutting has been on the agenda so leavers have yet to be replaced in many cases. We are starting to see the impact of this and many who put their job search on hold due to Covid have been tentatively looking at opportunities in the market. We are also starting to see some key senior moves / hires which will naturally impact the opportunities in the market as they land. Equally, regulation and governance changes are still high on the agenda and we have seen a continued effort to bring in expertise in this space. I foresee a buoyant summer with permanent reward hiring across levels within financial services.

The commerce and industry sector has remained fruitful with opportunities across healthcare and pharmaceutical, online and tech as well as the blue chips driving the hiring surge across all levels. As on-hold projects from last year are re-starting and planning for the year ahead is underway we have seen the need for interim support increase across the Analyst and Manager level due to help support/manage operational workload. As budgets increase, we have also seen replacement roles for ‘experimental’ internal moves that have not necessarily worked out. At the manager level there is strong talent cautiously exploring opportunities and taking their time to ensure it is the right move for them.

On the junior side for Reward, essential hires are happening at the junior end right now to bolster teams. Last year we were speaking with clients around their need for established reward analysts to drive year end processes; now businesses are targeting junior talent who they can develop and mould. I suspect this is largely due reward teams having more time to train up and develop their people but I’m sure that the route out of lockdown becoming clearer, and more face-to-face support becoming feasible now offices are opening up, is also playing a part.

Benefits and wellbeing remain high on the agenda across the board. Established businesses are reviewing their offerings to ensure an employee experience centred approach to their total reward offering as ‘hybrid’ approach homeworking policies are being established. We have also seen an increase of first-time benefits and wellbeing hires, with start-ups and scale-up businesses needing to compete on their total reward offering.

Global Mobility

With the economic impact of Covid and Brexit still lingering, hiring for in-house mobility talent has been slow over the last year. There remains a lot of uncertainty, but there is a view of cautious optimism towards H2 once it is clearer how international travel restrictions will be eased. Interestingly though, we are seeing more strategic roles than usual, largely due to new tax and immigration rules and regulations coming into effect. We anticipate GM teams are going to be busier than ever managing change and will need to build out their teams to support with increased workload at the latter part of the year and into 2022.

HR Technology & HR Analytics

As People Analytics and Technology AI continues to drive decision making across businesses and HR, the growing demand for strong technical experts and data-centric analysts across financial services has really ramped up over the last few months. We are seeing a surge in clients’ requests for technical skills including PowerBI/Tableau and the ability to drive process improvement and automation. It is an exciting time in this space. For the professional services world, we have seen an increase law firms and consultancies who have seen the need for improved HR technology and upgrades and are investing in their cloud-based technology with hiring to support this.

(Graph sources: Vacancysoft)

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