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Oakleaf Partnership Market Update – May 2020

Oakleaf Market Update – May 2020

Despite the challenging past few weeks of lockdown, it seems to me that most are now looking forward with a greater sense of calm and planning for a return to work, the Government guidelines on which we should all know shortly.  It will, of course, be a huge people and logistical challenge, given the critical Health & Safety considerations and the general business climate.

In his recent article, Matthew Syed summed up the past few weeks perfectly for me when he wrote:

“As in any crisis, perception has narrowed.  Business leaders are eyeball to eyeball with rapidly changing tactical demands: how do we pay staff, how do we access government bailouts, and – while we are at it – how on earth am I going to home-school my kids?  It is not just getting through the next week, but the next few hours.  A crisis sucks you in, dominating bandwidth.”

We are now, for the first time in over seven weeks, able to start looking forward, and move out of the “here and now”. The market is definitely “settling down” and some delayed assignments are now coming back online, and others are being planned.  Of course, the world has changed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams in the last seven weeks: the ongoing need for social distancing means face to face interviewing and on-boarding will be a thing of the past for the foreseeable future.  Much debate is also starting about the future of the workplace.  Watch this space.

By all accounts, and not surprisingly, HR, Reward and Payroll functions have been busier than ever.

According to research just released, fewer than two-fifths of HR teams have seen their headcount drop, with experts saying the pandemic is an opportunity for the function to demonstrate its value.  The poll conducted by People Management of its readers found 63% of respondents had seen no change to the current headcount of their HR teams, while an additional 2% reported they were actually planning to grow their HR function.

The full findings can be found here:

Broadly speaking, our own experience of the last seven weeks is that demand is down by c.60-70%, mainly for mid to junior generalist roles and for TA, Learning and OD roles.  More senior HRBP/Manager level roles are now deemed as “business critical” and the demand for specialists in Reward, Benefits, HRIS and Payroll seems to have also been rather less affected.  Most of our Executive Searches continue unabated, both in the UK and in New York (our newest market).  Roles outside of London have also been somewhat less affected than those inside.

For more detailed insights from our specialist teams, please follow the links below:


Financial Services

Professional Services


Oakleaf Executive

Executive Reward – UK & International

Reward & Analytics


I heard recently from a trusted client that a legacy study of CEOs reflections and learns from the aftermath of the GFC was that suspending hiring was one of their biggest regrets.  It seems, in the moment, a completely logical and necessary thing to do, but they also, with the benefit of hindsight, most regretted it.  I hope that business will remember that this time around and that hindsight is “2020”!

Without question, there will be challenges ahead but myself, and the team at Oakleaf will be here to help and advise.  Stay safe and thank you for your ongoing friendship and support.

And finally, let’s not forget the hardships and loss endured by our forebears during WW2. As we celebrate the surrender of Nazi Germany, 75 years ago, that great British spirit of resilience, patience, optimism and ambition, endures today. Lest we forget. Happy V.E. Day to you all!

Richard Colgan - Founder & CEO

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The Commerce and Industry team at Oakleaf seem to have experienced a tale of two halves.

Whilst the market awaits the outcome of plans to release the lockdown, we saw the highest market activity that we have seen since mid-March

A notable trend is that the appetite to move roles at the senior end in reward remains very high.

Across the board, it has been noted that HR is needed now more than ever before.

This will be seen as the moment when true Payroll professionals stood out, showed their true worth and became respected.

We are starting to hear an increase in appetite to move more of their work force to second hubs in Birmingham, Reading or Manchester or to have them field based, both driving down office cost whilst bolstering regional talent.

Reward remains a key area and businesses are still pressing ahead with replacement hires and maternity covers which is positive

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