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Recruitment by Numbers – Are start ups screwing us up?

The hiring campaigns of the start up: ‘you can trust us, we won’t chew you up and spit you out'

I recently wrote an article – ‘has the cool bubble burst?’ exploring the kudos of working in a cool start up versus the glossy sheen of a corporate.

Pre 2008, the choice tended to be: ‘play it safe and work for a corporate, or take a risk and go start-up’. So are we as a workforce getting braver? Or do ‘risk free’ options just not exist anymore? This platitude was rather turned on its head when hundreds of bright eyed graduates were spun all the way round the revolving door and out again on their first day at Lehman Brothers. Suddenly your options are ‘high risk, high reward’, or just high risk.

Since 2008, start-up culture has been growing as the ‘anti-corporate’. The hiring campaigns of the start up: ‘you can trust us, we won’t chew you up and spit you out, sharing, caring, we’re all in this together, and we will have FUN.’

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As a result, we now exist in a world where a job isn’t worth having if you can’t do it from a beanbag. But here’s the thing, we’ve learnt, especially at Amazon, that the start up culture now comes with a work/life choice that some people aren’t willing to pay. But even more worryingly – is the start up culture coming with an actual price?

Given the increasing strength of the UK economy since 2012, it seems like the job market has really heated up, and recruitment has made a comeback of Gary Barlow proportions. We’re now the 6th fastest growing industry according to our friends over at Broadbean. So rather shockingly, the average wage advertised on UK job adverts has dropped by 8% since 2012. What could possibly be driving this trend?

As recruiters all know we’re in a candidate short market right now. Everyone is hiring, and all the good people are doing well in their current roles? So what could possibly be causing this downward pressure on salaries? The relationship over the last 2 years of decreasing average salaries offered on the job market, is inversely mirrored by the growth in the number of start up businesses in the UK, which has increased by 10% over the same period.


Is start-up culture taking advantage of our new distrust of corporates? Is fun and ‘future potential’ or ‘potential equity value’ replacing good old fashioned pay checks at the top of our list of priorities when taking a new role? Given that 50% of start ups fail in their first 3 years, and many more don’t take off in the way the Founders hoped, the likelihood of future opportunity is reasonably slim.

So why do people keep moving, often for less or the same pay, for the ‘opportunity’ to work at a start up. Is it all a sinister Government plot to put downward pressure on wages despite a booming market – creating a double win. Or is it all actually a good thing? Post recession, post financial crisis, post the demise of ‘huge fat-cat bonuses for doing/creating/building very little’, are we actually thinking differently?

Generation Y are allegedly much more concerned with job satisfaction than out and out cash. It’s an affliction that many people in the upper echelons of the job market can’t understand. When you work for a start up, and you genuinely love it, work life balance no longer becomes so much of a ‘thing’, because work and life are much less distinguishable.

What’s important to you in your spare time? Having fun? Having close relationships with the people around you? Laughing every day? Surrounding yourself with interesting people? Being challenged? Pushing yourself? Hobbies? Being creative? All these things are now possible at work too. Perhaps higher salaries were the trade off for the fact that you really wanted to be somewhere else, at all time. Wanting to be at work, and being paid for the pleasure – surely that has a different price tag.

So is the march of the start-ups creating false downward pressure on salaries so that the choice is now simply: ‘high fun, low reward’, or, ‘low fun, average reward’? Will seemingly more egalitarian start ups actually create more of a wage divide in the longer term? i.e. everyone gets downward pressure on salary, and then someone creates Facebook and wins REALLY big. I prefer to think we are moving to a better place, where work and home are less distinguishable, (we all basically carry our office around with us in our pockets anyway). A world where salary takes a back seat to satisfaction, and everyone is striving to think bigger, do better, run faster and be the ones who really succeed.

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