Liquid people are the future of attracting talent.

By Nigel Sarbutts, founder of

What’s the UK’s second most visited (non-‘adult’) website after search engines, news, government and Netflix? It transfixes millions, sometimes with over 30 million pages viewed in a day. With most of these visits to the site in the workplace.


The innocent pleasure of snooping at other’s people’s houses, idly dreaming of what you might one day afford to buy. Owning property is Britain’s obsession as the TV schedules will tell you.

But our fixation with property ownership is changing rapidly and this means big changes flowing through in the workplace and the competition for the best talent. A generation is now entering the jobs market for whom home ownership is a distant goal and that means the need for stable employment to feed a mortgage is less urgent.

A study by Santander in August revealed that fully 70 per cent of 18-34 year olds hold no hope of ever owning their home.

They won’t be clicking on Rightmove any time soon.

Nor will their career choices feature the stability and certainty that a mortgage application requires. These are liquid people and if your talent strategy hasn’t already adapted to their aspirations, then you are already missing out.

They are liquid because they are not tied by the most illiquid asset any of us own – a property.

And here’s the sting in the tail – parents are now the UK’s 10th biggest lender to young adults buying a property, lending on average £24000 to each child (£31000) in London.

That’s placing a huge strain on the finances of middle aged employees, adjusting their plans for their income and requiring them to work longer than they had planned. One in five of the people lending to their children to get a mortgage is doing so by tapping into their pensions using the new rules for over-55s.

That too is a constraint on your talent pipeline if you were anticipating that some of your older staff might choose to move on sooner rather than later.

Liquid at the bottom, static at the top.

Employers have to adapt rapidly to this shift. Is your reward and development strategy taking account of the fact that many of the people you’d like to have working for you might not even see themselves living in the same city this time next year? When average house prices are now 14.5 times average incomes in London, does anyone think this will revert to the days when you could get a mortgage of three times income?

You might see the housing ladder as the thing that helps keep people loyal, but from the other end of the telescope it’s an irrelevance.

Talent goes to where the opportunity lies.

It’s no coincidence that the collapse in home ownership amongst the under 30s has seen a rapid rise in the number of freelancers in the jobs market. Is your business set up to take advantage of this shift, or is it increasingly out of step with the market?

In the US, the difference between age groups freelancing is startling. Amongst Baby-Boomers (born up to the early 60s) around 28% of people freelance in some form. Amongst 18-21 year olds the figure is 47%.

Imagine almost half of the people applying for early career jobs at your company not even valuing that you are set-up to offer long-term employment prospects.

The key to adapting to this shift towards the freelancer in the jobs market is a culture of adaptability rather than silos and that networks of people are more productive than teams.

Every freelancer coming in to your business brings with them access to their own networks which cumulatively stretch much further than your own. Teams are more effective when they are energised by forming and shaping around specific goals rather than operating within hierarchies.

The other advantage of embracing freelancers as part of teams that have specific purpose or goals is that they bring the emotional energy and none of the management cost of dealing with internal friction.

The time to adapt to liquid people and take a strategic view of the way freelancers contribute way beyond getting a task done arrived years ago, but not everyone saw it. It isn’t going to go back to the way it was.


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