Evaluating Employers After COVID-19
Disclaimer: This is written from a tech perspective, not all of this will hold true in other industries.
We are currently living through an unprecedented and incredibly difficult period in modern history. Both from a wellbeing and financial standpoint we’re seeing untold suffering, with hundreds of thousands dead and millions of jobs lost with more to come — the UN Labour body estimates working hours equivalent to 195 million jobs will be lost.
Jobs are easily lost but hard to win back. My employer collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis and it took me 8 months to get back to work. This time round will be even worse for those affected.
One consistent topic during this period has been how poorly some employers have treated their staff during the pandemic. It’s easy to espouse high-minded values and abstract positivity when times are good, but the true worth of a company’s principles and the value placed on employees are only tested in difficult times. Based on their behaviour one can essentially divide employers into two buckets during this period: those who do the right thing when it’s hard, and those who have to be forced to do the right thing.
One of the very few upsides to COVID-19 for the games industry is that sales have (so far) been robust. Games companies are hiring, and more companies than ever are now open to hiring remote workers. For those who are living in a location with few options and are unable to move, this is a potential lifeline.
If you’re unfortunate enough to be looking for a job in the next few months here are some questions to consider asking when evaluating a prospective employer:
“How did you switch to work from home arrangements during the COVID-19 period?”
Many studios did the right thing by their staff and switched to remote work before it was mandatory. Riot was a notable example with 92% of their staff at their LA HQ working from home prior to the order becoming effective.
Other tech companies did not do the right thing. Even when staff voiced concerns (and in some cases, people in the office tested positive) they kept insisting people come in. This is hard to square given that almost all tech jobs are doable from home so long as the person has a decent Internet connection.
“How were layoffs handled during COVID-19?”
Laying people off is never easy, but AirBnB is an example of a company which handled layoffs in a transparent manner, and with care and consideration for their staff. They even went so far as to set up a web portal to showcase staff who had been let go in order to help them find new jobs.
Other tech companies have been “secretly” laying off small groups of people from different departments in the hope that the press won’t catch on. The end result is that these people have received little to no support and the onus is on them to try and explain away why they lost jobs (often made even more difficult by the NDAs attached to their exit).
“What are your leave policies regarding compassionate or parental leave?”
These are really important questions if you’re working far away from your family.
Leave policies which put their staff well-being first, are the right thing to do. More often than not, 3 days (the legal minimum) isn’t enough time to mourn a deceased parent or get their affairs in order (especially if they live in another country). It goes without saying that different people will have different needs (depending on how healthy the child is, whether they have family living nearby, etc.) around parental leave. Good employers support people and acknowledge they have a life worth living outside the office. Netflix was a pioneer of unlimited and flexible leave policies, thankfully these are becoming more common.
Companies which strictly adhere to minimum legal standards are not doing the right thing. Depending on the employment law in your jurisdiction, these can go so far as to result in staff being discriminated against in terms of pay and benefits based on their nationality, age, gender, or marital status. Companies which use the law to justify discriminating against sections of their staff are clearly not doing the right thing.
“What is the demographic composition of middle and senior management?”
King is a great example of a big studio which has a commitment to diversity and gives staff opportunities regardless of their background. This has played a huge part in their success over the years and is a key reason why their games appealing to so people of different backgrounds all over the world.
At other studios your chances of progression can be dictated by your nationality or your background. There are plenty of large studios where all senior management come from the place/have the same educational background/are related(!) and there’s a clear glass ceiling for outsiders.
This isn’t a question you need to ask someone. A quick glance at LinkedIn (or even around the office) can usually give a pretty good indication here.
“What is the company culture? What do people value the most?”
Sometimes you will need to sacrifice revenue for the wellbeing and safety of your staff. Good companies will do this without a moment’s hesitation because they put their people first.
In one instance we’re aware of at a tech company, a client behaved in a sexually inappropriate way toward a member of staff. The correct thing to do would have been to ditch the client and report it. Instead, they transferred the staff member to serve different clients and put someone else on the account (potentially placing another employee in harm’s way). This company clearly was only willing to do the right thing by its staff so long as profits weren’t at stake.
The only way you’ll get an honest answer the culture question is by asking people who have experience working in the company, and preferably experience working on the team you’d be a part of. If there’s a problem, you won’t get a straight answer to this in an interview.
If after thinking about these questions you’re interested in changing jobs, our excellent Chief of Staff (Clarissa Goh) wrote a guide on How to Land Your Dream Games Job which is well worth reading and is largely applicable to almost any tech job. If you’re an artist, I also recommend checking out a piece written by our Art Director (Benjamin Chevalier) — Applying to be a Game Artist: Things You Should Know.
It’s also important to remember that the interview goes both ways. The employer will use it to assess competency and cultural fit, but you should be using it to assess the employer. The best way to ensure you land a job you enjoy is to use the interview process as a means of evaluating the employer and assessing what it would really be like to work there.
Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions; someone who is worth working for will appreciate the preparation and the focus on getting the right outcome. Good employers would sooner hire someone thoughtful who will ask tricky questions (thus improving things) than someone who will blindly go along with whatever is said.
The world is a tough place right now, but things will improve. When they do, many will have a greater say in who they work for as more options become available. One of my hopes is that some people will use the opportunity to better their working lives by choosing companies which value them beyond their utility as a resource and treat them fairly.