House of HR: “It has been a tough but amazing year!”

COVID-19 chipped away at the business of the European HR service provider House of HR – but thanks to the resilience, creativity and perseverance of all employees in all countries, the damage in 2020 was limited to 1% (!) loss in profitability. “In fact, our purpose and values not only held firm, they also confirmed how fundamental and intrinsic they are to the well-being and strength of our people, and therefore to our group.”

House of HR is a leading HR service provider in Europe, which specialises in finding the right people for the right job. Talent takes precedence over qualifications in this regard. The organisation operates within very specific niches or segments, such as finance, engineering, legal, construction, retail, transport and logistics. “The war for talent is far from over, not even in the new normal,” reveals CEO Rika Coppens from experience. “On the contrary. Talent remains scarce in many sectors. The key is to ensure that our own employees remain resilient, sharp, creative and motivated. Their well-being is fundamental to the success of our search for talent and therefore our business.”

To The Point (TTP): ‘Resilience’ is a crucial phase in BDO’s ‘Rethink’ process, in which we help companies to think ahead about life in the new normal. Did this resilience also save House of HR from a disaster?

Rika Coppens (RC): “At the start of the crisis, customers quickly reduced their flexibility. In two weeks’ time, the number of people our group could help get to work was down by as much as 37%. In some entities, it was down even 65% or more. Nevertheless, 2020 was an amazing year – because, despite the sudden and substantial decrease in turnover, we were able to prove how resilient and creative we are as a company. Indeed, within our decentralised structure, employees themselves are responsible for the way they work and for market management. The head office does not impose any measures. It does not have enough knowledge of local clients, candidates and authorities to do so. This strategy works remarkably well, so we were able to limit the loss in profitability to 1%!”

 TTP: A few months after the outbreak of the crisis, your activity had already recovered to 80%.

RC: “Thanks to the creativity of our people. For example, our operating company NOWJOBS, which specialises in temporary work for the hospitality and events sector, shifted its focus to the retail sector and home delivery. We became active in new niches like agriculture and horticulture. That makes us stronger today than we were before, because we have been able to tap into new markets.”

TTP: People are both the fuel and engine of your business. Does caring for employees and candidates rank as number 1 in the top 3?

RC: “Our people are our greatest capital. So, their well-being was our absolute priority. We made every effort to keep them healthy (physically and mentally), motivated, engaged and inspired. This includes the most creative campaigns, from online aperitifs to fitness and cooking classes. Online consultation was also intensified to optimally share best practices. For example, we introduced the speed bonus to compensate for the loss of variable pay (due to the decrease in turnover) as much as possible.”

TTP: Are you also extending this to the new, post-COVID-19 era?

RC: “The increased demand for flexibility among our employees and our candidates alike will not diminish. This is combined with the greater responsibility you have to allocate as an employer. These kinds of developments are part of the social evolution towards more sustainable entrepreneurship. Just think of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Our purpose is an exponent of this and forms our main driving force more than ever.”

TTP: Did your vision and mission offer support during the crisis?

RC: “Even more than that – they are a beacon, serving as the guiding principle for every action we undertake. And they always have, in fact. The guidelines also follow the spirit of the times. We recently adjusted our baseline ‘We change lives, one job at the time’ to ‘We change lives, connecting boundless talent to win in a world of change’. Everything we do derives strength from the values of our operating companies, such as: positivism, ‘be a friend’, ‘stay gutsy’, ‘go pro’, ‘happy rebel’, ‘human resourcefulness’, etc. They give us the energy to persevere, to stay creative. And not only in times of crisis. Each operating company in the various countries applies its specific values, and they all have their place in the purpose at group level.”

“Thanks to the creativity of our people, we are stronger today than we were before the COVID-19 crisis.”

Rika Coppens, CEO House of HR

TTP: In essence, companies aren’t going out of business because of a fall in profits, but because of a lack of cash. Was that a big challenge?

RC: “Yes, it was. We couldn’t risk getting ourselves into liquidity problems. Moreover, there was an increased risk that customers would not be able to pay the invoices. And what if, in the event of a bank run, their funds were also frozen? For all these reasons, we took out a credit line of 95 million EUR in full. In the end, we didn’t need those reserves. Fortunately.”

TTP: Your profitability was ultimately maintained?

RC: “That’s largely due to our decentralised structure and the responsibility allocated to our individual operating companies and offices to organise their own profitability. They are all self-managing teams of entrepreneurs who work on the basis of clear KPIs. The group closely monitors the results so that we can make adjustments or provide support in good time. For example, we launched an extra regional bonus on top of variable remuneration based on the monthly results. The bonus provided solidarity as it relied on the results in a particular region and not simply on individual performance. In this way, we avoided the situation in which the salary of a consultant active solely in the hospitality sector would be halved. Of course, the consultant then also worked on an alternative segment. In this way, we re-engineered numerous processes and revenue models within the group.”

The purpose is an exponent of sustainable entrepreneurship and, more than ever, it’s the key driving force for employees.

With its headquarters in Belgium, House of HR is the holding company that arose from Accent Jobs. It comprises 9 operating companies or powerhouses and nearly 40 brands, finding employment for almost 50,000 people in over 500 offices all over Europe. With a turnover of EUR 1.6 billion, it is the largest temporary employment group with Belgian roots.

  • Headquarters in Roeselare, Belgium

  • Branches in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Luxembourg, Portugal, Poland and Romania
  • Main sales markets: Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany
  • Operating companies: Abylsen, Accent, Continu, Covebo, Redmore, GRITT, TIMEPARTNER, Vialegis and ZAQUENSIS
  • Employees: 3,400, who find employment for about 50,000 job applicants a year
  • Turnover (2020): EUR 1.6 billion