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HR Trends Survey

Conducted by HRNZ’s Academic Branch, the inaugural HR Trends Survey was conducted for the first time in Q4, 2021. This survey will be carried out in the annually by the academic branch to provide a longitudinal study of HR issues and trends in Aotearoa, New Zealand.  2021 has been a year of change and uncertainty and yet within that, a great opportunity to embrace these. We see many of these challenges and the responses to them reflected in the results summarised for your convenience below.

With input from 178 respondents located across the country, representing businesses (60%), the public sector (25%) and not-for-profits (NFPs) (15%) this first survey has given an excellent insight into the matters front of mind for HR professionals in 2021.

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Workforce recruitment and retention were among the highest issues for HRNZ members this year, and scoring highly as challenging issues were employee wellbeing, management development and workforce training. Complications arising from COVID such as the additional candidate-squeeze on an already tight labour market and the uncertain financial situation were contributing factors. Employee wellbeing was also a standout. There was a strong theme of wellbeing concerns relating to COVID and the implications of restructuring and increased workloads – typical comments refer to ‘change and fatigue’; ‘work overload’; ‘employee engagement and hybrid work arrangements and long-term impact of COVID on employee's wellbeing’.

Related to this, respondents shared that there is a growing emphasis on ‘resiliency and ability to adapt, operate in a changing environment’ and on managers having ‘soft skills - adapting to the workforce of today, dealing with issues and having the important conversations be they positive or negative’.

While the future is uncertain, some themes have come through strongly. HR professionals need a portfolio of skills and competencies going forward into 2022. Respondents told us that the most important capabilities are inter-personal skills, and that HR people need ‘leadership, empathy, communication skills’ to manage change, coach managers and achieve senior executive buy in.

In terms of positioning and readiness, most respondents are confident that HR has the requisite skillset to respond to these challenges, though fewer are convinced that their HR team currently has the necessary capacity.

Whether we like it or not, COVID has changed how we look at working and what we think is important particularly around work/life balance. Respondents acknowledged the importance of developing an effective employee value proposition (EVP) and having a strong focus on enhancing employee wellbeing. As good talent becomes harder to find, keeping the talent you have is more and more crucial an issue for HR professionals. What a good EVP looks like has also changed according to respondents with more of an emphasis placed on sustainable business practices and social responsibility, meaning HR needs to pivot to support this both in a recruitment and acquisition space, as well as incorporating these values into the organisational culture model. Inclusive practices to support diverse workforces and meet these new and changing needs were a challenge for HR teams in 2021 and will continue to be so in 2022, with several respondents highlighted a need for HR to develop ‘Te Ao Māori understanding and how to bring [this] into HR policies and practices.

As one respondent put it:

‘As the focus around Board tables (and customer demand) shifts ever so slowly away from financial matters and more toward people issues (e.g., diversity & inclusion, flexible work, health & safety, living with COVID) and sustainability, HR is going to have an ever-bigger role to play at the executive, strategic levels of business. I hope and anticipate that our traditional role as compliance & process managers and employment relations experts will become the domain of HR administrators and advisors, while HR business partners and executives are able to prove that by focusing on people- and environment-related issues and organisational development through better leadership, culture and talent management, they can improve their bottom lines, their reputations and be better businesses for longer’.

The good news in terms of our ability to influence change, is that most respondents felt HR had a stable seat at the decision-making table, and that their HR function carries some clout in decision making. The size of the organisation, or its HR team, was not significant in informing this evaluation. Whereas small HR teams might have less specialist expertise and be more consumed by compliance and HR administration, they tend to benefit from senior management proximity in the smaller organisations.

What will be crucial for the profession in 2022 is how we balance these often-competing needs to ensure each of our organisations flourish. 2022 is sure to throw us a curve ball or two but these insights will serve as a great place to start as we explore what that tailored approach looks like, and how we as HR professionals best cater our advice and support to achieve this.