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The biggest issues facing HR professionals across New Zealand - HRNZ research

Last week HRNZ conducted a quick survey of HR professionals around New Zealand to find out what the biggest issues were for them in the midst of the current lockdown and also looking forward as we gradually return to work.

Not surprisingly the overwhelmingly big issue for employers right now is the health and wellness of their staff. This includes the health and safety arrangements for essential workers.  The COVID-19 crisis has brought employers obligations in relation to health and safety of their employees into the spotlight in a most unexpected way.  We’re now dealing with a whole new set of risks and employers are going to walk a fine line when it comes to supporting and encouraging people to return to the workplace balanced against the need to keep high risk employees to stay away.

Managing remote workers is another significant issue for employers.  After decades of discussions about the pros and cons of flexible work arrangements and the challenges of managing people working from home, we’ve been placed in a position of having to solve all the perceived problems in a very compressed time-frame.  Capturing the learnings from the process that we’re going through is also high on the list of key priorities for HR professionals.

Figuring out employer entitlements to government wage and leave subsidies has also been important for HR professionals.  Ironically restructuring and redundancies has had equal importance suggesting that the governments desire to keep people connected to work may have only been successful in the very short term.

Adapting employee remuneration and hours of work completed our list of top priority issues during lockdown.  In this regard making changes within the boundaries of legal and contractual arrangements has clearly been a challenge.  What do you do about that employee that just won’t agree to any change?

Looking forward to when we return to work and gradually move down the Alert levels we can see that priorities are going to change.

Health and wellness of employees remains a key priority but the focus will shift to how businesses operate new workplace practices for physical distancing between employees and at the customer interface.  We’ll also need to work out how to deliver on hygiene as a fundamental element of health and safety.  The HR professionals who have been working in the essential services businesses during the lockdown will have a lot of insights to share with the rest of us as we move forward.

Unfortunately restructuring and redundancy takes over as the biggest priority for HR professionals as we start the return to work.  Employers around New Zealand will be forced to deal with the commercial realities of the economic contraction we’re facing.  It’s a complete about-turn for many HR professionals who for the last decade have been focused on competing for the best talent in a world of full employment.  It’s to be hoped that we don’t lose sight of the need to continue to be the type of employer that the best talent is attracted to work for.

HR professionals also identify with the need to build change capability and business resilience as a top priority.  Organisations around New Zealand are faced with adapting their service offerings to a new world and one which has a high level of uncertainty in the short to medium term. 

At a purely practical level, HR professionals also recognise the challenge of overcoming the fears many employees will have about leaving their bubble and returning to the workplace. 

There are challenging times ahead for HR professionals and this summary only scratches the surface of the range of issues ahead.  Other issues noted included:

  • Hiring essential workers
  • Managing disadvantage and inequality through working from home e.g. pressures on parents
  • Mental health of employees
  • Ability to recruit talent with border restrictions
  • Recruiting staff using virtual means including bulk recruitment
  • Onboarding staff remotely
  • Generating innovative ideas for business survival
  • Managing your own wellbeing as an HR professional
  • Union relationships and expectations
  • Contact tracing of employees – managing privacy while being transparent
  • Keeping momentum on D&I initiatives
  • Sustaining seasonal and temporary workforce through transition
  • Communication strategies with those not working due to COVID-19 guidance
  • Employers obligations to migrant workers displaced by change

HRNZ will continue to ensure we provide opportunities for members to learn from each other and to deliver relevant resources and information to help meet these challenges.