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The shifting employment landscape

My time away from the office in January was a well-timed escape from the grind of the weekly work and home routine. Travelling to places like Auckland, Nelson, Hawkes Bay, Christchurch, and Queenstown presented some valuable opportunities to reflect, watch the world go by and spend time with interesting people.

2022 finished in a flurry of recruitment and difficult employment relations work. Settlement of employment claims (personal grievances) seemed to be rising, and it was a time when candidates were keen to consider a change for 2023.



1 January – 30 June 2022 71
1 July – 31 December 2021 77
1 January – 30 June 2021 83
1 July – 31 December 2020 65
1 January – 30 June 2020 49
1 July – 31 December 2019 69
1 January – 30 June 2019 68
1 July – 31 December 2018 86
1 January – 30 June 2018 73
* Data for 1 July to 31 December 2022 was not yet available at the time this article was written

What struck me most while travelling around was the number of ‘staff wanted’ signs and physical recruitment advertising.  It seemed like most shops and hospitality businesses had these signs. Construction and manufacturing worksites had  several billboards in an attempt to get the message out there to would be drivers-by who happen to see it and want work. 

Talking with local friends and family, taxi drivers and the odd person who we would stop to chat with, they all had stories of work struggles since 2020.  2022 was a real grind for many, including me

What I heard from these people hasn’t left me. As soon as I mentioned my job was HR and all things employment related, I heard stories of:   

  • long-established eateries closing due to employment woes
  • employees complaining of shoddy recruitment and employment practices
  • low productivity and the stress of difficult conversations because team members don’t want to come back to the office
  • businesses offering profit sharing incentives as a retention mechanism
  • employees slapping their employer with a personal grievance because the employee didn’t like the way they were spoken to after they did something wrong
  • employees leaving the area due to cost of living or accommodation challenges
  • immigration processes holding projects up
  • a business owner having to tell their employees that they can’t pay their wages because the customer hadn’t paid their bill

Then there was also the conversation about the ‘noose that hangs around some business owners’ neck’ because it will take only 1 or 2 bad months or a project to fall through in 2023 and they won’t be able to pay their staff. Yet they have employees demanding and expecting more.

For those experiencing any of these situations in their business, you are not alone.

This is painting a contrasting view for those who are struggling and others who are looking to maximise value and market share. Then there is also the power shift between employees and employers. Will the pendulum swings begin to level out in 2023?

What I heard is that many employers and people leaders are at a crossroads not knowing what to do in this difficult operating environment. Some of this uncertainty is fear led. All these stories in some way or form affect the performance and value of the business. An underlying theme of these conversations was that employers are struggling to shift the employee’s mindset and sense of entitlement.

Capable strategic and holistically minded HR and employment generalists are needed in these times. A hygienic compliance and legally focused approach is not going to cut it if employee retention and business performance are your business goals.

I have held off making comments and predicting where employment trends are going for 2023 and beyond. Mainly because the picture hasn’t been entirely clear. While more research is needed on my part, what I do know is that most NZ businesses have less than 30 employees. However, majority of NZ employees work for large enterprise and government agencies. This presents several conflicting needs and problems that Government are trying to grapple with.

From the many conversations I had over the holiday season and since, now more than ever I believe that with the baby boomer generation looking to exit the workforce it is possible that 2023-2025 will be the years that NZ businesses sell to others looking to grow their market share, or who need a specific product or system to increase their balance sheet. This is already happening in Law and Accounting where there has been no clear internal succession plan for the Partners. Hospitality and retail could be next after the recent wage increase announcement.

For those considering business sale or a purchase in this environment, your HR and employment specialist along with your accountant, lawyer and business efficiency/system expert will need to be your best business friends. This is so you can present your business in the best light and maximise value. Alternatively, when looking to buy a business, these specialists can have a good look under the hood and give you the real picture of what you are buying into.

From an employment and team culture perspective, Jim Collins says in his well-known book, Good to Great, there is nothing more difficult than merging two different teams together following a business sale and purchase transaction. This is because you have to reset the standards for those joining the team, as well as upsetting the routines and environment your existing team have come to know and love. In the process there can be some difficult conversations and decisions to make. You may need to reorganise your teams’ multiple times over a 3-year period as you adjust to the extra work and people.

This is all employment-related stuff and you will need help to navigate that journey. I enjoy working alongside others involved in these processes. Mainly because of the diversity of opinions and strategies that can be developed. While there may be a standard process, the how is not always the same in every sale and purchase transaction.

If any of this resonates with you and you are contemplating selling or buying a business, or even if you’re just generally feeling overwhelmed by the challenges ahead, it’s time to reach out. We can do an employment practices sense check for you. This process may give you that clarity and focus you need for this year and beyond.

Our employment practices sense check involves a review of your employment agreements, policies, and overall employment journey on paper starting from $750 (+gst). Then we interview key people leaders to identify how it is really implemented. All too often what is on paper is not what is done in practice. This where your risks and opportunities lie.

If you want to go a step further, we can expand on the employer sense check by interviewing key team members and other people leaders to understand how the practices are influencing your culture and employee retention. We call this the Employment Journey Culture Review. As an outcome of this review you will have a good handle of how to go about making some tweaks and small changes that will have the biggest impact on employee retention.

Sometimes all it will take is more listening and communication rather than more money.

While every care is taken to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, this article is for general information purposes only. If you would like to know more about our services and how we can assist you in your specific situation please reach out by calling 07 2420 447 for a confidential conversation or email me via catherine@stapleton.consulting