As New Zealand continues to recover from the global pandemic, employers’ eyes are set firmly on the future. The government’s response to COVID-19 was praised all over the world, lauded as being direct, fast and very effective. Now, as the country moves into the vaccination stage of the pandemic plan, it’s time for organisations to take a step back and consider the impact the past few months have had on their teams.
While there’s no denying it’s been a rough year, some employers have thrived during the disruption and emerged stronger than ever. Here, HRD explores some of the key trends seen in this year’s Employer of Choice survey – in particular, how COVID upended strategic planning, enhanced employee engagement and impacted psychological health.
The pandemic threw New Zealand employers quite the curve ball, with many leaders opting to make remote work the new norm. While there’s no denying that this saved many businesses, it also led to an increase in mental health issues. Research by AUT Business School found that 11% of New Zealand employees are feeling burnt out, primarily due to stress and overwork. This was only compounded by the isolation and uncertainty the pandemic brought, meaning employers had to act fast in order to stem a wellbeing crisis.
“While many of our leaders and team members were used to a mixture of working from home and the office, and connecting virtually with colleagues located elsewhere, what was different during the pandemic lockdowns was juggling work while family members, children or flatmates were at home together with managing the impacts of a lockdown on their wellbeing and mental health,” said Catherine Dixon, EGM people and culture at Suncorp New Zealand.
“Our leaders needed to be more compassionate and to show more empathy with their team members and consider more flexible options depending on individual circumstances, while ensuring our business could still operate effectively. We shifted the focus of an existing virtual leading coaching program to support this, and our CEO and senior leadership team held regular Skype sessions to keep leaders informed and provide an opportunity for leaders to ask questions or share any difficulties they were experiencing.”
As with all things in HR, communication is key. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for enhanced employee engagement, with managers investing more time and effort in conversing with their teams. In fact, research from Peakon found that, during the height of the pandemic, employee engagement in New Zealand improved by 5%.
“Chorus saw employee engagement increase further during the lockdown period,” said Kim Culpan, head of organisational development at Chorus. “I attribute that to the clear and constant communication from our executive team, the strong focus on employee wellbeing, and our leaders supporting their people to manage through in a very authentic and personable way.”
However, the COVID-19 chaos brought with it feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, leaving employees worried about their futures. As a result, organisations that already had a strong culture of engagement found the move to remote work markedly easier than their counterparts.
“It was important that we managed and addressed concerns around employee disengagement during the pandemic,” Andrew Tompkin, general manager of AbbVie New Zealand, told HRD. “This meant ensuring employees had access to ongoing resources, support and timely information to get through their days. HR played a vital role in delivering operational and foundational resources to support employees during this time. We held structured workshops and seminars to focus on mental health, while also introducing support activities like virtual bingo and virtual “ZOOMba” exercise classes.
“We also focused on ensuring employees stayed connected with each other professionally and on a personal level. Simple things like regular virtual coffee catch-ups and feedback sessions were effective measures in maintaining culture and understanding employee concerns. We opened up a broader dialogue between the leadership team and all employees, facilitating efforts to main tain team culture whilst taking on board new methods of deepening connections between employees. By addressing employee concerns of disengagement and the absence of a physical workspace, the transition was seamless and employees felt there was no loss in their sense of workplace culture or drop in engagement during the pandemic.”
A flexible approach to work is the only way employers in New Zealand can stay competitive in today’s tough talent market. Recent studies from Growmotely found that remote and flexible working arrangements are the biggest draws for top-tier talent. Hybrid models are now seen as an intrinsic employee right, not a ‘nice to have’ option. COVID-19
In February 2021, the call went out for submissions for HRD’s Employer of Choice awards. Organisations of all sizes and across all industries in New Zealand were encouraged to enter.
By 5 March, HRD was inundated with entries and the judging process began. Entries were scored on the companies’ achievements and initiatives across a range of areas, including leadership, learning and development, wellbeing, flexibility, diversity and inclusion, work-life balance and recruitment. These areas represent the core facets of HR, as well as the new challenges facing employers as a result of the global pandemic. The judging panel took into consideration both qualitative and quantitative data, such as engagement survey results, average employee tenure and turnover rate.
This year, 21 companies have been commended for their achievements and selected as HRD’s 2021 Employers of Choice.