Creative thinking needed to meet tight labour market

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If the numbers from recent Waikato Regional Council and Hamilton City Council reports are anything to go by, Hamilton and the Waikato region are undergoing a significant period of growth and expansion, compared with the New Zealand national average.

Some of these indicators from the past 12 months include the number of businesses in Waikato growing by 1.2 percent (0.7 percent national average), the district population increasing by 2.3 percent (1.9 percent national average), Hamilton GDP increasing by 3.1 percent from last year and the number of businesses in the Hamilton CBD standing at 529, representing a 10 year-high. Primary industries remained the biggest employers in the region; however, it was the construction industry that created the most new jobs.

Along with these encouraging numbers, unemployment in Hamilton stood at 4.5 percent (a 10-year low) with Waikato as a whole standing at 3.8 percent (the lowest since 1991). While this is good news for employees, these numbers indicate a tight job market that may frustrate businesses suffering from a skill shortage and/or looking to expand.

The recently-published Hays Salary Guide for FY 2019/2020 also provided some interesting insights into the tight labour market with 70 percent of employers stating that employee skill shortages is likely to impact on their business, 52 percent noting that technical skills have the highest impact on the effectiveness of their organisation and 57 percent of employers surveyed saying they would consider employing or sponsoring qualified overseas candidates in skill-short areas.

Skill-shortages in the regions, including Waikato, have long been an issue, and attracting skilled employees has been somewhat of a stumbling block for business expansion for many companies. Employers may need to think more creatively to retain and upskill existing employees and/or attract new employees to their workforce.

Again, the Hays Salary Guide provides interesting insights into employee goals and expectations, with 40 percent of those surveyed stating they were planning to look for a new job in the coming 12 months, and 41 percent citing an uncompetitive salary as the driving factor for a move. For the other 59 percent, however, something other than money appears to be in play.

When asked to think about what was important to them in the year ahead, employees ranked the top four factors as a pay rise (57 percent ), being able to work flexibly (50 percent), more challenging or exciting work (48 percent) and “support from my boss” (41 percent). Potentially, the last three of these factors may not have a significant financial impact on employers, and businesses that recognise and incorporate these factors into the workplace are more likely to outcompete their rivals in retaining and attracting skilled staff.

As an employment lawyer, I get to work with the best and the worst employers around. What is very noticeable is that the best employers have far fewer staff problems (factoring in the number of issues compared with the size of their workforce) than the worst, resulting in less expensive and time-consuming legal issues.

The best employers treat their staff fairly and speak to them with respect, provide flexibility where they can and tackle any performance issues early, before they become unmanageable. They publicly recognise employees who have done well (which can be as simple as an all-staff email, praising an employee for landing a big client or overcoming a significant challenge) and ensure staff who  have worked under pressure on a particular deal or project are rewarded at the end (a couple of paid days off or a voucher for a nice restaurant or even a written, heartfelt thank you can be very motivating).

Good communication is another hallmark of the best employers. Regular one-on-one meetings can often identify and head off any potential problems relating to physical and/or mental health, performance issues and employee to employee relationship problems. In employment law, the old adage of “an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure” very much applies.

Identify junior staff with the potential and the desire for advancement and encourage them to upskill. This may involve identifying and paying for suitable courses and/or pairing them with a senior mentor. This is a win-win for both employee and employer; employees who can see a future with the company are more likely to stay around and can also provide an employer with some cover if a senior employee suddenly leaves.

A social club is another way that employees can feel connected to the company and to their colleagues, so if your workplace doesn’t already have one ask around and see how employees feel about it. Events do not have to be expensive or flashy; it may just be a couple of hours off on a Friday afternoon every few months with a barbecue and a couple of drinks (ensuring host responsibility is in place if alcohol is involved).

If you are unsure what would make your employees happier in their work, ask everyone to complete an anonymous survey as to what might make work a better place to be. Research has repeatedly shown that happy employees are more productive and loyal to their employer. A happy employee may go that extra mile when needed; an unhappy employee will do no more than is required, and less if they can get away with it.

Treating employees well just makes good business sense, but in the current tight job market, it may become the difference between success or failure. Keeping employees happy may not cost a fortune, and the savings in lower staff turnover and higher productivity will potentially pay for any financial investment.

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About Author

Erin Burke

Employment Lawyer and Director at Practica Legal Email: erin@practicalegal.co.nz phone: 027 459 3375