Staffing shortages: Companies need to adapt if they want to retain staff, recruitment agencies say

By Leonard Powell for RNZ 

Recruitment agencies say COVID has changed the business landscape, as employees call the shots with demands of hybrid working, more money, more time off and even requests to bring pets to work.

Madison Recruitment said New Zealand's working environment has progressed 10 years over the past two years, as companies struggle to find staff.

With the rising cost of living, it has led to some companies offering sweeteners to bring staff back into the office, whilst others like New Zealand tech company Vista Group allow all employees to knock off at 1pm on Fridays.

After an unsettling two and a half years, people's working habits are changing fast. Experts are calling it an "employees market" with job seekers not afraid to lay out their expectations from employers, whether it is better pay, working from home, or even allowing pooches in the office.

Seek NZ country manager Rob Clark said the script had been flipped on its head.

"It's really competitive out there. Companies and organisations are having to think quite differently about how to attract talent.

"Pre-pandemic it was probably a case of 'it's a privilege for you as a job seeker to come and work for me as an organisation' and that's now flipped on its head. Organisations are really having to work a lot harder to attract that talent because it's just more competitive."

Clark said it comes down to simple supply and demand.

"The employment landscape is still very much a candidate short one, and by that we mean the number of jobs has increased significantly and at a much faster rate than we've seen the number of candidates available.

"The outcome of that is we're seeing fewer applications per job. It's a market where there's a very high demand for candidates and there's just a relatively short supply of them compared to what we've been used to."

And there's one big carrot, in particular, that many people said is an absolute must.

"According to our research, four in ten job-seekers would resign from their role if working from home was not an option."

Seek said while job advertisements have levelled out over the past few months, they are still up 22 percent on last year and 35 percent higher than September 2019.

RNZ spoke to some people about how their professional lives have been transformed post pandemic.

A woman who works in the health administration sector said she would not go back to how things were before.

"Pre-Covid I worked full time in the office. Post-Covid I now have a hybrid working model where it's up to me how many days I do in the office or at home.

"I usually do about two to three days at home and then two to three days in the office. I love it, it's far better for my hauora.

"I will never go back to five days full time in the office. I might sound entitled as I've just started my career, but I know for the rest of my life I want a hybrid working model."

It is a sentiment echoed by this corporate worker, who said the hybrid approach had made his colleagues lighten up in the office.

"People are just way more chilled, way more casual."

Madison Recruitment general manager Christian Brown said jobseekers now call the shots.

"A lot of people that we are looking for work for, if they don't get some sort of flexibility, if they don't get some of these changes in their lifestyle that they're used to, they'll just put a line through that potential job."

Brown said these huge changes to employment relations have been rapid.

"It's like New Zealand has progressed sort of 10 years or so in the last two years. In terms of our attitudes towards flexibility, lots of the people that we see looking for work now see it as a necessity rather than a perk."

For some people new to jobs, office life is something they have never experienced at all.

This software engineer started his job a couple months after the first lockdown, and still works from home full time.

"When I first started my job, the only option was to be working from home. It's sort of maintained throughout, most people want to stay at home rather than going in to the office."

He said he found many perks working from home.

"There's less noise, you can concentrate a lot better when you're at home. Less distractions, more flexibility, and also no commuting right. There's literally no down more downsides. Even if we were at the office, we take the meetings online anyway."

New Zealand tech company Vista Group has offices in USA, South Africa, England, Mexico and the Netherlands.

To keep the staff happy, it's trailing a shortened week, as well as offering a hybrid working model.

Chief people officer Anna Ferguson said they liked what they had seen so far.

"Last year we introduced the four-and-a-half day work week, so all of our employees around the world get Friday afternoons off. We finish at 1pm and that has been enormously successful.

"We've got a really strong belief that what's good for our people is good for the business and that's transpired. We haven't had any drop in our customer service levels, we haven't had any drop in productivity.

"People really focus on what they need to do so that they can have that early afternoon on Friday."

Ferguson agreed that it is employee's market right now, and said companies need to adapt if they want to get and retain staff.

"I think it's true of both employees and potential employees that there's a strong sense of what they want from their employers and from the business.

"In a tight labour market, we need to listen to those concerns, and we should be. Flexibility has now become the norm, and I think if you can't offer flexibility then you'll be left behind."

The latest statistics put New Zealand's unemployment rate at 3.3 percent, with figures from the August quarter expected to be released later today.