Restrictions lifted but long road to recovery ahead
New Zealand has been at COVID-19 Alert Level 1 for some time now. While borders remain closed, as of June 8 lockdown restrictions were lifted, removing limits on public gatherings and allowing workplaces to reopen. Has this signalled a return to normal for working Kiwis?

‘Normal’ has taken on a new meaning in the shadow of COVID-19. The way we work – and in many cases, where we work from – has changed, and we’re all feeling the difference.

Independent research conducted on behalf of SEEK provides deeper insight into how Kiwis feel about their working situations. Here’s a snapshot of the latest findings.

Most workers are feeling the difference

With lockdown restrictions lifted, it could be expected that people’s working lives are showing signs of returning to their pre-COVID routine. While more people are feeling like their working situation has returned to normal in June (12% compared to 5% in May), there are still 70% who feel their situation differs as a result of COVID-19.

Employers are also experiencing a change, says Angela Cameron,CEO of Consult Recruitment Specialists.

“The biggest change is the attitude toward flexible working,” she says. “A lot of organisations have realised that flexible working is not a big scary thing. For those who weren’t prepared, or who didn’t really support flexibility, it was forced upon them and, as a result, they have been able to reimagine what their organisation might look like and how it might operate in the future. It has advanced us toward the future of work much faster than many expected.”

Employers are also placing greater attention on the mental health of employees, Cameron says. “The lockdown took its toll on mental health and it has become a greater focus for employers,” she says. “A lot of companies have rallied around their employees, which is great. There is more willingness to talk about mental health and people really value employers who can acknowledge the importance of mental health and support healthy work environments.”

SEEK’s Resident Psychologist, Sabina Read has tips on how to have productive mental health conversations in the workplace – see the video here.

Parents are much more likely to continue working from home

As many New Zealanders returned to the office in June, the number of people working from home declined to 32% in June (compared to 48% in April and 41% in May). But working parents are almost twice as likely (41% vs 21%) to continue working from home as they juggle their work and family responsibilities.

Cameron says that employers should recognise that working from home suits some people more than others, regardless of their caring responsibilities.

“Some parents value this flexibility and others may find it harder to divide their focus between parenting and work when they are at home. Everyone is different, so it’s best for employers to have the conversation and not assume.”

However, Cameron adds that the lockdown has made employers more aware of their teams’ home life. As a result, she says they are more open to flexible start and finish times and working from home.

“When you are doing Zoom calls and you can see someone’s lounge room and their kids in the background, you can feel more connected to them as a person,” says Cameron. “I think the lockdown has allowed employers to get to know their people a bit more.”

Read more:

A simple guide to workplace flexibility

4 tech tools to help your team work remotely

5 ways to help your employees work well from home

Economic performance fuels uncertainty

The pandemic created widespread uncertainty and, despite feeling more secure in their current jobs, only 62% of New Zealanders are feeling optimistic about future job prospects, compared to a high of 72% reached in February this year.

Doug Steel, Senior Economist with BNZ, says that while there was a sharp rise in economic activity when the lockdown was lifted, it may take years for the country’s GDP levels to return to pre-COVID levels.

“The economy was hit hard when we went into lockdown and the lift in June was a bounce from an absolute low,” he says.

“I think people are very aware of the fact that the government financial support is due to stop in September and the country will have to stand on its own two feet. That may be contributing to the sentiment of uncertainty about the future.”

Upskilling is high on the employee agenda

With 70% of New Zealanders planning to upskill, reskill or retrain at some point in the next six months, training may be a valuable attraction and retention tool. In fact, one in three Kiwis have made the decision since COVID-19 to upskill, reskill or retrain.

Cameron says that while training is attractive to candidates, salary and job security are stronger drivers of attraction in the current economic climate.

“We can see that people are interested in training at the moment to ensure that they have the relevant skills for the future, but we haven’t really heard of employers talking about training at the moment.

“In terms of retention and attraction tools, training is not the first thing to use at the moment,” adds Cameron. “It’s more about money, job security and career opportunities. But this will change – I think in six months’ time, when people are feeling more comfortable, training will become a greater focus for employers.”

Read more: Why training matters now (and how to maximise your budget)

As 2020 has shown us, a lot can change in the space of six months. We’ll continue to keep you posted on how the market moves.
*Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK. Interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually.