Great Resignation risk: International recruiters eyeing unsettled Kiwi staff

The recruiter didn’t mince her words in the pitch.

“The average house price in Queensland is $570,000, and with the Brisbane Olympics, there is a lot of opportunity,” read the message on LinkedIn.

It was one of seven headhunting offers that a worker in the construction industry told the Herald he had received over the past couple of months.

In many of these messages the theme was similar: Australia pays better and has cheaper houses.

The worker, who agreed to talk to the Herald on condition of anonymity, said he used to get a few messages once in a while but never with the regularity he’s seen recently.

The gradual opening of New Zealand’s border has taken the local fight for talent international. Now, local employers not only have to ward off the advances of competitors in New Zealand, but they also need to be aware of the growing interest from abroad.

Given that New Zealand is sitting at a record low unemployment rate of 3.2 per cent and Australia isn’t far off at 4.2 per cent, employers are fighting hard to secure the available talent.

And while we might see some New Zealanders returning to this country, the open border has heightened the risk that Kiwis locked in over the past 24 months will look to dust off their passports and take their skills abroad.

International migration statistics released by Stats NZ on March 14 showed a net migration loss of 7500 people for the year ended January 2022. This is a reversal from the net gain of 25,000 a year earlier.

Adding further allure to working abroad is the growing number of countries that offer nomad visas to workers who can do their jobs remotely. Portugal, Germany, the Bahamas, Seychelles and the Czech Republic are just some of the countries that have rolled out visas that invite remote workers into their borders.

This risk of departure is greatest among younger workers who have been denied the opportunity of the traditional overseas experience, but it will also be evident among those who are feeling a growing sense of burnout and frustration with their existing roles.

Research released by Southern Cross Health Insurance this week showed that only 35 per cent of Kiwi workers enjoy going to their job every year.

The survey of 1051 employees across a range of sectors, including utilities, retail, education, healthcare, hospitality, agriculture and administration, found the lowest enjoyment level among those working in manufacturing (24 per cent).

Among the starkest findings was the fact that 17 per cent of workers feel burnt out and only one in five (19 per cent) said they have a better work/life balance following the outbreak of Covid-19.

Around 15 per cent of respondents went even further, saying that the pandemic has made them entirely reassess their career.

Worryingly, only 28 per cent of workers said they felt they received fair or competitive remuneration for the work they do.

Nick Astwick, the CEO of Southern Cross, said the international phenomenon of the Great Resignation posed a particularly high risk for New Zealand businesses that have a high contingent of unsettled or burnt-out staff.

“Businesses already have difficulty filling roles in a tight labour market, and this will only get worse if they have large numbers of unhappy employees silently looking to move on,” Astwick said.

“There is also a huge risk that New Zealand will lose a large swathe of young people, and the upwardly mobile, who want to move overseas after two years of closed borders.

“As CEO of the country’s largest health insurer, I’m navigating these very challenges, and many of [our] business customers have shared they’re also facing the same reality.

“We have a job as business leaders to step up and fight to keep our employees, because at the end of the day, a business’ biggest resource is its people.”

Dealing with burnout is easier said than done at a time when many businesses continue to operate amid the Omicron wave of infections.

“There’s no getting away from the fact that right now there is more pressure on employees working incredibly hard to keep organisations running amid increased workloads while other team members are off sick,” Astwick said.

Adding further pressure on the workforce is the fact that household contacts of positive cases are still required to isolate at home for seven days – a huge issue considering the speed with which Omicron is moving through the school system.

Which is not to say that workers who have the privilege of working from home have it easy.

Astwick says the divide between work life and home life is “becoming blended like a smoothie”. Switching off from the workday is incredibly difficult under these circumstances, and many workers unaccustomed to working from home have had to deal with a sense of isolation.

These factors all combine to make the pitches coming from overseas headhunters all the more attractive to workers desperate for change.

But Astwick says there are things business owners can do to ward off the threat of the great resignation hitting New Zealand.

“Businesses need to look at the reasons why people are happy in their job – which is having a supportive workplace, a good work/life balance, and flexibility – and use that information to increase the number of people who enjoy their job, and reduce the number of people feeling burnt out and reassessing their career,” he says.

“Getting those conditions right can mean greater retention of staff. There’s no denying the impact that employee turnover has on an organisation’s productivity and bottom line, so investment in building a purpose-driven culture that also encourages a feeling of belonging can help to retain a motivated and engaged workforce.”

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