THOUGHT LEADER : Better Times In A Tough Market

This year presents fresh set of challenges and opportunities for managers and employers. Businesses are emerging from the recession to face more demanding and competitive business environment, increasingly called the “new normal”. This is harder, faster environment than before the downturn. While the signs of an economic recovery are building momentum, it’s likely to be slow and gradual process with real earnings expected to grow in the second half of 2010.
There are positive signs that confidence is improving in the job market. This is also reminder to employers that they need to monitor the mood of their workplace carefully and ensure they have the right mix of skills in place for the new normal. Often it is the blend of people, specialist skill-sets and relationships that give businesses competitive edge, which is all-important as companies fight to protect and grow their business.
The results of the latest Hudson Report: Employment Expectations survey confirm the rising sentiment in the job market and returning confidence of employers. The net proportion of employers indicating positive intention to increase their permanent workforce reached 19.6 percent for this January-March quarter. This represents an upward trend for the third consecutive quarter. But even while employers are now focused on shaping their business for growth, the confidence expressed in the survey does vary according to different regions and sectors, and this is in line with expectations that the economic recovery will be patchy for while yet.
The IT sector continues to be the most optimistic with net 40 percent of employers expecting to hire – although this is conditional on the expectation that businesses will revisit and implement projects that have been on hold during the downturn. Skill shortages throughout the technology sector place high value on the jobs available in this industry.
At this time of year, many businesses will be assessing if they have the right skills in place to maximise opportunities and reduce risk throughout 2010. For many, having to decrease their teams is recent memory so some are cautious about committing to permanent hires. Businesses need to think about the skills needed to enable growth and weigh up the risks if the right skills aren’t in place. Contract or temporary staff can be way to address this or if the benefits of new hire outweigh the risks then don’t be afraid to take the plunge.
With job opportunities increasing employers and managers will face pressure to retain their top talent. Taking the pulse of your business and assessing the levels of motivation, stress and morale in the workforce will inform the kind of strategies that organisations need to deploy to maintain productive and high-performance team. As competition increases for top talent in the year ahead, postponing this kind of engagement with the people in your business means employers could be ignoring the potential undercurrents of dissatisfaction that lead to employees looking for better prospects elsewhere.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to proactively engage and invest in the people in your business. There’s no doubt that financial constraints will persist for most companies, so that raising or even re-instating remuneration packages will present challenges. But smart employers will look at alternative ways of rewarding and acknowledging their best people. Such measures include undertaking training initiatives internally, mentoring, and introducing flexible working hours and benefits tailored to the individuals in your workforce. Encouraging greater leadership skills and motivation through career development and assigning responsibility for special projects are also ways to recognise their contribution.
It’s vital to focus on building teams who are dedicated and confident about the direction the business is heading, since this will deliver the performance necessary to succeed.
Your people are best viewed as an investment rather than cost, since people are the fuel that drives business forward, and this investment will also improve the organisation’s employer value proposition, an important asset in your recruitment and retention strategy. In the year ahead those businesses pushing forward with renewed confidence and positive mindset throughout the organisation will have the attitude to succeed.

Marc Burrage is Hudson New Zealand’s executive general manager. copy of the Hudson Report can be found at http://nz.hudson.com/

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