Spreading The Load
By Kate Pierson
A crisis always seems to happen when you least expect it — you can thank Murphy’s Law for that.
When your business is hit by its arch-enemy, chaos, head on, it can feel like you’re living proof of the saying ‘everything comes in threes’, as one calamity leads to another. It’s like when the first of many precariously balanced dominos gets knocked over — one by one, they’ll all come tumbling down. It is a scenario Christchurch and all Cantabrians are now more familiar with than they would have ever chosen to be.
The worst part is, it’s often not until after the damage is done, you realise you really should have had some strong glue underpinning those dominos to keep them in place. But, even more importantly, in moments of mayhem, getting through is all about the availability of human resource, also known as human capital.
In short, you need to have fully-trained and knowledgeable employees who can step up to the professional plate and be you for a day, or hold the fort when you’re having to deal with logistics.
And, while we like to toy with the idea of forever when it comes to our own mortality, it’s an inescapable truth that we’re all destined for that great archaeological dig in the sky, and, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, it’s a fact of life that our departure may come sooner than we would like, or expect it to.
You might fancy yourself a good guardian angel, and might fit the profile quite nicely, but realistically, it’s a much smarter move to take up the guardian role in the bricks and mortar world and coach the core constituents of your operation so they can fill the managerial shoes in your absence — whether it is temporary or permanent.
Face up to the facts
According to Statistics New Zealand, 97 percent of New Zealand’s 470,346 businesses were employing less than 20 employees as of February 2010; 323,935 were employing only the proprietor, and businesses of 100 or more employees made up less than one percent of the total number of enterprises in
New Zealand. Needless to say, we’re not all Donald Trump heavyweights in New Zealand.
Having said that, our small to medium businesses still have a competitive edge in their own right. Problem is though, the bottleneck of experience and limited cross-pollination of knowledge means businesses are bankrupt of the human resource back-up systems they need in a crisis.
“On the whole New Zealand has a higher human capital risk than other economies,” Business NZ chief executive Phil O’Reilly says. “This comes down to a couple of things. We have on average, smaller companies than other economies, which means that when a company of 10 loses one staff it is significant.
“Secondly, the number of big companies we have in New Zealand is very small which means there is an immigration risk when qualified people leave New Zealand for career opportunities overseas. This is more of a macro issue however, as it is relative to the country as a whole and not just a threat to a company.”
O’Reilly says one of the primary concerns within small to medium business enterprises is that most don’t have anything that looks or feels like a human capital or human resource strategy. A significant part of this strategy should be upskilling so there are multiple parties who are capable of fulfilling a fundamental position in the business should the existing employee be absent.
A human capital strategy is also about retention, so the resources channelled into training and upskilling staff are an investment with long-term benefits. “Businesses need to be sophisticated when they are thinking about why their employees are turning up to work and how to retain them based on this understanding,” O’Reilly says.
“Employees do think of leaving their company from time to time but only about 10 to 15 percent of these people actually do. A business needs to know how to create engagement for employees and how to keep them.”
O’Reilly says there is a general misconception about how to retain staff and many organisations tend to associate human capital strategies with remuneration. “Pay is by no means a priority for employees when they consider staying with a company — for many in New Zealand it is not even in their top 10.
It is much more complex than that and for most it comes down to feeling valued and valuing the work they do. Don’t concentrate on pay benefits or you will misunderstand why people are working for you.”
Regular feedback, advice, training and assistance so staff know what they are doing are all highly important factors when retaining staff and employers can read books, attend courses and contract consultants to solidify their knowledge in this area.
“In an economic downturn one of the first things to go is generally the training budget which is not good,” O’Reilly says. “Companies need to look at how they can offer their employees new skills and experiences. This is about allowing them to do different things and giving them responsibility.”
The following organisations are at hand to offer help for employers and employees who may be suffering from anxiety, stress or trauma.
- Quake Support and Counselling 0800 777 846
- Psychosocial support via Victim Support 0800 842 846
- Anxiety Support Canterbury 03 377 9665
- Association of Counsellors (national office) 07 834 0220
- Child Youth and Family 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459)
- Community Alcohol and Drug Service (CADS) 03 335 4350
- HealthLine 0800 611 116
- Lifeline Aotearoa 0800 543 354 24hr helpline
- Ministry of Health 0800 611 116