Employers are already keenly aware that labour shortages in many sectors, exacerbated by border restrictions, have made it hard to recruit staff in many sectors.

Now research strongly suggests that bosses need to worry about retaining their current workers, too.

The latest instalment of AUT’s [email protected] survey, which covers intentions to jump, should ring alarm bells for employers, says the academic behind the rolling survey of 1000 Kiwi workers.

Worryingly, it finds that more than half of healthcare workers on the Delta frontline are thinking about throwing in the towel.

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Dr Jarrod Haar, a human resource management professor with the university’s School of Business, sampled attitudes at three points during the pandemic: May 2020, December 2020 and April this year.

He’s found that workers’ intention to leave their current job has risen sharply during the pandemic – with staff in skilled positions the most likely to be thinking about moving to greener pastures.

Internationally, and especially within the US, there is a lot of talk about the “great resignation” – the informal name for the widespread trend of a significant number of workers leaving their jobs during the pandemic, Haar says.

“The findings suggest the great resignation may well be happening in New Zealand,” the AUT academic says. “Perhaps differently from overseas. The biggest driver here is the lure of new job opportunities – more pay, more personal development, or more ‘making a difference’.”

Imagine if we woke up to discover that half of our doctors, nurses and healthcare workers had chucked in their jobs, Haar says.

His example is purely hypothetical, but uses it to underline that those manning our pandemic frontlines have among the lowest job satisfaction, and the highest leaving intentions.

His demographically-weighted, nationwide survey found those working in the health sector had among the highest leaving intentions, with 55 per cent thinking about throwing in the towel.

In IT, 46 per cent of staff had leaving intentions. In education, 39 per cent were thinking of quitting.

Perceptions around job opportunities have also changed.

In 2020, roughly half of employees felt they had some decent job opportunities available to them. But by April 2021, this perception had increased by almost a third, to 66 per cent.

Of course, there’s been a major development since the April tranche of the [email protected] survey – the Delta outbreak.

Does Haar think the new, open-ended round of lockdowns, and attendant economic uncertainly, would have dampened workers’ leaving intentions.

“I do think the Delta outbreak might dampen enthusiasm,” but he also points out that Delta is just the latest development in a Covid-19 disruption that, contrary to expectations, has made workers more mobile.

He says someone who’s a chef might be worried about Delta’s effect on their sector, and whether they could get a job at another restaurant. But they could still be thinking about leaving – just for another industry rather than another hospitality role.

Haar says the findings should be a wake-up call for employers and further incentivise them to look after and retain their current employees.

This is particularly relevant when restrictions on employment mobility from overseas are so tight, he says.

“Within the context of Covid, access to the international labour market is slight. Employers need to recognise that there may be few new employees – especially quality employees – to recruit. Holding on to current employees and looking after their wellbeing is key to keeping the Kiwi workforce, economy and society at large as healthy as possible in these pandemic times.”

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