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Employment after lockdown – Expert Reaction

An estimated 400,000 New Zealanders have returned to work today.

But it’s still not known when the rest of the workforce will be able to get back to their jobs, and the Social Development Minister today said unemployment will rise before it improves.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the future of work.

Professor Elizabeth George, Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Auckland, comments:

“As more businesses open up, it is essential to remember all that we know about the gig economy and the potential precarity of workers engaged in that economy. So as UberEats advertises benefits to small business (which is great), what is it doing for its drivers? It is good that the economy will begin picking up from our move to level three. But at the same time, the bigger questions about the sustainability of the business models, from the perspective of working individuals, in the pre-COVID days remain unchanged.”

No conflict of interest.

Associate Professor Bernard Walker, College of Business & Law, University of Canterbury, comments:

“There is a perception that with the move to Level 3, the Covid-19 crisis will soon be over and we can get back normal. But is that true? No one knows how long the crisis will last. Globally, Covid-19 certainly has not been-and-gone. Some epidemiologists suggest that it is only just getting started. It is a highly contagious disease with potential for resurgences, or new strains to emerge. If a vaccine or treatment is developed, it probably won’t be in action until well into 2021.

“The post-Covid-19 world will not look like the ‘normal’ world we have known. Prior to the pandemic, that world was already changing in ways never seen before. Technological change is getting faster and more widespread, with artificial intelligence likely to replace half our jobs, and new Uber-like business models wiping out existing businesses. Climate change is an unleashed tiger, that the world has no coordinated response for, as countries wrestle with key questions around food, water and sustainability. There are questions as to whether our centuries-old model of government is capable of dealing with such large-scale problems. Inequality is increasing. Trade and economic power are also being radically reshaped, moving away from Europe and North America to new bases in China, Asia and developing countries.

“International consultants, the McKinsey Group suggest Covid-19 will bring a large scale restructuring of the global economic order. Some changes will involve a reversal of current trends. Recent decades saw for example, the demise of local industries and the explosion of global manufacturing, complex global supply chains, trade travel and tourism. Covid-19 may reverse this with moves toward trade protectionism, tightening immigration, a return to local products and services, and a move away from globalization.

“Not surprisingly, Covid-19 may also accelerate moves towards an automated, “contact-free economy”. Previous crises have seen a move to e-commerce and online shopping, and increases in the speed of automation. The new systems used for phone and online medical consultations across the world may continue as a longer-term pattern.

“Workplace innovations, ranging from decision and communication processes and remote working, may become lasting changes that will potentially create more flexible workforces and help gender equality.

“Government intervention in the economy, assisting citizens and supporting businesses, will set an ongoing pattern for the future, and the challenge will be when and how the governments will reduce this level.

“Consumer attitudes and behaviours may change significantly. People may become more cautious, more inclined to save rather than spend, affecting tourism, travel, and hospitality. Natural disasters have disrupted businesses but industries have largely survived. Covid-19 however, may bring major changes to the viability of whole sectors of NZ industry. We’re probably never going back to where we were before.”

No conflict of interest.

Associate Professor Sara Walton, University of Otago Business School, comments:

“Most of us do not know what the work environment was really like in the previous level two. We entered this on a Saturday, many returned to work that Monday and level three began at lunchtime. Much more is now known about Covid-19, which means the future level two will be a cautious one. One in which we will still be bound by social distancing principles and organisations will be working out what that means for them and their employees. What can be learned from operating at level four, and how will this influence the way we work in level two?

“We now know that some work can be done at home, and not everybody needs to go to a communal place. In larger workplaces those that can stay at home should be strongly encouraged to do so. In smaller workplaces where transmission can be easily traced, work can be somewhat normal. Health and safety is going to be paramount. The health & safety planning process and resulting plans will be extensive. These will dictate physical distancing and when and where people can go to work. Like last time where workplaces had developed shifts these will be enforced more and people will have workplace bubbles that they cannot break even in level two.

“For some workers there will now be no work despite the change in level. Many workers across Aotearoa have been made redundant through this process. Their work, and in some instances, their workplaces have gone.

“In the long term we know that new industries will emerge and jobs that currently do not exist will be created. History has shown that through disasters and crisis new industries and jobs emerge to replace those industries that are no longer appropriate in the ‘new normal.’ Over time we will see these shifts and changes in the types of work and workplaces emerging. Until then, and as our bubbles expand, we need to continue to look after people and continue being kind.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr. Paula O’Kane, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management (HRM), University of Otago Business School, comments:

“As we move into alert level three with many people still working from home, we are pondering what our day-to-day working life will look like at level two and beyond. Individuals and organisations have adapted and learned quickly over these past few weeks. If we embrace the spirit our nation has exhibited – community, relationships, resilience, our number eight wire mentality – and trust in employees, the potential for reorganising how we work in level two and beyond can be inspiring.

“What can organisations and managers take forward from the collective lessons we have learnt from alert level four? Might we see this sudden, unplanned nation-wide social experiment on working from home become a more permanent reality for some? How should organisations venture into level two and what should they expect from their workforce?

“We urge organisations NOT to automatically move back to their status quo based on the premise that “workers will only be productive if they are front of me at all times”. This is still discouraged at level two but some organisations may argue for an unnecessary return to the physical workspace. Rather build on this new model that starts with the stance that work can be flexible and then figure out together how to manage work successfully for each individual.

“Many have realised that where and when you work does not matter, as long as the job is done, and results achieved. This means taking outcomes based view of work, a characteristic of highly successful organisations, but one that requires trust in employees and strong leadership that sets clear job outcomes and expectations, supporting people to work how they see best to achieve expected outcomes.

“For organisations, this can make them attractive to new employees from different geographical locations, increase employee motivation and commitment, and for the individual this could present new job opportunities, enhancing their skills and ultimately increasing their career prospects.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr Ian de Terte, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Massey University, comments:

“On Monday the 27th of April at 11.59 PM, we moved from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3. This change of alert levels does not mean much for essential workers as they worked at Level 4 and will continue to work at Level 3, but there may be issues that are unique to this section of the workforce.

“First, at some stage some essential workers may be extremely tired and fatigued from their efforts. Essential workers may have been “running on adrenaline”. One way to deal with this tiredness is be kind to yourself as you may not be as productive as you were previously. Furthermore, there may be a need to sleep, and that is okay.

Second, people have probably heard the term “survivor guilt”, where people survived an event when others have not. Some essential workers may experience this phenomenon is because they have jobs and others have lost their job due to the crisis. It is particularly important that people cope with this concept, by seeking the support of others in similar situations to them.

“Finally, letting go may very hard for some people as working more may be a way to alleviate some of the guilt that they experience. However, it is extremely important for essential workers to lead a balanced lifestyle, and to be able to say no to working more hours and not feel guilty about doing so.”

No conflict of interest.