It’s feeling a bit tough out there. If you spend any amount of time at all reading news, perusing socials, or generally connecting with the business community, you’ll have an inkling of the caution (and worry) that many Kiwi business owners are experiencing, right along with the official markers of business confidence that confirm that yes, the NZ economy is in recession.

We won’t get into the factors that make for a challenging environment, suffice to say, there’s a tightening of belts happening across the nation.

Sometimes when a business shifts into coping/emergency mode, some of those key pillars that ensure a healthy organisation can begin to slip away.

This is particularly an issue for businesses on the smaller size, where there is not typically enough headcount to require or justify internal HR resourcing. Being on the smaller size can make it easier to move into an ‘all hands on deck’ operating approach (useful), which in turn may mean that the people-care tasks held by employees, alongside their core work, are dropped, or put aside for later (not so good).

While rightly focusing on keeping the wheels turning, the knock-on effect is that the time, resources and attention otherwise given to people care—erroneously seen as extras—is reduced. Our argument is that these factors are actually fundamental to good business. They enable and promote good culture, high performance, and in turn, healthy profit making.

Here’s a list of some of the common mistakes that can happen during challenging times:

1) Neglecting strategic people-planning

Small business has a tendency to underestimate the importance of strategic HR planning even when business is flourishing, but particularly when it is not. This looks like an absence of workforce planning, no structure for compensation, and a lack of policies for hiring, training, performance management or the development of employees. After all, there’s just a few of you in the business, you can wing it, right?  However, it’s precisely when times are tough that having a road map, with enough flex to adapt to the context or environment, allows everyone in your business to keep on trucking, knowing what is expected of them.

2) Onboarding? What onboarding?

It’s a very common scenario. There’s unplanned or unexpected turnover, you need to hire a replacement, and given the climate, that new hire really needs to hit the ground running. While the ROI isn’t immediately obviously, failing to provide a comprehensive, effective onboarding process including an induction can quickly lead to a less-than-ideal level of engagement for that new employee, (not to mention, their teammates). It is crucial for new hires to feel welcomed, to fully understand their new role, the company culture, and what is required of them and that they have the tools and knowledge to work effectively—which is what onboarding delivers. This is even more critical when the stakes are higher.

3) Lack of clear communication

Busy fighting fires? Negotiating better prices with suppliers? Keeping the wheels turning is no doubt important. But without clear communication, both ways, and regular contact, it doesn’t take much for your employees to feel uninformed and disconnected. This can lead to misunderstandings, and a lack of alignment with your company’s goals. Don’t let those regular meetings slip, keep employees informed about what’s going on.  Along with keeping the communication flowing, it pays to have a procedure in place for handling workplace conflicts, which in times of stress can quickly escalate and affect the work environment. Be clear about appropriate channels to use, giving clarity on who to talk to, when to escalate, and when and where it’s ok to vent!  

4) Ignoring feedback

In a similar vein, it can feel like ‘now is not the time’ when it comes to asking your people how they are feeling. You are all just getting on with it, right?  But not asking your people for feedback, or ignoring the feedback you do get, can rapidly lead to grumbles of dissatisfaction and feelings of not being valued.  

5) Ineffective management of performance

It’s not uncommon for small businesses to lack formal performance review processes.  For example, if you have grown from founder and founding employees but are still on the smaller size, say, under 20 employees. In this situation it may seem simpler,  or more practical and realistic to review performance on an informal basis, the occasional chat over coffee about future plans, or dealing with issues on the fly, when they arise. This may work for you, but it can be risky. We believe that while the systems don’t needed to be particularly sophisticated or complex, it IS necessary to have a framework, timetable and approach to talking about performance, in place. Particularly if you have aspirations and plans for future growth.  A key danger area is ambiguity around a job role and its expectations, which especially in times of pressure, can quickly affect both motivation, and performance.

6) Not prioritising well-being

Overlooking the importance of work-life balance, mental health, and overall wellbeing can lead to stressed out workers, or even burnout—and high turnover rates. We know that ‘workplace wellness’ can feel like a behemoth reserved for big corporate, but don’t be put off. It’s actually pretty simple to have a wellbeing policy in place, and to take actions and small decisions that will lead to better wellbeing outcomes for you and your people.

7) Failure to comply with legal requirements

A bit like the home admin that slips when life gets busy, it’s easy to overlook or put aside compliance when you are really focused on core business. But not staying updated with the latest employment laws, tax requirements or work safety regs can lead to legal and financial repercussions. As you can imagine, this isn’t a great situation!   This aspect of people-care needs to go to to the top of the list. Keep up-to-date by visiting Employment NZ, or if you subscribe to our newsletter, we send regular updates, relevant to small to mid sized Kiwi businesses.

The upside: the fix is easy

Take the attitude that understanding these potential people-care mistakes is a bit like potholes in the road: when you are able to see the possible problems upfront, it becomes that much easier to avoid them!

The solution does not have to equate to a huge amount of work or large volumes of resourcing for your small business. Understanding the value of this level of people care is step 1. The awareness of potential risky outcomes is step 2. Then, take the time to develop a high level plan for people-care, and cascade it down to addressing each of the points above, in the order where you think makes most sense for your unique context; although hot tip, keeping communication flowing is always a useful start.

We write about what we know, and people-care is our core business. If you would like assistance, or advice for any of the above, please email us at or call +64 9 300 7224.