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NZ’s tech HR departments battle major challenges as borders reopen

Heather Polaschek has over 13 years’ experience in Human Resources and joined RUSH in April 2022 after initially being impressed by the company’s success in creating the NZ COVID Tracer App. She is a driving force for change at one of New Zealand’s leading technology design studios as she continues to champion initiatives and HR frameworks to take the company to the next level.

OPINION: New Zealand’s border reopening signifies a significant period of change for the New Zealand workforce and HR professionals across the country. For the first time in over two years, we will welcome thousands of vital workers to our shores to plug the gaps which only widened over the pandemic. However, at the same time many of our friends, family and colleagues are planning on departing New Zealand for travel and career opportunities, creating a tumultuous time for many Kiwi businesses.

These changes emphasise the need for businesses to stand out from the pack so they can attract and retain skilled talent. As HR professionals leading the charge for our people and our business, much of this challenge falls on us. The key to having your business thrive, rather than just survive, is fostering a welcoming culture of care and innovation that keeps your people engaged in the company, hitting the mark with your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategies, and implementing sustainable, wellbeing-focused initiatives.

War for Talent

The Great Resignation, the Brain Drain, the Talent Shortage— whatever you call it – it’s creating a situation where there are significantly more job vacancies than applicants. The result is an increasingly competitive recruitment landscape where skilled employees are being actively pursued by multiple organisations and constantly presented with outside opportunities, while their employer tries to hold onto staff by offering added benefits.

The IT sector has been particularly impacted by the talent shortage as the demand for experienced professionals outstrips the number of employees coming through our educational institutions. Previously, tech companies were able to plug these gaps with overseas talent, but that all changed when our borders shut in 2020. Since then, the deficit has increased and many valued employees in the sector are expected to leave for overseas opportunities in the coming months.

Read more: Is working anywhere in the world the culture we need?

One of the most concerning issues in the tech industry at the moment is that many companies are targeting the competition’s talent and fighting to entice talent away into new and appealing roles. It’s certainly one strategy that’s been deployed against an inevitable need. But for many organisations, taking a different approach can pay dividends. At RUSH, our focus remains on retaining the incredible talent we currently have on our roster and ensuring they have the best possible work environment for them to thrive.  

And that’s absolutely key – creating an environment where people are challenged and rewarded, love their work and their company, and have the opportunities to grow their careers by branching into areas of tech that interest them, is one approach that many tech companies take to retain talent. In doing this, organisations not only create a company where people want to stay, but we also attract talent who value the philosophy and see benefits in the culture, which is something we pride ourselves on at RUSH.  

Our Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Danushka Abeysuriya, has been driving the positive culture forward ever since the inception of RUSH many years ago, and that is evident through our hiring process, the people we bring in and the decisions which are made within our business. 

We hire people who care deeply about humankind and are committed to bettering it. RUSH’s purpose is “To design technology to better serve humankind,” and our employees hold the company true to deliver on its purpose – they live it each day by regularly interrogating the work we take on, as well as what we do for the community outside of ‘the work’.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Recently, Kiwis have been pushing harder for societal change on how we as a country view Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) and its relationship to a business’s overarching objectives. As a result, we are noticing an increasing number of potential and current employees who are making career decisions based on our policies. These changes make DE&I vital to businesses and many companies are making it a focus of their HR departments.

But despite everyone talking about DE&I, it can always be done better. At the moment, many businesses are only focusing on one area of the issue but are neglecting others. For example, there is currently a major push for gender representation, which is very important, but other key dimensions of DE&I like accessibility, culture, religion, and age are often forgotten.

Accessibility is one area that’s most commonly forgotten but the Government’s establishment of the new Ministry of Disabled People emphasises its importance. At RUSH, we’ve been on a journey to upskill in accessibility for the past year and have developed an accessibility charter which will enhance the way we approach digital product design and development.

At RUSH, we’ve been on a journey to upskill in accessibility for the past year, and have developed an accessibility charter which will enhance the way we approach digital product design and development.

For businesses in the tech industry, one of the key concerns is the lack of gender and ethnic representation among our workforce. The 2021 report Digital Skills for our Digital Future, which was prepared by the New Zealand’s Digital Skills Forum, found women only make up 27 percent of New Zealand’s information technology employees. Māori make up only 4 percent, and Pasifika – 2.8 percent.  At RUSH, we are partnering with educational training institute Techtorium to speak to Māori, Pasifika and wahine high school students to advocate for the tech industry.

While initiatives and policies to boost diversity, equity and inclusion can be implemented now, it’s even more important for businesses to start looking ahead and analysing how they want the technology industry to be represented. RUSH is always looking at new ways to engage with diverse individuals and communities who are in the early stages of their career, at schools and tertiary institutes. If you’re educating, inspiring and encouraging young Kiwis of all abilities, ethnicities and genders to consider futures in tech with broad and achievable opportunities, the industry will be in the best hands going forward with our up-and-coming future tech leaders.


While implementing health and safety protocols to prevent injuries has always been common practice (as well as a legal requirement), only recently have we seen a major shift in New Zealand businesses offering health and wellbeing programmes to reduce stress and fatigue in the workplace.

According to The Southern Cross Health Insurance – BusinessNZ Workplace Wellness Survey 2021, 51 percent of organisations believe their role in the health and wellbeing of employees increased in 2020. It also found 66 percent of businesses reported an increase in stress levels amongst employees, with 91 percent citing COVID-19 as the partial reason why.

Rather than implementing yoga in the office (although it’s a good start), RUSH is re-evaluating how our team’s work, including location, hours and workloads. An important aspect of this is engaging with employees and actively listening to their thoughts, suggestions and perspectives on what they want to see implemented at their organisation. We use our engagement tool Peakon to not just measure wellbeing as a metric, but to also seek constant feedback about what is working well, what can be better, so we can make changes based on this feedback.

Your people need to be considered in every business decision that directly affects them and the impacts should be made clear, because without our people, we don’t have a business.

RUSH highly values the flexible hybrid working approach that has been adopted since the ongoing lockdowns from 2020, but we also appreciate the importance of human connection and how people thrive off in-person contact. This allows our staff to continue fostering relationships and improving communication within their office hours but also provides a few days at home for critical thinking on large scale and more technical projects.

It’s evident other businesses have adopted this approach too, not only in the tech sector but across the board. Continuing to support your staff with a flexible and hybrid working approach that can also remain sustainable for your business’s objectives will help keep them happy and content.

The key takeaways which are evident from these challenges facing the tech and HR industries at the moment is the importance of supporting and uplifting our people. We should be putting our people first and taking the culture forward, which starts at the top.  I’d like to see the future CEOs, Chief Product Officers, Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers, and industry leaders to come out of RUSH. I want us to have the future generation of the tech world in New Zealand. That’s what we should be aspiring to, and I think we’ve got the talent here to be able to do just that.

Heather Polaschek is the Head of People and Culture at one of NZ's leading tech companies, RUSH.

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