Employers will demand greater productivity from their existing staff this year before they make fresh hires, according to the latest Employment Trends report released by recruitment consultant Hudson NZ.
The report summarises employers' human resources priorities for the year and whether they intend to increase, maintain or decrease staffing levels.
Almost a third of employers surveyed (30.8 percent) said enhancing their existing staff's performance and productivity was their top priority for 2013, with close to two-thirds not planning to hire new staff in the near future.
"Most companies are asking more of their people," executive general manager of Hudson New Zealand Roman Rogers said in a statement.
"But employers need to realise they can only go so far before this becomes counter-productive."
Workloads had increased for more than half of employees compared to the previous year.
Without strong leadership and a focus on engaging staff to keep them on board, staff turnover would increase and work against attempts at raising productivity.
He suggested business leaders would need to use different skills as growth started to kick in.
"Over recent years organisations have been moving to try to manage costs, and their mission now is to win the hearts and minds of their people," he told BusinessDesk.
"They need to invest in the quality of leaders by developing leaders as coaches."
New technology had the potential to increase productivity, with some organisations reporting gains of up to 30 percent by allowing employees to work away from main offices or remotely.
Mr Rogers suggested robust internal communications and greater employee participation in decision-making as other ways for employers to get the most out of their existing workforce.
"A lot will hinge on the extent to which organisations are being clear with their people around what constitutes good performance," he said.
"Employers need to spend more time with their staff and ask clever questions, and not be precious about where the answers are coming from."
In keeping with the past three quarters, more than half of profiled employers (61.8 per cent) intended to keep their staff numbers steady this quarter, while 30.4 per cent said they would employ more people.
Mr Rogers said changes to this trend would likely occur on a regional basis, with Canterbury being the first to experience a rise in planned new hires.
"There are three quite different regional stories at the moment. Christchurch is going from strength to strength, while in the upper North Island, as long as there's a concern about the future, there will be a problem with hiring.
"This is going to be a slower return as opposed to a sharp one."
He cited the Christchurch rebuild and a continuing housing boom as drivers of increased staffing levels.
"As the rebuild picks up speed you'll see multiple sectors that wrap around construction showing an increase in positive hiring intentions, and North Island companies supplying the South Island can benefit from this.
"We expect to see rising confidence in sectors associated with residential development this year, flowing through from architects to building firms to all the associated trades."