Many directors have taken a big fee hit despite having to work harder and longer to deal with increased challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.
That's one of the key findings of annual research carried out by the Institute of Directors and EY in May, amid the country's first nationwide lockdown.
Of the 674 directors surveyed who held 1830 directorships almost a quarter of the organisations had stopped paying their non-executive directors completely and a further 16.4 per cent had reduced fees.
Of those whose fees dropped the average decrease was 18.7 per cent.
Michael Fraser, Institute of Directors general manager learning and branch engagement, said the coronavirus had put boards under more pressure with directors working harder for longer to deal with a lot of risk and business challenges.
"This virus is the biggest test many boards have faced and directors will be closely watching their organisation's cash position and solvency. Directors have to exercise courage in decision-making while putting health and wellbeing first."
Hours worked for non-executive directors rose from 169 in 2019 to 176 with more than half of directors (57 per cent) reporting an increase in time commitments. Directors had an average of four boards they sat on.
Of those surveyed 8.5 per cent had introduced special committee meetings to respond to Covid and a further 10.2 per cent changed existing committee meetings to focus on issues arising from the pandemic.
The majority of organisations (83.7 per cent) held board meetings virtually during the lockdown with under 5 per cent delaying meetings until after lockdown lifted.
But despite the increase in time spent dealing with the crisis the average fee rose just 0.8 per cent to a median $46,700.
And non-executive directors' fees on boards of New Zealand-owned organisations went down.
They saw median annual payments for their services drop by 3.6 per cent, down by $1700 to $45,000 for the year.
Board chairs fared better as their remuneration increased by 3.6 per cent to a median fee of $60,000.
Fraser said directors' fees were low in New Zealand when taking into account the skill and experience they had and the regulatory risk they face.
"Many directors do it for passion or purpose."
The largest median fee increase was in the government administration and safety industry which rose 13.2 per cent followed by the professional, scientific and technical services industry which saw an average rise of 9.7 per cent.
Una Diver, EY Partner people and advisory services, said directors' commitments were increasing but the fees for services had stayed about the same.
"While workloads have increased, corresponding fee levels have not followed the same trend."
Diver said the role of governance during this pandemic was enormous.
"Governance doesn't stop. Directors have to be thinking about rebalancing their capital and costs; and looking after their workforce.
"Some organisations have had to let staff go, while other staff were redeployed or furloughed. Some of the jobs lost will never come back as they were, as organisations and consumers have changed the way they interact."
Diver said the lockdown had seen the rise of the online worker and a flexi-place workforce.
"Not all sectors, industries or organisations surveyed have felt the impact equally – trends vary across the 18 sectors and types of entity. But it's clear boards of Kiwi organisations decided to do more for less in order to help as many of those organisations as possible recover, as quickly as possible."
Since the end of the first lockdown EY had carried out more research focused on larger private companies and found 93 per cent intended to make the director fee changes only on a temporary basis with most lasting for between three and six months.
Diver said she suspected some companies would again be thinking about what to do about director fees if the alert level 3 lockdown dragged on in Auckland.
Asked about the longer-term impact on directors Fraser said some may step down because the industry the organisation was involved in had changed so much but others with crisis management experience or rebuilding skill sets would step up.
Diver said directors with in-depth digital skills were in high demand but as hard to find as "chicken's lips".
"Literally you can not find them, they are difficult to recruit, they are almost unheard of in New Zealand and with the border shut are incredibly hard to bring in."
Fraser said the pandemic was also a game-changer because where there was risk there was also opportunity.