A specialist recruiter has revealed what keeps New Zealand's CEOs and top bosses awake at night - and the challenges they will face this year.

Research by specialist recruiter Robert Half found concerns about digital transformation, a deepening talent shortage, and global macro-economic tensions kept our business leaders tossing and turning in 2019.

The annual independent study surveyed 302 business leaders in New Zealand.

Leaders completed a questionnaire about job trends, talent management, and trends in the workplace.

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Here are the top three concerns for those in the executive suite.

1. Global conditions and business confidence

New Zealand's economy is generally strong but domestic economic conditions are forecast to slow over the coming 5 years which is a big concern for those at the top.

This is driven by deteriorating global financial conditions and uncertain trade policies underpinned by the US-China trade war and the impact of Brexit.

This has seen New Zealand business leaders take a cautious and wary view of the global growth forecast as major trading partners to navigate their own tightening economic outlook for 2020.

Nearly half (48 percent) of New Zealand business leaders consider economic uncertainty to be one of the top three biggest challenges that they will face this year.

This is followed by 42% who point to increasing competition.

And more than one in three (34%) highlight the growth of emerging markets as part of their top three external concerns.

Megan Alexander, General Manager at Robert Half New Zealand said the New Zealand market was particularly susceptible to the impact of macro-economic global
fluctuations such as Brexit or the US-China trade war.

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"It's not surprising, therefore, that the global growth and stability of our trade partners is currently a top concern among business leaders in New Zealand," she said.

"These geopolitical and economic challenges can place a heavy burden on innovation, entrepreneurialism and creative thinking within companies at a time when many companies are being disrupted."

2. Keeping up the Technology

Technological changes are a primary concern for 40 percent of New Zealand business leaders.

Technology dominates the business agenda and even though the advantages of digital transformation are well-known, business leaders are faced with the hurdles of leveraging the potential of tech opportunities.

Sourcing technically-skilled talent upskilling existing workforces will be a significant challenge.

Companies who don't will not only miss out on internal benefits but also fall behind competitors and lose a long-term competitive edge.

"From improving customer experience to leveraging data and AI for enhanced productivity, business leaders have the daunting capacity to enhance nearly every aspect of their organisation through technology," Alexander said.

"It is not simply about implementing new operating systems and processes - they must also drive behavioural change (and) cultivate a workforce who can leverage the potential of the emerging tech."

3. Mind the (talent) Gap

Access to talent is a key concern for business leaders across New Zealand, with 37% considering this to be a major external issue.

New Zealand's tight labour market is expected to hinder their projected growth potential.

A declining unemployment rate, aging population, and slowing migration rates will see demand for skilled labour outstrip labour market growth.

Managing workloads (31%), keeping up motivation and engagement (30%), and improving team productivity (29%) are the three biggest talent management concerns for New Zealand managers.

Companies needed to finetune staff attraction and retention programs as well as develop comprehensive training programs to ensure staff could keep up with digital transformation Alexander said.

"Employers need to think longer term about employing candidates with common values that they can develop through ongoing development and cultural emersion."