Last year, employers had one overriding problem to address: how could they recruit/poach/scrounge/bribe enough decent people to handle the endless stream of projects flowing from well-capitalised clients?

Well it’s not like that anymore. For housebuilders, the problem has become exactly the reverse, and the rest of the industry is looking hard at its payroll, too. For other firms that are exposed to the housebuilding and commercial sectors, business development has become a matter of life or death. Meanwhile, staff are competing with each other to be the last out of the office on a Friday evening.

Does this mean that firms can stop worrying about their employees’ personal development and general welfare? The answer to that is that motivation, training and pastoral care probably matter even more. Smaller firms have to deal with intensifying competition in the markets they are familiar with and look at ways of tackling those that they are not. Success will depend on how well their organisations can adapt and that is, at bottom, a staff issue. Larger firms have to chase the dirhams, rupees and yuang in the east and, as we argue on page eight, that stresses organisations almost as much as those that work for them: the firm has to keep its identity and staff have to be supported through what can be a disorientating experience.

Managers also have to decide how to deal with the distressing subject of redundancy. How they go about this has enormous implications, and not just for the people who go. As one housebuilder who’s been through the wringer points out, those who remain need to feel that the company has acted with honesty and humanity; after all, it could have been them.

Then there is the question of benefits. As we discover on page 18, they have to form part of a strategy designed to make sure the individual and the firm both get something out of them. Rather than take advantage of their quiescent workforce to cut terms and conditions, firms have to keep them motivated while large parts of the economic landscape disappear in puffs of acrid smoke. That means allowing them a social and a family life. As one HR managers puts it, happy staff will do voluntarily what unhappy staff will only do resentfully. And it’s the ability to balance the well-being of workers and the outfit that they work for that marks a good employer out from the rest.

Denise Chevin, editor, Building