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What's driving uncertainty for Kiwis?

woman in rain jacket looking left out on a cloudy lake in the rain

Feeling uncertain about what the future holds? You're not alone.

In a nutshell

  1. Drivers of uncertainty loosely fall into three interconnected categories: Personal, Cultural and Social.
  2. Personal circumstances such as financial instability, job security and family planning are the biggest driver of uncertainty for Kiwis.
  3. Further research into MindSets and uncertainty will reveal more about how Kiwis are feeling and behaving.

With fear and anxiety spiking globally, it seems many of us are feeling unsure about what lies ahead. We’re feeling this even more keenly in this part of the world with New Zealanders and Australians reporting even higher levels of uncertainty compared to our northern hemisphere counterparts. 

What’s driving this? And what can we do about it?  

Our recent quantitative study with over 4,400 New Zealanders delved deeper into the specific drivers of uncertainty for the people of Aotearoa, looking at what factors are keeping people up at night – and why. 

The survey respondents represented broad spectrum of New Zealanders, and were asked to rate how uncertain they felt their lives were and how much different aspects contributed to that uncertainty.

From this study, we were able to separate out the drivers of uncertainty into three categories: Personal, Cultural, and Social.  

Much like the roots, trunk, and branches of a tree, these drivers are both distinct parts and connected parts of a whole, supporting and impacting each other as one interlinked ecosystem. 

Personal Uncertainty – The Roots 

The first category is Personal Uncertainty, which includes financial insecurity, inability to plan ahead, and individual circumstances. For many New Zealanders, financial instability is a significant source of worry, especially in times of economic downturn. In addition, the inability to plan ahead can also be a significant source of stress, particularly when it comes to things like job security, housing, and family planning. Individual circumstances, such as health issues or relationship problems, can also create uncertainty and anxiety. 

Cultural Uncertainty – The Trunk 

The second category is Cultural Uncertainty, which includes global politics, climate change, and the direction of New Zealand as a nation. With the world changing rapidly, it's not surprising that many New Zealanders feel uncertain about the future. The political climate, both domestically and internationally, can have a significant impact on how people perceive the future and their place in it. 

Social Uncertainty – The Branches 

The third category is Social Uncertainty, which includes community and environmental disasters, as well as the cost of living. Community and environmental disasters can create a significant amount of uncertainty, particularly when they impact people's homes and livelihoods. Rising cost of living is another significant source of stress, particularly for those who are already struggling financially. 

One ecosystem 

Like the branches, trunk and roots of a tree, these categories are interlinked. Certain circumstances or events, such as a major weather event or political upheaval, can have a marked impact across all three categories. While cost of living hikes sits in the social category, we can see how it also becomes a personal driver if these changes are creating financial anxiety in an individual. 

Significant local climate events, such as natural disasters, cyclones or flooding are examples of how these categories can intertwine.  

The flooding itself falls under the social category as an environmental event that caused widespread uncertainty in the community. However, it also had an impact on many people’s personal lives, with property damage and even loss of life driving untold amounts of stress. Furthermore, for many, the flooding served as a potent reminder of the increasing impact of climate change, something that exists at a global scale and falls firmly in the category of a cultural uncertainty driver. 

The biggest driver 

Although drivers of uncertainty are interlinked, our research discovered that the most immediate and tangible driver of uncertainty among New Zealanders is Personal circumstances, followed by Cultural and then Social. Just like how the trunk and branches of a tree rely on strong roots to support and sustain its growth, it's people's personal lives that are the biggest driver of uncertainty. Financial concerns, inability to plan ahead, and individual circumstances all fall under this category. 

While this may not come as a surprise to many, it’s interesting for organisations to be aware that while bigger community or global factors definitely drive uncertainty, the most tangible way we can provide help and support to people is through mitigating uncertainty in their personal lives.  

What this looks like will vary greatly depending on who you are, and who the people are that you’re trying to reach or help – but it’s a critical finding to keep in mind. 

What's next? Uncertainty and MindSets 

Uncertainty is a complex and multifaceted issue. Last year, we developed our Guiding Stars to help brands navigate uncertainty and better support the people they want to reach.  

Building off this, we’ll be diving deeper into this research in the coming weeks and months, including analysing how uncertainty is impacting different groups within our MindSets model, developed from surveys of 300,000 New Zealanders over the last five years.

Colleen Ryan
Partner at TRA
Colleen has a curious and strategic mindset fueled by 40 years of experience in business across Europe, North America and APAC countries. With a fascination and deep understanding of what it is to be human, specifically applying principles from cultural sociology, social psychology, behavioural science, and cultural analysis, she brings breakthrough insights to brand strategy, creative development and customer centricity.

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