When HR platform Employment Hero surveyed Australians in late 2021, it found 40% of workers planned to look for a new job in the next six months. Another 15% were already looking. People have been asking themselves big questions since 2020 saw workers sent home and turned their job prospects global. “You can either be a victim or an opportunist when it comes to ‘the great resignation’,” says Dr Ben Hamer, Future of Work lead at PwC Australia. “Acknowledge that people are going to leave and refocus your organisational priorities.” Here’s how.
A millennial switching jobs 17 times in their life is no longer just an intriguing concept; it’s happening. “Let go of this notion that employee loyalty is still a thing,” says Hamer, who believes leaders will struggle to manage employee mobility because it requires such a huge shift in mindset. Rather than asking themselves how to keep staff in the same role for as long as possible, Hamer says leaders should instead be thinking about how to position the organisation to be an employer of choice to attract talent. It’s also about “creating pathways that enable talent to have five completely different jobs internally, leveraging their core skill set”, rather than leave.
There’ll be certain things an organisation can’t offer, though. For instance, an employee’s desire for a stint at a startup is a career itch most companies can’t scratch. “So you let them go, but give them a reason to come back,” Hamer suggests. “You want them to get that experience – they’ll be better off for it – but then you want them to come back.”
Alumni programs play a role in engaging high-quality ‘boomerang employees’. IDC’s 2021 report The Business Impact of Corporate Alumni Networks found a competitive advantage in treating former staff like customers: they become powerful brand advocates. After all, re-hires slash onboarding costs. “Now is the time for organisations not to mitigate people leaving, but become the organisation people want to go to,” says Hamer.
Hamer, who’s on the board of the Australian HR Institute, says prudent employers will examine the demographic composition of their workforce. PwC’s recent survey of 1800 people for its What Workers Want: Winning the War for Talent report shows there’s a wide gap between what executives think their staff rank as most important (“alignment of values”) and what workers actually place in poll position (incidentally, employees awarded “values” a lowly 16th position). Rankings also vary among frontline staff versus office-based, carers and non-carers, city versus regional workers and by generation, salary and gender.
Hamer says pay, wellbeing and working with good people consistently head all cohorts’ rankings and that all organisations need to have those three right at the top. “What makes your organisation different is where you tinker around the edges,” he explains. “It’s not just about the people who work for you; it’s also the people you want to work for you.” He sees a future of diverse offerings. “We talk about an EVP [employee value proposition] becoming more akin to a health insurer’s extras plan – a Gen Z might want to study some more, but isn’t worried about additional superannuation contributions. So you dial up and down based on personal circumstance.”
He recommends using sign-on and retention bonuses, booming in construction, manufacturing and healthcare, as short-term instruments only. “Don’t just go throwing money at the problem,” he says. “What are other ways to make people feel valued?” Hamer adds that to find ‘good people’, bring a jobseeker’s potential peers into recruitment, rather than a human resources rep they’ll never meet again. “The balance of power has shifted from the employer to the employee. It’s not an interview process – it’s a sales process.”
Health and safety legislation in Australia requires organisations to have a duty of care to not only employees’ physical health but their mental health as well. The added challenges imposed by COVID have led to psychosocial hazards becoming increasingly significant in this area. “If you can show a clear clinical link between, for instance, a frontline worker’s PTSD and being exposed to significant events with high levels of trauma, that’s where liability comes in,” says organisational health advocate Dr Elizabeth Berryman.
If an employee reports online bullying and is then returned to the same situation without any process changes, the company is liable. It gets more complicated when work-from-home arrangements exacerbate a pre-existing condition of depression or anxiety. “Insurance companies are grappling with definitions,” says Berryman. “In workers’ compensation, this is something that’s growing.”
She points to health workers doing 100-hour weeks during the pandemic or “March Madness”, the taxation crunch that smashes consulting firms each year. “People will no longer work and work and work,” says Berryman. “They want their workplace to appreciate them as humans.”
The “tricky part”, she cautions, is that “some people do not want to declare what they’re going through to their employer”. She recommends engaging a third-party provider – either consultants or an employee assistance program (EAP).
Top resource: Safe Work Australia provides a comprehensive guide to meeting your duties with respect to work-related psychological health.
Berryman says worker wellbeing initiatives are moving from an HR ‘push’ model (“We’ve decided these are the things that are going to be good for our people”) to a ‘pull’ model (organisations ask the frontline what they need). “This is not a time to continue doing the top-down directive leadership people looked for in a crisis,” adds Hamer. “Now’s the time to ask your people what they want. "Here, digital tools can rise above guesswork and anecdote. PwC encourages frequent, personalised pulse surveys – “three questions, every two weeks,” says Hamer – which track trends and spikes and what’s driving them. “It’s exciting that the voice of the employee is coming through,” says Berryman, whose mobile app chnnl delivers 30-second, anonymous daily check-ins with a workforce to provide a data-based snapshot of workplace psychological health.“A wellbeing program is not inclusive if it treats everyone the same,” says Sean Hall, CEO of Energx. His company co-developed artificial intelligence coach ‘Franky’ after assessing the wellbeing of more than 2400 professionals during the pandemic, specifically looking for 13 warning signs of burnout, including sleep deprivation, overwhelm and lack of energy for relationships. From a five-minute online assessment, Franky personalises an 86-day anti-burnout curriculum by selecting from 5.6 million options. Publicis and the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation are early adopters of the technology.
Hamer says companies whose pre-pandemic point of difference was how they embraced technology, work-from-home options or a sensational head office are now asking themselves: “What do we do?” And what not to do? Those not doing it well, suggests Hamer, “the companies saying, ‘We support flexibility… although you have to come into the office on these three days. ”Given individuals have exercised so much choice over their work for almost two years, “organisations that try to dictate terms and conditions are going to suffer the consequences”. What Workers Want shows 61% of people who left their job in the last 12 months are looking to leave their job again within the next year. Hamer anecdotally noted turnover increase in people with less than a year’s tenure because they’ve been promised a flexibility their employer didn't deliver. “It’s almost like a breach of psychological contract,” he says. Berryman is excited about 2021’s release of the ISO 45003 standard, an internationally reviewed framework that allows organisations to audit mental health policies and see how they stack up against international best practice.
“Because there aren’t infinite amounts of money in organisations,” says Hamer, “we recommend disproportionately over-investing in areas where they’ll get the biggest bang for their buck.”
“Invest in your managers’ wellbeing. Prioritise your team leaders’ training,” adds Berryman. “They are the ones who set the company culture – ‘the way we do things around here’ – and they’ve got a really tough job.”
She says there’s an average return on investment of $3.50 for every $1 invested into mental health but that it takes cultural transformation – a revolution even – to increase psychological health and safety. Hamer agrees that as lines blur further between work and home, “It’s the individual team leader or supervisor who has the day-to-day exposure to the employee’s life and home circumstances. Empower them."