There’s no sugar-coating the impact the past two years have had on the workforce, from job cuts and skills shortages to staff recruitment and retention issues. Employers have been forced to manage fast-changing business models and brave new workplaces, which – for many – means no fixed workplace at all. Hybrid working, working from home, working from anywhere… Love it or hate it, the non-typical ‘office’ model is here to stay. And not just at the behest of employees, who report being happier with a flexible environment. It’s also being driven by savvy employers, who realise a one-size-fits-all work paradigm hinders productivity and, most significantly, impedes attraction and retention of top talent. That’s the thinking behind Flexiworks from Officeworks,an innovative platform designed to support the shift to hybrid working. Through the self-service platform, Flexiworks enables employers to kit out their remote staff with all the essential work supplies and services they need to feel supported while working away from the office. And not only is it helping increase productivity, but it’s a valuable way companies can boost employee engagement and worker wellbeing.
In fact, in the new employee-driven job market, having a flexible work model puts companies at the top of the Employer of Choice list. Which is where employers should aim to be, considering a study by Deloitte Access Economics estimates the annual cost of Australian staff turnover – in-house hiring, termination, administration, training and induction, and vacant position impact on other employees – at $3.8 billion in lost productivity and $385 million in avoidable recruitment costs. That’s a big slug to any company’s bottom line, and yet research on employee turnover suggests there is no end of employee movement in sight: the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals almost a million people changed jobs during the year ending February 2021. And by August 2021, 20.3% of Aussie industries were reporting employment vacancies, up from 11% just 18 months prior.
Much of the force behind Australia’s recruitment war is a nation-wide labour and skills shortage, thanks largely to recent migration restrictions. In 2019, the country hosted 1.7 million temporary visa holders; in the 12 months to March 2021, this fell to 1.3 million. But another factor is the lessons employees have learned since working from home has become more the norm: they now know what they want and they aren’t afraid to demand it.
Early in the pandemic, workers feared the loss of safe employment, and often stayed with a company even if they weren’t satisfied with salary, morale, flexible work arrangements or growth opportunities. Almost two years on and now top talent enjoys a much wider spectrum of opportunities for negotiating in those key areas. Even as life returns to normal, it’s likely this new reality will not change. In fact, amid positive signs of economic recovery, 24% of Australian employees are actively seeking alternative work. And many are confident better opportunities await them. The stakes in today’s recruitment war have never been higher.
International research by Owl Labs reveals 56% of remote workers would seek another job if forced to return onsite, and nearly 60% would demand a pay raise to return to a physical office. In Australia, Qualtrics’ figures reveal 80% of employees now seek jobs allowing them to work from anywhere.
The Flexiworks platform is an ideal solution in this new hybrid working climate. Not only does it allow employers to support staff wherever work happens, but it also streamlines the financials behind the entire setup process. Companies can either give employees access to more than 40,000 Officeworks products and services, or they can opt for a tailored catalogue of items instead. Every employee purchase is then accessed in an online dashboard, doing away with the need for corporate credit cards, expense claims or invoices for work-related purchases. That convenience is a big drawcard for a growing number of companies, while employees appreciate the consideration it shows for their wellbeing. It is therefore worth considering the cost-effectiveness of setting up staff to work from anywhere against the company’s potential to retain and attract talent.
The potential benefits to employees of working from anywhere? Saving time and money commuting, enhanced satisfaction and increased efficiency rates. The potential benefits to employers? Facility cost reduction, employee job satisfaction and subsequent productivity improvements, and, in turn, customer satisfaction. Plus, this model provides access to wider talent pools – organisations traditionally limited by local employees can recruit statewide, regionally, nationally, even internationally. In doing so, they also improve employee-employer trust and decrease employee turnover. All positive steps for company morale and profitability, if done right.
Yes, working from home increases many employees’ productivity. especially if the office setup has been considered. But with this shift comes an important caveat: work-life balance. According to Human Resource Executive (HRE), the pandemic and lockdown stress played a significant role in making workers feel undervalued, depressed and burned out. Lack of respect, overwork and toxic management are among the top reasons for workers leaving their current place of employment, Oracle Netsuite reports, which provides pertinent lessons for managers internationally. As Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, says: “Great leaders are not responsible for the job. They're responsible for the people who are responsible for the job.”
Employees don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses. It might be a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. Great leaders attract and retain top talent at a higher rate than poor managers. Effective training programs, fair compensation and adequate resources to do the work are still required for attracting employees, but good leadership is an extra incentive for good employees to move to your organisation and a hedge around existing team members. Showing staff-attracting-and-retaining leadership qualities, however, is challenging when day-to-day communication occurs via technology rather than face to face. Regular interactions, mentorship, positive company culture, staff empowerment and regular discussions around work progression are all part of the mix to keep good talent. Founder of gourmet muesli business Carman's Kitchen, Carolyn Creswell, credits its success over the past two years to its encouragement of managers to provide personal support to their employees – and their friends and family members. “It’s been a very important time for managers to have really frank, authentic conversations with their direct reports,” she says. “We have been very mindful of what we need to do to support those who are struggling, and in a variety of different ways.” Creswell told The Australian Financial Review that, as a result, the company has in fact increased its staff headcount and avoided a downturn in sales since COVID. Staff training also remains a driver of improving staff retention, according to Jo Horgan, founder of cosmetic retailer Mecca, which spends 3% of annual revenue on enhancing employee skills. Horgan explained to Deakin University’s This that she hosts regular in-house staff training sessions with expert speakers to empower her employees, with topics ranging from financial management strategies to mindfulness.
At the end of the day, top talent wants to do rewarding and meaningful work for a company they feel proud to work for – businesses with the courage to communicate a stance on important issues, support environmental and community causes and invest in their people. Through aiding hybrid working, enabling a productive and safe work-from-anywhere set-up, encouraging employee wellbeing and boosting engagement, Flexiworks can play a key role in both attracting and retaining high-achieving individuals. Flexible workplaces offer companies renewed opportunities – and urgency – to emphasise their own positive company culture, which is, and always will be, a major factor to attracting and retaining top talent.
Flexible workplaces offer companies renewed opportunities – and urgency – to emphasise their own positive company culture, which is, and always will be, a major factor to attracting and retaining top talent.