What happens when a pandemic forces us away from the office, and in its wake leaves a faltering economy in which the workforce holds all of the bargaining chips? You end up with workers in a quiet revolt, refusing to give ground in the new tug-of-war for work-life balance.
The traditional nature of the employee-employer relationship is fast heading the way of the dodo as individuals seek employment on their own terms – trading in face-to-face time for family time and a career for a contract.
Flexwork in bloom
According to a recent survey of Australian workers conducted by Deloitte and Swinburne University of Technology, 90 percent of workers are saying they put their own mental health and wellbeing ahead of their pay with over 2 in 5 workers viewing flexibility as more important than a pay rise.
These statistics point toward a sobering conclusion for employers – the incentive of a ‘career path’ and its attendant promotions and pay incentives is no longer as alluring as it once was. With many Australian workers opting for personal wellbeing over the “grind”, it appears the writing is on the wall: the career as we once knew it is no more.
However, the report called Reset, Restore, Reframe: Making Fair Work FlexWork, warns that Australia is not prepared for a headlong charge into a world dominated by flexible work.
Our current norms and systems of workplace regulation begin to look a little like swiss cheese when presented with the new reality of flexwork. Notoriously hard to oversee and monitor, the practice of flexwork presents an ongoing challenge for employers.
Yet, the prioritisation of the Australian populations’ health and wellbeing is a necessary step in the evolution of the workforce, which begs the question; if we shouldn’t go back, and we can’t sit where we are, where do we go now?
The rise of the gig economy
Another recent study by National Australia Bank revealed one in five Aussies changed their jobs last year while a quarter are currently considering leaving their workplace.
With such a significant proportion of employees contemplating departure, and record numbers shifting from in-office to at-home work, it’s easy to picture empty CBDs around the country.
For those leaving their jobs, the uncertainty traditionally associated with this decision is playing less of a role than ever before. With unemployment levels at a 13-year low, a fear of burnout is increasingly winning the internal emotional battle facing employees. The same NAB study showed leading reasons for employees wanting to quit their jobs included a lack of personal fulfilment, lack of purpose or meaning and mental health concerns.
What’s more, these people are likely to shy away from taking another ‘cookie-cutter’ 9 to 5 career position. Research from the U.S by Upwork suggests that 20% of employees are considering freelance or on-demand work and up to 90% of on-demand talent shows a lack of interest in returning to the traditional employment relationship.
This freelance market, commonly referred to as ‘the gig economy’ has seen its biggest increase ever since the beginning of the pandemic. Moreover, the careers occupied by ‘gig workers’ are more diversified than ever, stretching beyond the traditional domains of design, writing and consulting to areas previously inaccessible in a freelance capacity.
With greater autonomy on where we work and who we work for, the power to shape the market has shifted from employer to employee, and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
The Career in Decline
A leading motivation driving some of those leaving their traditional careers is the desire to strike out in search of their own slice of the market. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the economy saw an unusual uptick in the number of new businesses between June of 2021 and June of 2022. Despite signs of a global recession, this was a 15.8% increase in the number of new enterprises in Australia.
The rapid increase in business start-ups at a time of economic uncertainty is further evidence of the desire for increased work-life balance. This is reflected in the types of businesses that have prevailed, with retailers and technical and professional services dominating the ranks. Anecdotally, you probably know one or two people who have decided to start their own candle business, or finally jump into their own freelance writing gig.
This again, is a symptom of a singular focus – employees placing renewed importance in their own wellbeing, leaving large and medium business scratching their heads, wondering how to bring skilled workers back.
How to get and keep great people
In this new world of employee empowerment, two questions hang in the air like a bad stink for employers: “how do I keep my best people?” and “how do I attract the best talent?”
With the working landscape in turmoil, employers must first come to terms with their new reality – employees are no longer willing to work themselves to the bone for your business goals. Accepting this, businesses can adjust in two ways to attract and keep committed and engaged employees.
First, align your ‘conditions’ to their needs. Businesses still clinging to the 9-to-5 in office model will no longer be accepted by the general population – even if a regular 9-to-5 is quietly preferred. Simply put, in this new working world, choice is king.
Secondly and most importantly, to capture hearts and minds a business must align their identity and values to the people they want to attract. Without winning hearts, a business is at best a stepping stone, and at worst a convenience – without striving for collective ambition and a shared belief, no brand can ever attract dedicated talent.
Culture is the word of the year, and creating a great culture where people want to work is becoming a mandatory, not a bonus. It’s not as simple as features and benefits, nor is it commute times – it’s purpose.
While the employee-employer dynamic is changing, business can and will still thrive, and with employees now getting a longer end of the stick, maybe we can all win.