The Great Resignation: Should Australian organisations be worried?

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has changed the way we work over the past few years. And it’s not a quantum leap to appreciate that it’s also changed many people’s attitudes; particularly regarding their core values and how they are affected by the way we work.

But is the collective psyche reflected in employee attrition across organisations? According to the McKinsey report in some regions it is.

Burnout, disconnect, stress, lack of appreciation from leaders (who struggle themselves) have culminated in a WFH style of corporate hell for many people – only to be interrupted by toddlers and teens who really love mum and dad’s attention.

Top that off with heightened life/death awareness from the pandemic and you have the perfect scenario for employees of all levels to question what it’s all about.

Well, at least that’s what’s happening in the USA.

In Australia, the indications aren’t quite as black and white. In reality we seem to be bucking a lot of the ‘escapism’ that workers are supposed to be yearning for.


The stats say it all

Many mid-tier companies and organisations have continued to grow during the past year in Australia. 

According to a recent report by accounting and consulting firm BDO Australia in collaboration with the Commonwealth Bank:The economy is not only in better shape in the first half of 2021 than expected post COVID-19, but a significant segment of Australian businesses have boomed, with mid-sized businesses growing their annual revenue by 7.63% in the past 3 years.”

What’s more, people seem to be staying put.

The Bureau of Statistics states that “7.5% (975,000) of employed people changed employers or business in the 12 months up to February 2021. This was the lowest rate of job mobility on record in the annual series, lower than the previous estimate for the year ending February 2020 (8.1%) and slightly lower than the previous record holder for the year ending February 2017 (7.7%).”

While a lot of people talk about ‘packing it in’ and moving to the country for a low stress blissful existence, few are doing it. Primarily because there isn’t a lot of alternative work available for professionals.

Secondly, not everyone is cut out (or even wants to) run their own business. 

And thirdly, most people are acutely aware that once they sell and move out of a big city it’s extremely hard to buy back in further down the track.

So if people aren’t leaving their jobs in droves, why are so many organisations struggling to fill positions? 

Welcome to the great talent shortage

Almost every business in every sector is short-staffed at the moment – at almost every level. And that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.

Prior to the pandemic and subsequent halt in travel, Australia gleaned a reasonable percentage of its workforce from overseas. This not only filled shortages in many industries, it was enough to offset workers exiting the country or retiring.

Thankfully the government has recently turned the travel tap back on. However, it will only be a regulated trickle until the pandemic settles down – and certainly not enough to refill the talent pool. Even though there are sponsored candidates keen to migrate, it’s still difficult for them to get into the country.

That leaves employers with few choices other than to look within their organisation and promote, or turn to head hunting.

A candidates’ market

Despite competition for good talent being at an all-time high, wage growth has remained below-par during 2020/2021. That said, the laws of demand and supply haven’t gone astray, so the more valuable a candidate, the more likely they’ll want a decent amount of remuneration to jump ship.

This puts pressure on organisations to ensure their people have a high level of job satisfaction. Especially since most employees change jobs due to not feeling appreciated, feeling disconnected with their organisation, or feel stymied and burnt out.

In short, ensuring internal systems are effective and streamlined, connecting with team members and showing empathy has never been more important for leaders of all levels.

Opportunities still abound

As most leaders know, if there are cracks in an organisation a crisis like COVID-19 will wedge them wide open:

  • Team burnout
  • Internal communications breakdown
  • Staff shortages
  • Dysfunctional operating systems
  • Supply chain disruption
  • Poor risk management
  • Bad PR and reputation management
  • Financial market upheaval…

Any one of these things can cause chaos. 

On the flip side, any operational problem can also bring prevailing issues into sharp focus. If they can’t be solved by adjusting to the new COVID-19 norm, you know you need to take a deeper look at improving certain elements of the business. And therein lies a great opportunity. 

It’s important to remember that this business environment will pass. And once it does, the most agile organisations will emerge stronger and more resilient to the unexpected. 

In the meantime, by looking after employee welfare and development – and building a deep talent pool of trusted contractors – your organisation can avoid a good deal of collateral damage, should the pandemic change course again.

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