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Shifting employee motivations and what flexible work arrangements mean for businesses

In 2021, around 35 million workers in the US are reported to have quit their jobs. This has given rise to the phenomenon known as The Great Resignation. In Australia, we are yet to see a significant increase in people quitting or switching jobs. However, a recent survey from HR platform Employment Hero in September 2021 showed Australian workers are the most burnt out in the world at the moment, and 48% are looking to change jobs in the next 12 months.

The name “The Great Resignation” is a bit of a misnomer, as it implies all those millions of people have left the workforce entirely, which they haven’t. Some have retired, and others have temporarily stopped work due to COVID-19, but most have traded up for higher skilled and better paid jobs or switched roles to match a lifestyle change.

What The Great Resignation does show is that labour markets all around the world are in a state of flux. The nature of the relationship between employers and employees, and even the very notion of what a job should be, all seem to be up for renegotiation.

Workers are not just demanding higher pay after decades of wage stagnation, but are also seeking greater flexibility, a better work/life balance, remote working opportunities, and genuine satisfaction from the work they do.

At the same time, given the underlying causes of change in labour markets are different in each country, and so are the economic uncertainties and social upheavals around COVID-19, employers also need to think about business continuity, and how they can safeguard against disruption in any of the labour markets they rely upon.



Note: Smart-shoring can be a solution –click here to read an article showing how.

Legs hanging over a cliff overlooking a river

“A hybrid onshore and offshore solution can give an organisation the right blend of speed to market, costs, and capability.”



The great pushback – what employees want

Whether The Great Resignation ever materialises in the same way in Australia as it has in the US, it brings into sharp focus that employers need to keep innovating their offering and focus on what makes them attractive or what will make them an attractive employer.

In survey after survey, employees are citing factors like a better work/life balance, and more flexibility over their schedule as factors influencing their job choices. While this has undoubtedly been super-charged by the pandemic, it is nevertheless a trend that has been developing for some time. The gig economy has been gradually growing for nearly two decades. At its best, the gig economy provides people with the flexibility to earn when they want, on their own terms. At its worst, of course, it can be predatory and leaves workers incredibly insecure as they have few of the rights, benefits and stability that conventional employees enjoy. Unless it becomes much more regulated – and welcome steps have already been taken in that direction – the gig economy is not a solution for most workers.

If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that there are many roles that have usually been office-based that can be performed remotely or off-site, with technology being a key driver here. Ubiquitous access to high-speed internet, and the ability to easily provide workers with access to apps anywhere in the world via the cloud, are game changers.

Technology is also transforming the traditional, hierarchical ways of managing employees.

Lower-skilled roles can be broken down into processes and handed out piecemeal even to employees in different countries, and technology can be used to monitor performance against KPIs. That might sound like some sort of digital Orwellian nightmare, with home offices replacing rows of grey cubicles, but in reality it is an enabler of the flexible working arrangements that employees are clearly demanding. And the technology needn’t be overbearing; with gamification, two-way communication, and team messaging it’s possible to create an entirely virtual workplace that remains engaging and collaborative.

Remote working saves people hours a day in commuting to the workplace and back.

There are also environmental benefits to having fewer cars on the roads and fewer people on public transport. From a lifestyle point of view, it gives families the opportunity to relocate away from high-cost capital city living while still retaining access to the same jobs. Flexible working also presents employers with opportunities to attract previously inaccessible talent and better manage costs.


Embrace positive change – a huge opportunity for employers

Employers need to change the way they market themselves to their employees and potential employees in order to attract and retain the talent they need to thrive.

Financial considerations may be the main reason that people have to work at all, but they are only one part of the reason why people choose to work for one employer over another.

Even if the reopening of Australia’s borders to migrant workers, students, and backpackers changes the current demand and supply dynamic, employers still need to account for the cultural shift that has taken place in the workforce.

Beyond potentially paying higher salaries, organisations need to provide employees with more compelling reasons to join them.

A recent Adecco group survey gives us an insight into what employees want from work in the future. Their top two factors, chosen by 80% of respondents, were being able to maintain a good work/life balance, and a good salary. Other factors that scored highly were around job satisfaction. For example, 79% said they wanted to feel trusted to get the job done, 75% wanted a job with a clear sense of purpose, and 72% wanted praise and recognition for good work.

Lifestyle and personal development factors were also highly rated. Among these 76% wanted flexibility over their schedule, and 73% wanted opportunities to maintain their physical health and fitness. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the insecurity many feel following the pandemic, that 77% wanted to know their job was secure.

For employers these are all indicators which point to the underlying reasons behind staff turnover. Any organisation that wishes to keep hold of its best staff should be put on warning that this is what you now need to deliver to be considered an employer of choice.

We can see from our own recruitment pipelines, particularly in the contact centre industry, that there is a huge demand and a lot of quality applicants who want the benefits of ‘pandemic-proof’ roles. Employees want the assurance and certainty that their roles would be ongoing through periods of disruption such as we have seen recently with lockdowns. An example in our industry are work from home contact centre solutions, to enable these quality applicants to access such roles.

Traditional recruitment and staffing methods have always been geographically focused with workers needing to be present at a particular location. For many roles, especially knowledge workers, that has now changed. Australian businesses with capital city offices or contact centres can now recruit from the regions just as easily as from the city suburbs. Flexible working opens up more roles to people with disabilities or retirees who still want to maintain a foot in the workplace but probably don’t want the burden of full-time work; or working parents who want that flexibility around their family schedules and lifestyles.


3 areas to consider if flexible work arrangements are suitable for your business

If the trends that are being reported globally are genuine indicators of cultural change in the workplace and labour market, then employers that want to attract and retain the best talent need to react. In fact, we can go further; any organisation that wants to be seen as an employer of choice in its market needs to lead this change and here are 3 key points to take on board.

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  1.       Remote working v/s Working in an office – It’s a different model that needs different systems.

Remote and flexible working is genuinely different to how we’ve always operated in the past. You cannot run teams exactly the same way remotely as you would in an office. You’ll need different levels and channels of support available. For example, support teams in two-way contact with workers with different escalation pathways so that people who are working from their homes or offshore can still get that connection and sense of support.


  1.       Employee engagement needs to be deliberate

You need to figure out how to engage all team members better as you may not have those casual interactions as you would in the office. This means that leaders need to be more observant about how people are performing and how they are feeling in the role. Again, you don’t get the benefit of interpersonal or behavioural signals as you would in a common space. A more focused, disciplined and deliberate plan around employee engagement and support models is important. This might mean rethinking the way you communicate broadly with your teams; for example, video conferencing can reach a much broader proportion of your workforce and also enable managers to speak to each one of them directly.


  1.       Reshaping roles for the talent pool

Different working arrangements open new talent pools to businesses that they have never been able to tap into before. This might mean re-engineering lower-skilled roles and processes so that they can be fulfilled piecemeal by remote workers or shift workers. The ability to conduct work remotely and across numerous sites also makes smart-shoring a realistic option for almost any business, enabling it to better manage workloads and costs as well as protect against disruption in any particular labour market.



TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX consultancy and services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.

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