Now that the nation has stood up and responded to COVID-19, 2022 is bringing us astonishing new conditions affecting the Australian workforce.

There has been a shake-up in employee positions in thousands of businesses in most countries – called the Great Resignation by many around the world.

In Australia, the dust is still settling.

In this article, we explain what the Great Resignation is, the impacts it’s still having on businesses and what employers can do to get the best outcome from what has happened.

What is the Great Resignation?

Millions of Americans quit their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that phenomenon – nicknamed ‘the Great Resignation’ – occurred in most Western and other countries.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has been putting numbers on the trend, and found that of the 1.3 million Australians changing work, stopping work or starting, job mobility rose in all eight of the major occupation groups, with the largest rises in job mobility seen in these groups:

  • Clerical and administrative workers (7.0 per cent to 10.3 per cent).
  • Machinery operators and drivers (7.9 per cent to 10.6 per cent).
  • Managers (5.3 per cent to 7.7 per cent).
  • Professionals (6.5 per cent to 8.8 per cent).

Crucially, 33 per cent of all people who left or lost a job in the 12 months to February 2022 were people who left a job to obtain a better job or just wanted a change (697,100), up from 21.7 per cent in February 2021.

Human Relations experts began to study this about the pandemic and found 25 per cent of women were contemplating leaving the workforce entirely, whilst 40 per cent of workers across the globe were considering a career change.

By the start of 2022, what had happened in 2021 was clear in statistics.

According to Pew Research released in March 2022, widespread job losses in the early months of the 2020 pandemic changed to tight labour markets in 2021, and the US quit rate reached a 20-year high in November and December.

Boston University senior lecturer Jay L. Zagorsky estimated nearly 47 million Americans made a move in 2021; Pew Research’s survey indicated low pay (63 per cent), no opportunities for advancement (63 per cent) and feeling disrespected at work (57 per cent) were reasons why these people quit.

This wave of resignations has begun hitting Australia, with PwC Future of Work lead Dr Ben Hamer estimating 38 per cent of Australian workers are planning to leave their organisation in the next 12 months because they wish to retain the flexibilities they’ve had during the pandemic.

This surge comes after the lowest rates of labour mobility were exhibited in 2020-21 since tracking of this data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics began in 1972.

What can be done to stave off resignations?

Whilst employers can’t prevent their employees from seeking alternative work, they can improve working conditions and job satisfaction to reduce the expected haemorrhaging of employees.

As confidence returns in 2022, it’s an ideal time for businesses to consider and take steps to retain their existing talent and attract new talent where necessary. Surveys have shown that employees rank flexibility, work-life balance, mental health, well-being, and earning capacity as being the most important considerations concerning their work.

Workplace flexibility

Before the pandemic, employers had a stronger basis to refuse flexibility arrangements as there had been no precedent of an entire workforce operating remotely. Now, we’ve seen businesses adapt to fast-moving changes to working environments, and employees now know a work-life balance is possible. This makes it more difficult to reasonably refuse requests for these types of working arrangements to continue.

Whether an employee has young children, a disability that makes travelling to work daily difficult, or simply likes the occasional comfort of working from home, employees are favouring flexibility options more than ever. So, as businesses return to on-site operations, they’ll need to contend with employees who’ve grown accustomed to working from home.

Employers should consider continuing a staged return to on-site work, as a zero to one hundred approach is likely to leave employees feeling overwhelmed, unsatisfied with their working conditions and more likely to seek alternative employment that allows for such flexibility.

Training and development plans in 2022

One of the most important parts of keeping good employees is actively implementing retention strategies. While part of this extends to offering benefits such as flexibility and having a good workplace culture, offering your staff training and development opportunities and recognising success are effective tools as well.

The benefits of continuing training and development are abundant: not only does this allow your staff to stay up to date with best industry practices, but it allows them to improve their skills and progress in their careers. This means a more experienced workforce that clients will return to and refer their friends and family.

Training and development can help your employees see a future in your business too, one that you are investing in beyond merely paying them for services rendered.

It’s beneficial to think of not only the industry skills your employees need to work in the practice but professional skills that are needed in any workplace. While your staff may be trained in a specific field to get to where they are today, consider providing development in people management, conflict resolution and cultural competency – training across these areas can pay dividends in the way your employees handle situations with clients and their colleagues and reduce your costs of managing claims or disputes later down the track.

While training courses may often bear an upfront expense, hiring new staff if current employees resign due to lack of development opportunities or for feeling undervalued, may come at an even greater cost.

Where to from here?

It’s not just about the tangible benefits you provide your employees at this time by way of higher salaries; the intangible can be just as important for employee retention purposes. Whether you continue to promote flexible working arrangements, offer training and development courses, create a mentorship program, or just give employees positive feedback on how they’ve achieved so much, it all adds up.

Improving employee engagement and morale after the past few years with the pandemic beating us down may be just the thing needed to keep your most valued employees happy for years to come, and stave off the Great Resignation.

If you’re an HR Assured client and have questions about what the Great Resignation means for you, please contact our 24/7 Telephone Advisory Service.