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It’s not the ‘Big Quit’. It’s the ‘Big Life Assessment’!


It may be time to take a hard look at your business and determine whether it measures up to these expectations - because if it doesn’t you will find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain the kinds of employees who will enable your company to grow.” Dr Jana Matthews.


We’ve all heard about the great wave of resignations rolling across the US, UK and Europe with different levels of intensity, depending on the region and industry. People are quitting their jobs at unprecedented rates! Why isn’t this happening in Australia?


Before answering that question, let’s talk about why people resigned from their jobs, pre- COVID.


Some people were attracted to another company that offered more money or a better title.


Or maybe it was the same job but in a more prestigious organisation with opportunities for growth and personal development.


Perhaps they wanted to work in a company with greater flexibility around when and where to work, that provided more leave, or was closer to home, hence required less commute time.


Other people decided they were not happy in their current profession and decided to pursue a different career.


Instead of writing code they began making guitars. Or their partner took a job in another city that required them to resign and search for a new job.


Sometimes they decided it was time to go back to study, to start their own business, or go back home and take over the family business.


A smaller number of people inherited money and no longer had to work, had problems with their health, or decided it was time to retire.


In short – there are many reasons people quit. So what’s different in 2022?


Life as we know it


COVID pulled the hand brake on life.


For the first time in a long time “life as we know it” in Australia changed dramatically – and the forced lock-downs (and subsequent rolling lock-downs) provided time for people to think about “what my life is” vs. “what I’d like my life to be”.


The TV images and statistics of COVID patients around the world reminded us that “life is short” and can end at any time.


“Am I doing what I love and loving what I do?” became a question many people began to think about quite seriously.


Being required to work from home meant people spent less time commuting, and less expenditure on coffee, dining, petrol, parking, and clothes. Those who received JobKeeper had financial assistance and ties to their employers that workers in the USA, UK, and Europe did not have.


Closing the borders kept COVID out and Australian residents in.  They spent some of their money in Australia and saved the rest. They had time and money to be able to think about what they wanted their life to be, and a good number made changes or are planning for change.


The ‘hard break’


The chart below, based on research by The Adecco Group shows during the pandemic  a lower percentage of Australians worked more than 40 hours per week than any other developed country in the world and an even smaller percentage think more than 40 hour work weeks will be required after COVID.


Perhaps this is because fewer Australians contracted COVID, so Aussies did not have to work as hard as their counterparts in other parts of the world where more people had COVID, were unable to work, and the remaining workers had to pick up the slack.


Resetting Normal: Defining the New Era of Work 2021, The Adecco Group.


In short, the “hard break” created time for many Australians to reassess their lives.


They took a long hard look at the work they were doing, the environment and culture of the companies in which they were working, the people with whom they were working, and how much of their life was spent doing what they didn’t want to do  - in a company they didn't like working for - “just to make a living”.


The following table by The Adecco Group indicates what people are prioritising in the era “after COVID”.


The “hard break” had much more of a negative impact on some groups of employees than others. The impact on women and the “she-cession”, plus the impact on older workers and the travel, hospitality, and health care industries will have long-term implications on the workforce.


Key takeaways for businesses to retain employees


1. Assess, understand and attend to the needs of your current employees


Make sure you identify, understand and address what they actually need and want – not what you think they need and want.


Are they looking for more work-life balance? Are your salary schedules up to date? Do your people want more flexible working arrangements? A hybrid model of WFO and WFH? Do they need more flexibility in terms of benefits? More feedback on performance? More verbal or financial recognition of a job well done?


It’s much less expensive to keep the people who are a great fit with your values and are high performers than to have to recruit their replacements. Counting the downtime after they leave, the work that doesn’t get done, the time spent recruiting, interviewing and orienting their replacement (who will take several months to get up to speed), the cost of a replacement could be 130 - 150 per cent of the person’s salary. It’s much better to be proactive than reactive in such situations.


Several companies who’ve been through the ANZ Business Growth Program have asked their employees to help them do an Organisational Systems Assessment that the Australian Centre for Business Growth (AUCBG) has developed which enables the CEO, the executive team and employees to understand what’s working, what needs to be tuned-up, and what needs to be changed immediately.


Engaging your employees in such assessments is one way to ensure they stay part of the solution vs. becoming part of the problem and that will enable you to retain the employees you want to keep who are instrumental to your growth.


2. Understand your employees’ priorities


Understand your younger employees, e.g. Millennials and Generation Z have very different priorities than Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y who are the people most likely to be in management positions or company owners and directors.


The younger generation of employees are very clear about what they want!


They want their employer to care about them as people and their wellbeing and facilitate their career progression.  They want to help plan the future of the company and work hard to help achieve the plan, then be recognised for their contribution and performance.


They are keen to have new responsibilities and equally keen to have their work recognised.

They want to progress faster than their Gen X or Y manager had anticipated and be given job titles that signal increasing importance and responsibility.


If their managers do not provide opportunities for them to grow and appropriate recognition for what they have achieved, they will leave.


If you do not understand this your company will have considerable difficulty retaining or attracting the employees you need and will lose out to companies that do.


3. Have a clear mission and a set of values


Finally, the companies winning the talent war are those with a clear mission and a set of values that match the prospective employees being recruited.


Millennials and Gen Z are not interested in working for a Command-and-Control manager or a control freak.  They want to work for open and transparent leaders who create a diverse and inclusive workplace and are concerned about the environment.


In short, they want to invest their life space in companies and leaders that are governed by a social and environmental conscience.


The great Australian Life Assessment has begun


People want more flexible work arrangements, clear communications about what’s expected and to be trusted to do their work, whether it's from the office or at home.


They want leaders who recognise their need for more work-life balance, support them to take leave and don’t expect them to respond to work e-mails in the evenings and weekends. They want to work for organisations with clear values that match their own, that are concerned about the environment, sustainability, have respect for diversity and value openness and transparency.


It may be time to take a hard look at your business  and determine whether it measures up to these expectations - because if it doesn’t you will find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain the kinds of employees who will enable your company to grow.


And given all the opportunities in Australia, that would be a pity.


Dr Jana Matthews is Director of the Australian Centre for Business Growth, UniSA Business and ANZ Chair of the Business Growth Program.


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