Date posted: 31/03/2022 10 min read

Please, won’t you stay?

As the jobs market moves in the candidates’ favour, the pressure is on employers to improve their employee value proposition.

In Brief

  • Australia and New Zealand may not be seeing a US-style Great Resignation, but border closures have shrunk the pool of talent available.
  • Flexible work practices introduced during COVID lockdowns are now seen as normal work conditions by candidates.
  • To keep and attract talent, employers must tailor their offer to what people really want.

A few years ago, putting in a request to finish work at 4pm each day (so you could pick up the kids, catch the earlier train back home or fit in a swim at the beach) might have seen you looking for another job.

One pandemic later and not only have workers’ priorities shifted but employers are scrambling to understand what their employees want – and what it will take to keep them on board.

In a phenomenon dubbed The Great Resignation, the US is seeing waves of people quit their jobs after re-evaluating their salaries and work-life balance in light of COVID-19.

That scenario is yet to play out in Australia and New Zealand, and it’s open to question whether it will.

One thing is for sure – with Australia’s and New Zealand’s international borders shut for close to two years, there is a glaring shortage of skilled migrants and people on working holidays in the labour market.

A jobseeker’s market Amanda Chisholm, a principal consultant at Kaizen Recruitment in Melbourne, says this shortage puts employees in a strong position to negotiate, and that’s exactly what is happening.

“Demand from employers is continuing to outstrip supply of quality candidates across a range of roles in financial services. Continued growth in the industry, coupled with closed borders curtailing the inflow of talent has created a candidate-driven market,” she explains.

“We are seeing counter offers at an all-time high, with employers pulling out all their cards to retain staff: [perks] such as being able to log off, go for a surf and then log back on.

“Just offering the ability to log in remotely is not enough; it’s actually about flexible working and being aware that it differs for every person.”

Amanda ChisholmPicture: Amanda Chisholm, a principal consultant at Kaizen Recruitment in Melbourne.

Recently she placed a candidate in a finance business partnering position who took the role because “they are only required to come in as a team once a fortnight for collaboration, innovation and team meeting days”.

As Chisholm explains: “They weren’t prepared to stay where they were and go into the office five days a week.”

People on the move

PwC’s 2021 The Future of Work survey of 1800 Australian workers found 38% were planning to leave their job over the next 12 months. In New Zealand, Auckland University of Technology’s Wellbeing@Work study showed the number of people considering changing jobs had increased from 34.7% in May 2020 to 46.4% in April 2021.

This doesn’t necessarily echo The Great Resignation as it’s occurring in the US, says Roxanne Calder, managing director of EST10 recruitment agency in Sydney, but it does show there is a consistent flow of people wanting to change jobs.

“The Great Resignation in the US is primarily based on people who are sick of being underpaid – and it is about 3-4% of the population,” she explains. “It is different in Australia. The percentage of people who are resigning is not even 1% and they are resigning simply because there are so many jobs out there and they can easily change jobs.

Roxanne CalderPicture: Roxanne Calder, EST10 recruitment.

“The percentage of people who are resigning is not even 1% and they are resigning simply because there are so many jobs out there.”
Roxanne Calder, EST10 recruitment

“The impact is great because we don’t have the population to backfill them. This means employers need to be able to not only hang onto their current staff but make sure they are an attractive option for new staff,” says Calder.

Brisbane-based Kate Hillman, EY Oceania’s People, Place and Culture leader, says the past two years have reinforced the focus EY has on wellbeing and work-life balance.

“We are not seeing the great shifts that have been predicted, but we are definitely seeing a huge demand in the market and a lot of headhunting of our people,” she says.

“We focus on trying to give people a great career experience so they want to stay. They’ve told us they want flexibility and they want great learning experiences and career development, so that is what we are providing.” She adds that broadening the talent pool is another strategy that’s proving effective in the current environment.

Kate HillmanPicture: Kate Hillman, EY Oceania’s People, Place and Culture leader.

“We are thinking differently about how we find our talent, and what that looks like. We’ve been really lucky in being able to employ some refugee women from Afghanistan through Talent Beyond Boundaries.

“We are also supporting women who left the workforce to have a family to come back and access a reskilling program, and we are working with veterans to help them get back into the workforce.”

The situation in New Zealand is similar, according to KPMG New Zealand’s chief people officer Evan Bateup, who is based in Auckland. “Our staff attrition rates are pretty consistent with comparative periods but there is definitely a lot of wage pressure because of supply and demand. We’ve had to be competitive in that environment,” he says.

Rewarding staff

Rewarding your staff

When it suddenly became the norm to work from home, some employers worked quickly to ensure their staff felt connected, supported and rewarded for adapting to the many challenges that arose.

While some provided gift vouchers, food deliveries or care packages, others offered a range of social activities to replace end-of-week catch-ups. As the lockdowns and border closures continued, so too did the rewards.

Some corporate law firms in Australia, squeezed by the talent shortage, bumped employees’ pay by 10% and, like Gilbert + Tobin, were vocal about it on social media. The law firm also increased parental leave to 26 weeks.

“Competition for the best people is intense; our people have made extraordinary efforts over the last six months and it is important to be generous,” managing partner Danny Gilbert told The Australian Financial Review.

Macquarie Bank reportedly sent employees meal vouchers and a furniture allowance to stock up on office equipment while they worked from home. EY provided cash vouchers, Westpac offered $100 worth of points to redeem for gifts and KPMG offered free virtual childcare and sent out activity boxes for staff with children.

In New Zealand, KPMG sent Kia Kaha (which means ‘stay strong’ in Māori) hampers to staff, held webinars on topics such as mental health and parenting, and organised quiz nights, team-based activities and virtual social events.

To combat burnout, EY introduced a policy of synchronised days off, adding to its existing policies of providing additional sick leave or life leave to pursue activities outside work.

“The productivity of our people was incredible throughout COVID, but we were worried that people were overworking so we introduced ‘unplugged leave’,” Hillman explains.

“We let our clients know the whole firm was downing tools on certain days and we synchronised those days so everyone could take a break.”

Respond to real-life needs

Bateup says most of the policies KPMG introduced during lockdowns are here to stay, but adds that continuing to listen to staff will be crucial.

“I think there are two elements: there are the policies we put in place, but we are also actively talking and listening to our people to find out what they want now,” he says. “It’s about building solutions that meet real-life needs and desires from the people that are currently working here, or we are looking to attract.

Evan BateupPicture: Evan Bateup, KPMG New Zealand.

“It’s about building solutions that meet real-life needs and desires from the people that are currently working here, or we are looking to attract.”
Evan Bateup, KPMG New Zealand

“One example is that we increased our support for parents and now offer 18 weeks of full pay to new parents, and that is gender neutral. We completely changed the process so it wasn’t so cumbersome.”

Find out what employees want

Finding out what a prospective employee wants should be part of the interview process so you can then illustrate how your organisation reflects those values, says Kaizen Recruitment’s Chisholm.

“We have seen clients offering one to three volunteer days a year and encouraging staff to take those days,” she says. “Others are covering the cost of an MBA as well as providing extra study and exam leave.”

Offering staff a chance to take part in a survey is another way of finding out what makes people tick, says EST10’s Calder.

“Ask your staff what a dream work environment would be and how could the current work situation be improved.

“Ask some simple questions: ‘Did they feel supported during COVID last year? How many days a week would be ideal to be back in the office?’

“If you can flesh some of that out you will be ahead of your competitors,” she says, adding that in a jobseekers’ market, not being ahead of your competitors will see you miss out on quality candidates.

“When you are hiring you need to already know what good looks like and you need to work with speed. If someone is interviewing with you they are probably also interviewing with five others. If you take your time you will lose that person to your competitor.” 

What’s a work perk these days

The perception of a ‘work perk’ has changed. Workplace practices that were once considered benefits, such as mental health support and learning and development opportunities, are now expected to be business as usual.

Research from Seek found the top three things Australian workers see as genuine perks are:

  • company cars (74%)
  • free meals (72%)
  • free events and activities (70%).

Flexibility is also seen as a must-have by many workers. If it’s not offered by an employer, that business will find it hard to attract good staff.

While flexibility previously applied to working from home occasionally or leaving early to pick up the kids from school, repeated COVID lockdowns and extensive input from staff have changed the definition: organisations are recognising that flexibility means different things to different people.

For some employees, it’s being able to work outside the standard 9-to-5 hours to include exercise or other wellbeing activities in the day. For others, it is being able to perform caring duties.

Some organisations are offering staff an opportunity to take 3-4 months out of the workforce to pursue another life interest, such as travelling, study or to focus on their mental health and wellbeing.

Others are substituting perks such as free lunches, stocked fridges and in-house gym access for subscriptions to mental health apps, working from home allowances and online personal training classes.

Amanda Chisholm from Kaizen Recruitment points to one company that kitted out a new fitness facility in its offices only days before the first lockdowns began in Melbourne in 2020. It was to be free for all staff.

“They quickly switched to offering online personal training classes 2-3 times a week instead, which turned out to be a double whammy because it provided a team-building activity as well.”

Other businesses are going for cold hard cash. Australian social media start-up

Linktree announced in February it is offering an annual $6000 allowance for staff to spend on anything related to wellness, personal growth, lifestyle and impact.

Elsewhere, bonus sick leave is being offered, including special leave to deal with a bout of COVID, or extra time off to address mental health. Increasing annual leave and the option to purchase extended leave are also becoming more common.

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