Is ‘the Great Resignation’ fact or fiction in Australian workplaces? By Peter Maguire.

We have been hearing a lot about ‘the Great Resignation’ from the US, where people are reported to be leaving their employers in droves and businesses are having to up the ante with their employment offerings.

This is perfectly understandable in the US for a number of reasons, but is it going to be true of Australia too?

The differences

Firstly, people in the US did not get the sort of support over the past two years that we got here in Australia with JobKeeper and other government grants and subsidies. We also have a host of employment protections that Americans do not have because their workforce is much more casualised than ours and they also have fewer legislated employment conditions. And they had much higher Covid infection rates. The CDC estimated over 44% of the US population had been infected by September 2021, versus less than 1% in Australia pre-Omicron.

Those factors mean that the experience of American workers through the pandemic has been very different to ours. But there are some commonalities.

Reasons for leaving

One thing that workers worldwide will have been doing through the pandemic is having a hard look at their working life from a couple of perspectives – what sort of employer they work for and what place work should take in their lives.

This is happening in Australia, too, and we are seeing people leaving employers for five main reasons:

  1. They want greater flexibility in the way they work;
  2. They have moved away from cities to get out of and minimise future potential for lockdowns or sickness;
  3. They have the opportunity to move to more secure work or a different industry where they see career opportunities;
  4. They were unhappy with their treatment by their employer during the pandemic and have the opportunity to do better;
  5. They have opted to retire or just opt out of the workforce.

Of course, there are also the minority who have chosen not to get vaccinated and must now leave roles with mandatory vaccinations.

The challenge for employers

The labour market is the tightest that it has been for decades – it is really hard to attract any applicants let alone good ones.

A significant factor in this is the national border closure and the impact that has had with no international students, migrant workers or backpackers available, especially for industries like hospitality and agriculture/horticulture, which have been reliant on these workers for decades.

The border closures also impact seriously on occupations where we have skills shortages – like engineers, tradespeople and accountants to name a few.

Other industries have seen industry-specific challenges arise, for example:

  • Because of lockdowns in industries like retail and hospitality, people went looking for work in other industries and many decided not to return when those industries opened up again
  • Because of the high workload and stresses involved in fighting Covid and looking after the ill and injured on top of their normal load, many frontline workers are opting out due to burnout and concerns for their own health and that of their families
  • Where people have been able to work from home, there is a wish for many of them to continue to enjoy that flexibility rather than return to the office. That is resulting in new hybrid working arrangements and employers who don’t adapt to that are likely to lose good people.

So will this current labour crisis be further exacerbated by the predicted “Great Resignation” hitting our shores?

Are we seeing that?

We recently advertised a job for one of our clients that attracted just 14 applications, while a similar role advertised a year earlier attracted over 100 applications. This is consistent with there being a skills shortage but is hardly indicative of a great resignation.

In fact, we think that one of the reasons that we are struggling to find candidates for good jobs is that people are staying put.

Most employers and employees have tried to do the right thing by each other during the pandemic and lockdowns and work restrictions. There is a bit of loyalty that goes with that experience. Plus, given the still insecure environment that we are in as a nation, why would you leave the security of your current job where you know what it is like, you have established relationships, you know what the rules are and you have your leave entitlements etc as an insurance policy if things do go downhill with the pandemic?

So the better question is “how do you get that person you need to see better opportunity and security with you?”

The takeaway

The lesson we can take from the US is that, while our labour market situation has different causes, it is time to get proactive with your employee value proposition and your labour marketing strategy.

You need to be able to answer one question with confidence – that’s whenever someone asks “why would I want to work for you?”

Peter Maguire is the owner and practice leader of Ridgeline HR, an award winning HRM consulting practice which he founded in 2000. Peter is an acknowledged expert in workplace relations compliance and also a high-performance leadership coach with over 40 years’ experience in HRM. Ridgeline HR’s byline is Helping PEOPLE in BUSINESS and that is essentially what Peter does – help business people with their people business.