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Will we see the ‘Great Resignation’ here, or will it be a case of the Great Pumpkin?

October 26, 2021

There has been a lot of evidence lately that Australia is about to suffer from the ‘Great Resignation’ – a massive staff turnover rate that some parts of the world are already seeing. The U.S. Government reported a record level of workers leaving their jobs in August and more than 25 million people quit their jobs in the first seven months of this year, according to PBS NewsHour.

With Halloween coming up this weekend, will the Great Resignation actually happen in Australia, or will it be like the Great Pumpkin? As a kid, I grew up regularly re-reading old Peanuts comic books, and one of the best story lines was a recurring theme about Linus’ dogged belief in the arrival of the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch on Halloween night. Of course, the Great Pumpkin never appears.

So will we see the Great Resignation here?

As everything slowly returns to ‘normal’, there has to be some sort of bump in employee turnover, but I’m not sure it will be as massive as predicted. In one recent survey, Slack found that more than half (59.9%) of Australians say they are likely to change jobs in the next year, and in this poll embedded in an article from Gartner’s Aaron McEwan in news.com.au, 54% say they have already quit or are planning to leave their job.

Most of us have been living a very insular working and personal existence for the last two years, and anyone who has been unhappy in their job or looking for a career progression or change has most likely parked any decision to leave. We haven’t been mixing with many people outside of our work and family bubbles, we haven’t travelled or attended conferences, and we haven’t been in the office or met with friends or industry colleagues for lunch or drinks after work. As things open up and we start to do more of this, new job opportunities will come up. Businesses that contracted during the pandemic will be re-hiring and other sectors will start growing rapidly, and the decision to leave that we had parked during the pandemic suddenly becomes viable again.

However, the biggest change we’ve seen through all of this has been in the attitudes of organisations and our business decision-makers towards working from home and hybrid work. I think this will have a more significant bearing on people’s decision to move or stay put. In 1998, when we planned to move to a country town from Sydney’s inner west, I had my heart in my mouth when I asked my employer if it might be possible to work from home three days a week and come into the office for two. The prevailing attitude in my organisation and just about every other business at the time was against me. If they had have said no, I was prepared to quit. Luckily for me they said yes, and I proved it was possible to be a productive and collaborative member of the team from that day on.

How things have changed!

Earlier this year, a survey conducted by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald of 50 of the nation’s largest companies found that, overwhelmingly, these organisations would be permanently adopting hybrid working policies for office-based employees. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. What about the public sector and the vast majority of Australian organisations that operate in the small-to-medium business sector? The attitudes have definitely changed. The Committee for Sydney surveyed 130 organisations that employ 640,000 workers across Australia and found that 51% expect their workers will commute to the office for just three days a week, and 36% expect their staff will cluster their office days from Tuesday to Thursday (see further ‘Bosses anticipate ‘long weekend’ trend to stay once Australians head back to the office’). In an embedded survey in the same article, when asked what’s most important to you in a job?, 58% of readers responded with ‘work/life balance’.

In a survey that I’ve read but is yet to be published, it’s really interesting that business decision-makers are far more positive about the experience of remote and hybrid work when compared to workers in general. Work/life balance is one of the biggest factors in this response, as well as the effectiveness of collaborative technologies to enable remote work. This says a lot about why organisations large and small have embraced a permanent hybrid work policy and why I also think the Great Resignation will be a small bump rather than a big shock as life slowly returns to normal.

Workers want flexibility, and a better work/life balance, and will go looking for it elsewhere if their current employer isn’t going to offer it (see, for example, ‘Here comes the Great Resignation. Why millions of employees could quit their jobs post-pandemic’). But that doesn’t seem to be the case in Australia. Most Australian businesses, from the biggest to the smallest, seem to be happy to offer their office-based workers greater choice and greater flexibility in where and how they work – taking away one of the main reasons cited for the Great Resignation.

So how do I wrap this up with a final allusion back to the Great Pumpkin? In a Peanuts strip from 1961, Linus cites confirmed appearances of the Great Pumpkin in Connecticut and Texas as evidence for the likelihood of it showing up in his local patch while Charlie Brown argues that conditions might not be ideal for it. That’s my argument too – I think conditions in our ‘local patch’ and the enthusiasm with which Australian business has embraced hybrid working will minimise the chances of the appearance of the Great Resignation here.

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