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More than a winter of discontent

It is easy to blame the Great Resignation on pandemic-induced self-searching, but maybe we should also examine the systems in which we work.

If you went through an existential crisis during the darkest days of the pandemic, you were not alone.

Since it started, millions of Australians who resigned from jobs, including more than 337,500 this February, have been looking for better work-life balance, money, meaning and growth – and not necessarily in that order.

Harrison McMillan’s Alison Surjan says it has been a time for reflection.

“What I’m hearing from candidates is that they are asking ‘am I fulfilled, have I got purpose or meaning in what I’m doing’,” says Surjan, who is Director Client Engagement at the specialist recruitment firm.

“There’s now more openness to communicate about true happiness in your career and the workplace.

“I do believe there was a lot of corporate burnout and people just started to be more open about a fresh start. They need to reset, potentially in a different environment.”

Surjan says it is not uncommon for leaders now to move into different sectors and precipitate further resignations.

“They’re taking some of their team with them to offer a better environment for them to flourish in and be successful.”

Moves like this suggest there is more afoot and Surjan says that changing or waning ‘corporate fit’ could be a factor, with employee and company visions no longer aligning.

“If they don’t feel that corporate fit, it does open their minds to the other possibilities on offer now. So, they’re looking at different industries and moving across a variety of sectors,” she explains.

Similarly, flexible working arrangements hold little cachet in this era.

“People just glaze over now, because offering flexibility doesn’t mean much. What COVID has taught us and employers is that we can work remotely and effectively from anywhere.

“For example, in the IT and technology space, we know that probably one in four people, which is a huge percentage, is looking to move. They’re committed and saying, ‘I am moving’.

“It sounds like a huge percentage. But, with the unemployment rates as they are now, that could actually increase. I think we’ve got a way to go.”

This new mood is impacting South Australia in particular, with local employers experiencing additional competition from those in the eastern states who are happy to build their remote teams and pay higher salaries.

Harrison McMillan and Surjan are seeing this happen more frequently saying “We have some amazing talent here being snapped up by businesses in other states to work remotely from SA.”

She says people are questioning their pay and benefits more than they would traditionally because of the competitive nature of the candidate market.

“We talk to our clients, the companies looking to hire, about moving very quickly with top calibre candidates. Because we know one in every three candidates that we speak to have other offers on the table that they’re considering.

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“And sometimes that does actually come down to pay and benefit. Not all the time. But it’s something to consider for sure.”

However, she doesn’t believe that money is the one precipitating factor for employees to leave a company, or that years of low wage growth is to blame for the Great Resignation.

“People who are really happy in their roles don’t mind so much about the low wage growth until they reflect on their sense of purpose and realise there’s all these other opportunities out there.

“It’s then that [earning less money] can lead to unfulfillment in their role and considering a leap of faith into your next role.”

This is borne out by people, particularly in leadership positions and especially ‘baby boomers’, who take a pay cut in exchange for a more satisfying job. Surjan says money is always important, but it isn’t the number one or number two driver anymore.

“It’s really about being purposeful in your role and feeling the impact that you have.”

This general reset of employee mindset offers companies an opportunity to do likewise, levelling up to deliver a workplace with more attractive, relevant ways of working. And in doing so, discovering new ways to retain star talent and secure preferred candidates.

Surjan believes it’s never too late to act once you become aware of discontent among your team.

“The dynamics of workplaces are changing all the time. And the businesses are learning a lot from COVID overall.

“I think it’s about being really transparent with employees, which I don’t think was almost mandatory in the sense that it is now.

“And engaging them to write their own employee value proposition. Getting them involved in setting the mission and the vision of the business.

“Also, from a strategic level, really collaborating across all areas of the business. So that leadership are visible, senior management are visible, and employees can see their roles contributing to the overall picture of their business.”

Harrison McMillan are encouraging conversations and collaboration. We are training in the new way of work in a post covid world. Please reach out to HM if this is something on your agenda now or in the future.

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