Millions of workers emerged from their homes last year with mixed feelings of relief and dread. Yes, lockdown was finally over, but COVID-19 stimulus payments were also drying up, which left many workers back on a wage that barely covered the mortgage, in a job they didn’t really like anyway.
Rather than press on with their pre-pandemic lives, thousands of US workers chose that moment to quit. This mass exodus from the workforce has been dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’ or ‘Big Quit’ and likened to a general strike in its proportions and effect on business.
There were fears for a time that Australia might follow suit, but for now we seem to have taken the milder path of a ‘Great Reshuffle’.
Alison Spivey specialises in employment, industrial relations and safety law at Canberra’s MV Law and will be addressing this phenomenon at a free seminar on 22 March, designed to inform local businesses about what it is and how to deal with it.
She said many reasons have been suggested why Australian workers aren’t quite so inclined to just walk out of a job, including comparative economic conditions, the delayed impact of lockdowns in Australia and the slow and steady pace of employees transitioning back to the workplace. That isn’t to say we aren’t moving around, however.
“Recent research suggests that one in five Australians changed their jobs last year and as many as 25 per cent are considering changing jobs,” she said.
In a speech to the Australian Industry Group last month, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg backed this up. He said more than one million workers started new jobs in the three months to November 2021.
“The rate at which people are taking up new jobs is now almost 10 per cent higher than the pre-COVID average,” he said.
Similar to our US-based counterparts, we’re on the hunt for better pay and conditions. Data from Treasury’s analysis of single-touch payrolls shows that workers who moved jobs typically enjoyed pay increases of eight to 10 per cent.
Alison said she herself could be counted among the ‘Great Resignation’ statistics, having changed roles in late 2021 after almost five years in the same role.
“Clients have often sought advice on how they might best protect themselves from a volatile labour market but now, more than ever, there is a real need,” she said.
Although the ‘Great Resignation’ has not yet had the impact in Australia as may have been anticipated, there is no doubt the prospect of the phenomenon hitting Australian shores has businesses thinking about the risks and opportunities it poses.
“This is particularly the case in relation to recruitment and retention of workers,” Alison said.
“Now is also the time for businesses and their workers to reflect upon and shape the workplace of the future, based on what we have learned from the pandemic.”
The free upcoming seminar will be held at the MV Law offices on Marcus Clark Street in Civic and will cover what the ‘Great Resignation’ is, the factors that may be driving it, the risks and opportunities for business and how businesses can protect themselves going forward.