The Great Resignation is predicted to hit Australia – what does it mean for HR leaders?

From healthcare to retail, tech to financial services, organisations are crying out for fresh talent

The Great Resignation is predicted to hit Australia – what does it mean for HR leaders?

As anyone working in talent acquisition knows all too well – the talent market is on fire. Closed borders and the decline in migrant labour has exacerbated existing skills shortage across almost every industry. From healthcare to retail, tech to financial services, organisations are crying out for fresh talent.

And now, research from Microsoft and Mckinsey predicts a mass exodus dubbed The Great Resignation. Fuelled by a hike in wages, fierce competition among businesses, and the life-altering event that was the pandemic, the option to jump ship is looking tempting for many employees. The trend has been seen across the US, with more than 19 million workers having quit their jobs since February 2021. Peakon's Great Regeneration Report found 27% of employees are at an "above average" risk of leaving now or when the pandemic subsides. But while it’s predicted to be a period of attrition, some argue it’s also an opportunity for attraction.

At an exclusive roundtable session, hosted by HRD and Peakon, a Workday company, HR leaders from some of Australia’s biggest brands discussed their experience and the strategies they’re implementing to retain top talent.

Jane Betts, chief people officer at Findex, kicked off the discussion as the guest speaker, delving into how the financial advisory firm has set itself apart from the Big Four to attract and retain employees. Before the pandemic, Findex had staff working in 110 locations across Australia and New Zealand. But when employees shifted to working from their homes, that ballooned to 2,700.

“We thought a lot about our workforce strategy and I think what I've been trying to really grapple with is the fact that we will never be competing with the other four [accounting firms] on financial metrics because we don't have the same brand,” she said. “So, we really had to think about what we could leverage to attract a workforce that is very much in short supply right now.”

Read more: Flexible working: Is it given or is it earned?

Betts said they focused on four key areas – taking work to the talent, rather than the other way around, helping them thrive through leadership and DEI, enabling them to grow with career opportunities, and finally, creating a strong sense of alumni for those who may be tempted to return in the future. She said it was about identifying the attraction factors around each pillar of the employee experience and rather than compare Findex to the Big Four, they lasered in on what makes them unique.

That sense of differentiation was a theme from the HR leaders present. But many said while salary remains a big factor, an organisation’s purpose and values now hold an equally big sway on jobseekers. Peakon's 2021 Employee Expectations Report found a number of key themes had gained prominence compared to the year before, including the desire for diversity, equity and inclusion, health and wellbeing, and ongoing growth and development. It also highlighted that employees value clear communication.

One HR leader from the agedcare sector said while attraction is tough in a sector with historically low pay, purpose is one thing they have never had think too hard about in their employee value proposition. Staff know their work has great value and purpose, and it’s a key driver of engagement.

For other attendees across the retail and tech sectors, identifying the purpose that drives their employees has been more difficult. One leader said they are approaching the employee experience with a product development outlook – that is, using feedback tools to really understand what staff want, whether that’s greater flexibility or more L&D, and bring those offerings to market.

“We want to come up with the minimum viable product quickly and bring that to them for consideration and then continue iterating so we are not trying to bite off too much,” she said. “It’s about how we can increase the frequency of showing our workforce that we are interested in what's important to them and respond to that by piloting different things and really apply a test and learn approach.”

Read more: Top 50 companies with the happiest employees

Similarly, another HR leader from a retail background said the traditional people strategy that businesses used to rely on doesn’t work in a post-pandemic world. What they are hearing loud and clear from their people is a desire for choice.

“It's not just choice on when I work and where I work, but they want to do more job crafting. They want to choose what projects they're working on, they want to choose things that align with their own motives, their own passions, they want to have the choice and autonomy to be fully empowered as to how they go about doing things more so than they ever did previously,” she said.

As well as choice, connection and motivation are the other key drivers. Now more than ever, employees want to know how their role and their day-to-day work is contributing to the overall business strategy. For many, the pandemic has awoken questions about their impact on not only their communities, but the world. As such, sustainability is another word HR leaders are beginning to hear from jobseekers.

The roundtable discussion made clear that yes, The Great Resignation may well be upon us. But HR leaders are delving deep into what engages their workforce to get ahead of the trend. They’re listening, reacting, experimenting and listening again to drive a deeper level engagement so that when a competitor comes knocking, employees think twice.

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