The great resignation or attraction! Is this about work-life balance....or work life purpose?

Article by Rocky Scopelliti

In recent weeks, there have been many studies by McKinsey, Microsoft and others published that indicated the world, and indeed Australia, are heading for the ‘great resignation’ or the ‘great attraction’. Discord appears to have emerged between what employers and their employees explain as the underlying motivations for this sentiment. This discord has many employers worldwide desperately rethinking their policies believing that structural changes to work are the secret to addressing this workforce threat.

Work-life balance has been proposed by many of these studies as suggesting being one of the principal drivers for the question at hand that is ‘why are people seeking change in the workplace and the future of work? The genesis of many of the findings of those studies seems to suggest that COVID-19 was the ‘trigger’ or catalyst to that development. This article seeks to dispel that myth, and rather, suggest that the ‘underbelly’ of this presented itself well and truly before COVID-19 reached Australian shores – and that a darker, more disruptive driver is manifesting. Let’s explore… 

Work-life balance and flexibility

The Australia 2030 research I conducted before and during the eye of the COVID-19 storm and published in my new book ‘Australia 2030 – Where the bloody hell are we!’identified that overall ‘work-life balance and flexibility was the biggest concern by Australian professionals about their job prospects (38 per cent) over the coming decade and this was consistent across all demographic groups (see Exhibit 1). 

Exhibit 1: Q. What are your biggest concerns about your job prospects over the coming decade? (%)

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Source: Australia 2030 research Rocky Scopelliti

Australians are reported to have one of the worst levels of work-life balance among other OECD countries[i]. Relative to many other nations, Australia ranks in the bottom third of OECD countries when it comes to working long hours and time devoted to leisure and personal care. This was evident in the Australia 2030 research by how easily its importance declined with more than half of those respondents in March 2020 (eye of the COVID-19 storm) reprioritising ‘reskilling and support programs’ (50 per cent) and ‘not enough jobs’ (30 per cent) as their major concerns about their job prospects over the coming decade. 

Interestingly, 24 per cent of Millennials (18–38 years) selected ‘reskilling and support programs’, significantly more than other demographic groups. This reflects a more commonly known aspect of employee retention with this demographic associated with personal development. Counter-intuitively though, 19 per cent of Millennials are concerned with ‘lack of technological skills’ which may reflect a higher expectation by them on technological advances and its role in the workplace. Interestingly, and again counter-intuitively, Gen Xs and Baby Boomers were least concerned about the ‘lack of technological skills’ which may reflect their adaption of the use of technology in the workplace longer than Millennials. Personal growth/career advancement was found to be three times more important for Millennials than other demographic groups and is the most important attribute for them when considering future opportunities and roles.

Compared to other demographic groups Millennials were the least concerned about ‘discrimination by employers’ but it was a concern for 34 per cent of Baby Boomers (54–72 years), and 21 per cent of Gen Xs (39–53 years). According to a study by Robert Walters, discrimination based on gender, race, disability and age in the workplace was reportedly widespread in Australia with 82 per cent of respondents (15.5 million professionals), acknowledging it in today’s workforce [ii], particularly women, where 9 in 10 felt it existed in the workplace. Each year the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) receives more complaints about disability discrimination (42 per cent) than any other form of discrimination. This is followed by sex discrimination (27 per cent) and racial discrimination (14 per cent).   

Purpose, inclusion, impact 

When it comes to what will influence Australian professionals over the coming decade when considering jobs and opportunities, it's clearly about seeking a sense of purpose, inclusion and making an impact on society in their work. This was found across all demographic groups and particularly so for Baby Boomers who rank it number one (see Exhibit 2). The importance of purpose to employees and employers in the workplace is widely reported, but what does this really mean?  

Exhibit 2: Q. In your opinion, what will be the most important criteria when you consider a job or work opportunities over the coming 10 years? (%)

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Source: Australia 2030 research Rocky Scopelliti

The priority to address work-life balance has seen that attribute become the third most important consideration for Australian professionals when thinking about job opportunities over the next 10 years. Again, we see how easily we reprioritise organisational culture in favour of salary and financial compensation during a crisis. The Australia 2030 research found that salary and financial compensation skyrocketed by 42 per cent of the total to 62 per cent for those respondents in March 2020, which became the eye of the COVID-19 storm. 

There are many opportunities for Australian leaders to revisit both work-life balance and flexibility post COVID-19 when these concerns were tested.  For those of us who had to juggle homeschooling, multiple working parents in a single household and isolation, this was quite challenging. However, what we have learned is that for many, both these can coexist and perhaps should not be traded off against salary and financial compensation in ordinary times.

At the end of the day, its purpose, inclusion and impact that matters most to how Australian professionals consider job opportunities over the coming decade. What the research suggests, is that whilst Australian professionals were willing to 'trade off' work-life balance during COVID-19 to be re-skilled and have access to support programs, having a sense of 'purpose and impact on society' remains the most important attribute in looking for job opportunities this coming decade - irrespective of a pandemic or not.

About my new book

This Australian first book is based on my latest research that involved 170 CEOs and Board Directors and some 700 Australian professionals. They have shared their political, environmental, regional, demographic, innovation and technological views about the decade ahead and how they believe it will impact Australia. I’ve augmented these views with insights from world-leading think tanks. 

The book includes 37 predictions about what to expect this coming decade as the 4th Industrial Revolution unfolds and importantly, the tipping points or signposts to watch out for and what their impact will mean to you. 

‘Australia 2030! - Where the bloody hell are we? 

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[i] OECD Better Life Initiative, (2018), ‘How’s Life in Australia’

[ii] HRD, (June 2019), ‘How widespread is workplace discrimination?’

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