Australians are craving workforce stability – this is what companies need to know


Opinion: Australians have had their fair share of workplace changes in the last few years, predominantly driven by return-to-work mandates and technology disruptions. Throw in a global pandemic, spiralling economy and a softening labour market… and the result is a craving for stability.
People crowd crossing street in central Sydney

We all just want to lay low for a while. No more change. It’s a subtle, but important shift in the mindset of Australian employees – which left unchecked, has the potential to spell disaster for workplace productivity and culture.     

Employees are looking to avoid risky career moves and limit their exposure to workplace disruptions. In fact, we continue to hear about instances of ‘boomerang’ employees returning to their former workplace because the grass simply wasn’t greener when they changed jobs.  

On the surface, stability among workers sounds like a win for employers. But when you take in the full picture, it’s a clear symptom of the negative effects of change fatigue, which can ripple across an entire organisation – from the boardroom to frontline workers. 

Reengaging an overwhelmed and exhausted team 

So, what are the telltale signs of a mentally exhausted workforce? Employees suffering apathy, burnout and frustration, generally exhibit reduced levels of engagement, demonstrate low trust, and adopt a ‘bare minimum’ approach to their work.  

The most recent Gartner Global Talent Monitor (GTM) survey indicated that Australian employers should be prepared this year to see a dip in discretionary effort, with employee willingness to go above and beyond hitting a record low. The big problem with this is that if employees are staying put, both productivity and culture will suffer.  

Leaders need to plan for change and have systems in place to monitor both the volume and impact of change in the workplace. With this in place, they are better able to proactively address the urgent symptoms of change fatigue to restore employees suffering from burnout.  

There are a range of reasons why employees will experience burnout, including workload and support volumes, low levels of connectedness, limited autonomy or recognition, an increased perception of unfairness and misaligned values.  

If things like work friction and fatigue aren’t spotted and addressed early, these challenges can lead to major organisational problems for leaders to navigate. This includes disengagement, greater absenteeism, slumping performance and unwanted turnover, not to mention a stunting of business growth. 

As symptoms can build overtime, leaders and managers must focus on learning about their employees and watching for subtle changes in behaviour, such as a decline in self-confidence, an increase in health and wellness issues, or an obsession with small work problems.  

Remember, each employee’s situation and experience with fatigue is unique. Some may not show signs as some experience a “slow burn,” with symptoms of fatigue and frustration gradually intensifying over a period of time. While others may ‘flame out’ abruptly once they feel they’ve become engulfed by it.  

There is a really important role here for leaders and managers to understand the signs and symptoms of individual employees and be aware of their fight-or-flight responses to stress and fatigue to prevent further issues or challenges.  

Start by freeing up capacity for change, fostering open conversations and reconnecting employees to the true purpose of their work. Prevention is critical. Look to reduce the risk of change fatigue by building employee resilience through proactive rest and embedded psychological safety delivered through wellbeing resources and initiatives. 

Understanding what employees really value 

When leaders adopt a ‘we care’ mindset towards their Employee Value Proposition (EVP), it becomes so much more than just a list of ‘benefits’. It allows organisations to focus on the tools and support most needed to foster engagement and address change fatigue.  

Balancing pay discussions with effective non-compensation EVP components, such as respect, manager quality and career progression, is key to not only retaining employees but attracting new ones too. 

Employers should focus on the feelings their EVPs generate, not just the features they provide. Employees value personal growth and holistic wellbeing. Take into consideration radical flexibility, focusing on the amount of work an employee does, what they work on and who they work with.  

Explore mental and physical wellbeing benefits and, where possible, what support can be provided for their family members or community. Development opportunities and growth outside of their role, whether it’s through their hobbies or volunteer work can also be highly valued by employees.  

In addition, fostering a sense of shared purpose through the social issues the company takes a stand on can help to reinforce overall employee engagement and job satisfaction during turbulent times. 

Neal Woolrich is a director of HR Advisory at Gartner, advising organisations on the employee experience, including culture, engagement, hybrid work models and career pathing. 

More from Forbes Australia