The Great Resignation or Modest Reshuffle?

The Great Resignation or Modest Reshuffle?

By Anna Daly
25th November 2021

The Great Resignation or Modest Reshuffle?

For once, the pundits in the mainstream media agree: what is being touted as the ‘great resignation’ in the US and the UK will more likely amount to a modest reshuffle in Australia.

Making its debut in The Age, The Australian and the Australian Financial Review in mid-2021, the ‘great resignation’ refers to the record number of American and British employees quitting, or planning to quit, their roles in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether or not this is a cause for alarm depends on your place in the workforce. Governments and employers are worried about skills shortages and stymied growth. Employees, however, may be enjoying the unprecedented opportunity to bargain for better pay and conditions. Or, they may be bearing the brunt of much higher workloads for little-to-no remuneration.

Early signs indicated the same phenomenon might take hold here. Kendra Banks, SEEK’s Australian and New Zealand Managing Director commented that “In October, SEEK had more job ads on-site than ever before.” According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) seasonally adjusted data for the three months to August 2021, there were 333,700 job vacancies nationwide, representing a 46.5 per cent increase on pre-pandemic levels in February 2020.

Understandably, such figures have provoked a flurry of commentary but a deeper and broader analysis suggests it is unlikely Australia will experience a ‘seismic’ workforce shift. A question on ABS surveys about the likelihood of respondents continuing with the same employer for the next 12 months has led Bjorn Jensen, that organisation’s Head of Labour Statistics, to observe that increased job vacancies probably do not reflect the same restlessness experienced elsewhere. In August 2021 just over 9 per cent of ABS survey respondents answered they were likely to change employers – almost exactly the same percentage as those responding in February 2020. In fact, prominent experts suggest that resignation rates are at an all-time low.

There is little doubt that job numbers have surged recently and that a number of employers are finding it difficult to fill vacancies. Crucial structural contrasts between the workforces in Australia and the United States mean, however, that the signs might be telling different tales. What in the United States looks like a workforce exodus prompted by exhaustion and ‘pandemic epiphanies’ may, in Australia, be attributable to shortages in the skilled migrant workforce. Significantly, as Peter Gahan, Professor of Management at the University of Melbourne has pointed out, the US economy comprises more minimum- and below-minimum-wage jobs than that of Australia and it is those workers that, with lower levels of protection, have been more likely to completely withdraw from the labour market. It is also important to remember that the high rates of attrition experienced in the United States are confined to four or five sectors, sectors that have been more exposed to COVID-19 and have been put at even greater risk in some regions by low levels of vaccination.

Tremor or quake, change is afoot. Even if it turns out to be a modest reshuffle, commentators predict the implications will become noticeable in early 2022. That means there might not be a better time to get your professional profile in order. Contact Executive Agents now and get ahead of the curve!

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