As Australian States start to emerge from the 18-month fog that is the COVID-19 global pandemic and we begin to navigate the “new normal,” many are pausing to take stock.

We are stepping off the rollercoaster that threw us upside down and side to side. Our legs are shaky, and our adrenalin is still pumping. Feeling slightly battered and a little bruised, we are saying to ourselves, ‘what the hell was that?’ And more importantly, ‘now what?’

If we look overseas for reference, global consultancy McKinsey has already reported that a record number of Americans have quit their jobs during the pandemic. In fact, more than 19 million American workers have resigned from their roles since April 2021.

Being thrust into vast amounts of change throughout 2020 and 2021 has built our resilience and altered our tolerance levels for change. We are more open now than ever before to doing things differently.

Various factors are prompting the rethink. The introduction of mass scale remote working was widely accepted as a positive for both employers and employees.

The experience allowed many to shift their focus to their homes and immediate family, and with the ability for many to continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future, it has provided an avenue for many to reevaluate how and where they live, and even more fundamentally — it opened to door to question — what do I really want to do and how do I want to do it?

Employee expectations are also changing. What employers offer their people in terms of working arrangements and flexibility will define their company culture and ultimately dictate who will continue to work with them. Many have already begun talking about hybrid models where some work will be conducted in an office environment and several days will be at home, but even this must be approached with eyes wide open.

Microsoft recently researched employee behaviour and productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic in America and found that while many leaders were thriving in a remote environment, more junior team members were feeling disconnected.

“Those impromptu encounters at the office help keep leaders honest. With remote work, there are fewer chances to ask employees, “Hey, how are you?” and then pick up on important cues as they respond. But the data is clear: our people are struggling. And we need to find new ways to help them.”

— Jared Spataro, CVP at Microsoft 365.


Organisations that do not invest time in understanding how people want to work and what they need to thrive, will find themselves unable to recruit the right people to drive them forward.

In an article by Australian workplace culture expert, Tammy Tansley, she calls out expert predictions that point to Australia seeing mass resignations around March 2022, in line with the experience in the US.

While this time of year typically sees movement in the labor market as people get into the new year and decide the paths they want to take, and the fact that we are already in a labor shortage thanks to COVID-associated factors will make things difficult.

Tammy also points out that in Australia, 52% of recruiting employers are already having trouble hiring the talent they need.

Merran Brown believes we are at a crossroads, where everyone is reassessing everything.

“People have had 18 months to reassess their lives, what’s important to them and how they want to live. They want agency over what they do, how they do it and who they work with. Businesses that recognise this will be better placed to relate to the employees they are wanting to secure and entice the new talent they wish to find”.

Layer all of this with COVID vaccine mandates that are coming into effect across a number of Australian industries.

Telstra recently became the first telecommunications company to announce it will require its frontline staff to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 to safeguard against illness and help them move across state borders if disasters such as bushfires hit. The mandate applies to around 8,300 roles, including retail staff and technicians who have dealings with the public.

While many are supportive of the policy, not everyone is going to be comfortable with the decision and Telstra won’t be alone in drawing this line. QANTAS came out early with a ‘no jab, no job’ type policy. Similarly, the Australian Nursing Federation predicts resignations of between 400 and 700 nurses as the vaccine mandate comes into effect.

How employees are thinking about their work options is changing dramatically. The traditional employee/employer dynamic is altered and leaders who are able to make a mindset shift around that will have the greatest ability to balance organisational needs with people requirements.

If you thought the COVID rollercoaster was coming to a halt, it’s time to think again. A whole new ride is gearing up ready to take us on a new journey. Best we go into it facing it head on, not with our head in our hands and eyes closed. We must see clearly what lies around the next bend.


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