COVID-19. Ever heard of it? If you haven’t, welcome back from your coma, and sit down, I have some news. For the rest of us, treading contaminated water for the better part of the past 24 months has meant COVID-19 has leaked its way into every facet of our lives, with the world of work having been no exception. Though unlike our allies in the US and UK, the ripple effect we’re experiencing here in Australia (and locally in Geelong) has been less big quit and more better fit, with workers insisting on improved working conditions en masse, rather than abandoning their roles, and seeking a more comfortable workload, greater flexibility, work from home options, greater reward for effort, and a healthier work/ life balance. In fact, in the year leading up to February 2021, the proportion of employed Australians changing jobs actually reached an all time low of 7.6 per cent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Instead of riding that huge ‘Great Resignation’ turnover wave, Australian workers are getting collectively vocal about prioritising their wellbeing and de-glamorising the grind. It’s ‘The Great Realisation.’ A reset. No longer will Sam be working a 55 hour week just to get things done. No longer will Varun be missing weeknight Summer swims because of his exhausting daily commute. No longer will sales superstar Barb put up with her stagnant salary that hasn’t moved since her onboarding in 2016. And no longer will Henrik shelve the idea of escaping to the country, lest he ever be locked down in a concrete jungle again. It has really been a pandemic of perspective for many of us, where amidst the well documented challenges there too has been a shift in mindset to positive change. Big picture stuff. A reminder of the important, carried on the tune of a cough.

Employers are being challenged to come through with flexible hybrid work policies, added resources, higher salaries, and to invest more in mental health support (which has gone from being a nice-to-have to a true business imperative). Many of my clients are not only trying to determine how to support and balance the increased needs of a diverse workforce, but are also reconsidering many of the basics of how work gets done today. All while working to understand – and preserve – the elements of company culture that led or will lead to success.

Consumer demand has also shifted to a digital-first world online, and businesses are needing to raise the bar to pass muster and align their offerings and capabilities to these heightened expectations. This change in temperature, underpinned by the added pressures already placed on our healthcare professionals, has meant that content creators, delivery drivers, marketers, tech gurus and people leaders have also never been more sought after. Companies are having to flex their online presence to stay competitive, and businesses that might have outsourced their technology or marketing pre-pandemic are now investing in-house with storytelling being the order of the day, and direct to consumer the profitable way. The virtual marketplace is bustling and because of that appetite at a local level, some pockets of the Geelong labour market are now starting to get pretty tight. And empowered employees with purpose that are also in high demand amount to perfect storm conditions that push salaries up. I personally can’t recall a time where I’ve seen sharper increases to remunerations over such a brief period, concurrent with such a shortage of talent. Fresh graduates across Geelong are rolling into $55K salaried jobs. Marketing Managers have gone from circa $80K to circa $100K, IT Helpdesk roles have ticked up by about $10K, and Cyber Security experts are commanding a pretty penny to the tune of $140K +. Even administrative and construction salaries have burgeoned in response to the level of fiscal stimulus washing through the economy. Counteroffers are getting really competitive, particularly in candidate short markets, some employers are really having to scramble to fill roles, and others are putting off new hires, hoping that biding their time will pay off down the track.

Geelong candidates don’t have it much easier though, with the mass exodus of city dwellers to regional Victoria, there are now big-name experienced players pipping locals out of positions, and in some instances, where roles are available remotely, the removal of geographic boundaries has meant employers have been able to tap into niche talent, location agnostic.

Without a doubt, the far-reaching changes to economic and social behaviour brought on by the COVID crisis have been transformative. We’ve all been living through the greatest workplace disruption in generations, so how do we all move forward in the best position possible? Both employers and workers? The good news is that from a local perspective, I’m not seeing the same or similar levels of volatility overseas, in our City by the Bay. While the biggest challenge for Geelong businesses this year is likely to be finding and budgeting for sufficient staff to fill vacancies, there is no current ‘War on Talent’ or ‘Great Resignation’ for professional roles to be declared just yet, but employers are going to need to try and accommodate (and anticipate) employee demands where possible and focus on  succession planning in order to overcome skills gaps, and unfilled vacancies. Employers that don’t offer any role flexibility will see increased turnover as employees move to roles that offer a value proposition that better aligns with their desires, but my bets are hedged on flexible working whiplash to affect the market mid year, where employers will likely reign in remote working in order to protect culture and lagging performance.

While over the course of the pandemic, the standards for giving employees what they need to succeed have evolved, workers should still temper their expectations and be prepared for a bit of give and take. How organisations balance business sustainability with supporting employee needs will be key in creating a post-pandemic normal, and leaders, managers and employees alike are going to have to work hard to value each other, promote autonomy, establish boundaries and create new norms in order to navigate these choppy waters and societal shifts.

— Lauren Hogan
Director, Talent Acquisition & Advisory
Fruition Recruitment