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Austin Distel

Australia’s culture shift from ‘live to work’ to ‘work to live’

Australian employees would rather quit their job than work for a company that they don’t see eye-to-eye with on social matters, a new Atlassian Corporation study has found.

The study also revealed that workers in the United States and Australia in a wide range of industries are prioritizing their mental health more than ever before.

The second annual Return On Action report, researched by Atlassian Corporation and conducted by PwC Australia, a global network of organisations, aims to better understand employee expectations of businesses’ role and responsibility in societal issues.   

The multinational survey included over 1,200 Australian employees and highlights how the past 12 months have changed employee sentiment and priorities. 

According to the report, Australian employees are increasingly expecting companies to focus on societal issues, such as mental health and wellbeing, which has also risen to the top of the priority list for 2021.

“Expectations of business have grown, with 77 per cent of Aussie workers now agreeing it is important businesses speak up on societal issues, up 10 per cent points from 12 months prior,” the report said.

“It’s a view shared by 74 per cent of Australian workers, who believe corporations should be concerned about their social impact as well as their financial performance, up 5 per cent points from the previous year.” 

The report also noted that employers face a new social contract with their employees: one that requires them to take a more comprehensive view of their well-being and to take immediate action on issues that affect their everyday lives, families, and communities. 

“The era of the corporation being an invisible entity is gone, and employees expect more,” said Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder and co-CEO of Atlassian. 

“We have an awesome opportunity to take inspiration from the hearts and minds of our global workforce, and drive change for the betterment of our world.” 

Mind matters most

In 2021, Australians’ priorities shifted, with “mental health and wellness” overtaking “cost of living” as the top societal concern, moving up from fourth position in 2020. 

Research revealed that 69 per cent of respondents would consider turning down a promotion at work in order to preserve their mental health while a further 42 per cent would change jobs to access more remote work. This number increases to 50 per cent for Gen Y. 

Other findings were as follows:

More than half of all participants said issues relating to ‘mental health and wellbeing’ (55 per cent) are more important now compared to 12 months prior.

Over a third (37 per cent) look to their employers as the most important provider of mental health support, and following a difficult year for many, one in four (26 per cent) reported experiencing mental health issues and distress over the past 12 months.

As a watch out for businesses, nearly the same number (25 per cent) felt they did not receive adequate support from their employers during the pandemic.

For the greater good

Overall, 82 per cent of employees agree businesses should take some form of action on social issues, up from 75 per cent last year. 

Over a third of employees (37 per cent) will go as far as to quit their job if employer values do not align with their own. This increases to nearly half for Gen Y (41 per cent) and Gen Z (44 per cent).

“The consequences of inaction are very real. We’re in a global war for talent and employees want change. 

“There have never been higher expectations on business, and how we respond as leaders is crucial,” said Scott Farquhar, co-founder and co-CEO of Atlassian. 

“If this groundswell of support for action is ignored, it will open businesses up to the risk of alienating the emerging workforce.”

While there is clear risk with inaction, there is equally reward for those who step up:

Two thirds of employees (64 per cent) agree they want to be heard i.e. allowed to voice their opinions at work on issues that matter to them.

Over two thirds (68 per cent) of employees strongly agree or agree that an employer who speaks out on issues that align with their values is more attractive as a future employer, up 11 per cent points from 2020.

For Gen Y, this increased from 60 per cent in 2020 to 77 per cent in 2021.

The Young and the Restless

The Gen Y workforce has been driving the shift in attitude throughout the study. These are the changemakers, the workers who suffered the brunt of the pandemic’s financial crises and have now been pushed to new heights of social activism as a result.

80 per cent of Gen Y agree it is important for businesses to speak up or act on societal issues their employees care about, and 72 per cent of Gen Y applaud businesses for having a public stand on important societal issues not directly related to their business.

Climate strikes led by school students globally, was one such issue where employees and employers alike raised their voice. 

The survey revealed that Gen Y employee sentiment increased on the belief that businesses have the ability to greatly improve the impacts of climate change (81 per cent, up 11 per cent points).

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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