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Employees calling the shots – how can employers adapt?


In the past, businesses dictated the terms of employment. They called the shots about how, when, and where people worked, and still had candidates banging at the gates to be let in. Even now, whether it’s a fresh grad keen to join the hallowed ranks of investment bankers, or a trainee lawyer eager to join the Magic Circle, major corporations continue to prove the most alluring to hopeful graduates.

But some of these types of companies have reputations for propagating burnout culture. Time was, employees would accept this without question, but now that’s no longer the case. The needle of power is shifting in favour of employees, and with the war for talent ramping up, employers are having to rethink the way they manage people, ensuring a positive employee experience.

Learning from companies around the world that are trying to force staff back to the office, Australia and New Zealand’s CEOs are expressing optimism about entering a new era of hybrid work. According to the Chanticleer CEO Poll, most of Australia’s major companies will move to a hybrid model, with staff spending two to three days in the office each week. After all, as many as half of Australians and New Zealanders are likely to resign from jobs that don’t provide sufficient flexibility post-COVID.


The question for employers is, how can they adapt?

 It starts with rethinking hierarchy. Employers can’t take a top-down approach to management; they need to understand what’s happening on the ground and adjust their strategy. Staff have reaped the productivity benefits from increased flexibility in both their professional and personal lives during the pandemic – and they won’t want to give these benefits up easily.

Our recent research, The Age of Agile HR shows that two-thirds (65%) of workers want the flexibility to combine office working with working from home. Despite fears amongst businesses, providing flexibility doesn’t lead to disengagement. Leaders can’t rule with an iron fist; they need to listen to employee pain points and ensure they are managing flexibly in the right way.

The harsh truth for CEOs is that employees will leave if they don’t like the work environment. And what employees want from their work environment is more autonomy; our research found that career progression was the greatest concern for people under 40, with half (49%) ranking it highly. Given the importance of career progression, employers need to enable employees to be individuals, to work on their own terms, by extending the olive branch and accommodating flexibility for new working schedules.

As restrictions lift, how businesses adapt to the return to the office will undoubtedly remain in the spotlight. The pandemic has led to many reassessing whether they need such large offices; the future could be more agile and flexible, where space is optimised. And employers who don’t offer this flexibility should remember that competing firms can and will. CEOs can’t just dictate the terms of employee engagement – it has to be a mutual conversation, or massive staff churn is on the cards.

Read more about the Age of Agile HR in our ebook.

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