The idea of a work-life balance is changing, and more Australian employees are prepared to trade money for flexibility and a remuneration package, which includes health and wellness.
This is one of the insights from some recent research work done by several Australian organizations, from recruitment firms to human resources consultants.
At Mercer Australia, Chi Tran is the principal and career products business leader. She says that in the company's annual Australian Benefits Review – which surveys around 285 clients – the percentage of respondents identifying flexibility and wellness as workplace priorities are going up "by two to three percent each year," and currently sits at just over 70%.
“We know that Australian employees are four times more likely to work for a company that focusses on their health and wellbeing,” says Chi.
“I have found clients and candidates who take jobs where the pay is higher but where there is not much flexibility, and in many cases, they are out looking for a new job again in about six months.”
In Chi’s view, many employees are willing to accept lower financial remuneration if they are happy with the flexibility and wellness aspects of their work package.
In some cases, this can mean employees accepting jobs where the financial remuneration is up to 10% less than other roles, with the decision based solely around flexibility and wellness.
Flexibility and wellness as two separate trends.
This is not isolated to particular demographic groups, such as younger workers. Employees across all age groups value these features, although they may use them differently and for different reasons.
Chi identifies flexibility and wellness as two separate trends. Flexibility is all about structuring hours, working from home or remote locations, and generally fitting in worth with personal needs such as picking up children from school or being able to play sport.
Wellness and health, she says, is another emerging area of focus in the workplace, and many leading Australian employers are now offering a “wellness allowance” to their staff.
“This can be spent in any way the employee wants,” says Chi.
“It can be spent on gym shoes, gym membership, fitness classes, anything which the employee thinks can contribute to health and wellness.”
A different approach
Chi says the Australian approach is different from that of other developed markets such as the U.K., where the leading trend is a menu of “flexible benefits” from which employees can pick and choose.
With compulsory – and high – pension contributions from employers and a universal public health system acknowledged as one of the best in the world, Australian employers are not being asked to provide these features, as they are readily available.
Flexibility and wellness differentiate employers when attracting candidates and retaining talent.
What is similar, however, is that flexibility and wellness are increasingly issues that differentiate employers and make them better at attracting and then retaining talent.
“Candidates are actively asking employers about their work/life policies and about flexibility and wellness,” says Chi.
Her views, and Mercer’s research in this area, are backed by a recent study by job search engine Indeed, which surveyed 2000 working parents in Australia aged between 25 and 54.
Among respondents whose workplaces had flexible working options, 94% said it had made a positive impact on their home life.
For those without flexible options, 43% said they would be prepared to take a drop in salary if they could work more flexibly.
War against rigidity
A lack of flexibility can also be damaging. The 2019 National Working Families Report found that 62% of the Australian working population is finding it hard to look after their physical and mental health while trying to balance the ongoing pressure of family and work.
A wealth of evidence suggests that flexibility delivers better productivity, engagement, and employee retention.
The message from all this research to employers is clear. Still, the reality is that many organizations – and they tend to be smaller organizations – are moving too slowly in this area.
There is a wealth of evidence that flexibility is good for organizations, delivering better productivity, engagement, and employee retention.
In January this year, executives of the big four consulting groups told an Australian parliamentary inquiry that their junior workers were pushing back on work conditions, and were averaging 7.5 hours of work each day.
This was in the context of claims of overworking employees. But the consultancy groups say they are mindful of the fact that overwork can produce poor quality work and can also be symptomatic of toxic work culture.
In a market where demand for top talent exceeds supply, the talent is increasingly voting with its feet, and their choices are changing the market – and the approach to this issue – forever.
Photo credit: iStockphoto/seyfettinozel