You’ve probably heard of the “great resignation‘, causing large numbers of people to quit their jobs in the US in 2021 and 2022.
We have not seen layoffs above what is normal in Australia. However, we did see employees resisting returning to the office post-COVID.
To better understand these trends, we have a study of 1,400 working Australians in 2022 to see how they are doing two years after the pandemic started.
And the answer is: not great.
Australian workers have been in deteriorating physical and mental health at all ages and stages since the pandemic. And employees of the highest age – those between 25 and 55 – report the highest burnout.
About 50% of the highest-aged employees in our survey feel exhausted at work. About 40% reported feeling less motivated about their work than before the pandemic, and 33% found it harder to focus on work due to responsibilities outside of work.
They also see fewer advancement opportunities than older workers and are more likely to feel they don’t have enough time at work to do everything they need to do.
It may come as no surprise that 33% of this senior-aged workforce is considering quitting. These employees may show up for work, but they are definitely burned out. They are the “silent quitters” and sound the alarm.
Why are employees burnt out?
The pandemic, particularly the lockdowns, has taken a significant toll on the mental health of the Australian workforce. While we have desperately waited for life to return to ‘normal’, pandemic-related disruptions persist.
Our previous research during the pandemic showed women And parents were particularly vulnerable. We found mothers stepped into the extra child care and housework due to pandemic lockdowns. We found that fathers also did more housework and childcare during the first year of the pandemic.
The result of all this extra work was worse mental health – worse sleep, less calmness, more anxiety.
We have also shown this intensified women’s economic insecurity, leading to lower retirement contributions and fears that jobs will be lost without the skills to return to work.
Women are more and more concentrated in sectors such as nursing, childcare and primary school teachers, all of which were particularly affected by the pandemic. Middle-aged young women were particularly affected during the early period of the pandemic and the lockdowns.
The pandemic was unforeseen, severe and damaging to our working lives. Many Australian workplaces and workers continue to be affected by the pandemic. More and more workers are hiring sick leavewhich may be partially caused by exhaustion and other COVID-related reasons.
Where do we go from here?
Australian workers in our survey have some clear solutions. They found access to flexible work particularly valuable for their working life. In our study, we found that flexible workers had more energy for their work and greater motivation to do their job. They reported more time to complete their tasks.
About 40% of all flexible workers reported feeling more productive since the start of the pandemic, compared to about 30% of non-flexible workers.
And 75% of workers under the age of 54 reported that a lack of flexible work options in their workplace would motivate them to leave or find another job.
Flexible working works for many of the Australian workforce. Australian employers would do well to find ways to extend their reach to a wider segment of the workforce or risk reduced productivity and loss of their workers.
2 main takeaways
As we rush to return to pre-pandemic “normal,” our report identifies two critical points.
- The Australian workforce is burnt out and exhausted. We must recognize that the trauma of the pandemic continues and find clear solutions to support this exhausted, tired and overworked workforce.
- We need to understand that pre-pandemic ways of working didn’t work for many. It especially didn’t work for mothers. It didn’t work for carers. It didn’t work for people with a chronic illness. It didn’t work for groups vulnerable to workplace discrimination. It didn’t work for people who had to travel long distances. So going “back to normal” means a permanent disadvantage for these groups.
This means that creating new ways of working, including flexible working, is essential to ensuring that Australia’s workforce is energized for tomorrow and the next big challenge we will face.
Written by: Leah Ruppannerprofessor of sociology and founder and director of The Future of Work Lab, The University of Melbourne; Brendan ChurchillARC Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor of Sociology, The University of MelbourneAnd David Bissellprofessor of social geography, The University of Melbourne
- This article has been republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.