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As the world reeled from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of workers voluntarily quit their jobs, citing poor work-life balance, exploitative conditions, low salaries and lack of purpose.

In the United States, 2.8 million fewer people are employed now than before the pandemic. But will we see the Great Resignation emerge in Australia?

Some experts have dubbed Australia’s version of this phenomenon as the “Great Reshuffle” – characterised by workers switching jobs rather than leaving the workforce for good.

According to Treasury data, more thanmillion workers started new jobs in the three months leading up to November 2021: a rate that’s “almost 10 per cent higher than the pre-COVID average”. This job-switching movement spans all industries, with workers seeking out roles offering better pay, more flexibility, and growth opportunities.

So, how can leaders in the corporate and service sectors hold onto their top talent in the jobseeker’s employment market? The University of Queensland (UQ) Business School leadership researchers and industry experts share 7 tips to keep the Great Reshuffle at bay.


Speakers: Professor Tyler Okimoto, UQ MBA Alumnus Stephanie Elwin, Associate Professor Richard Robinson.

 Identify those most likely to jump ship


#1 Identify those most likely to jump ship 

Management expert and Deputy Head of UQ Business School Professor Tyler Okimoto cautions leaders that in a reshuffle, there are three particularly valuable groups of employees that an organisation risks losing. Who are they, and how can leaders encourage them to stick around?

The star employees:

Professor Tyler Okimoto

“Star employees are the most likely to have alternative options or to be targeted by recruiters,” Tyler says.

“Recruiting is costly and requires a tonne of organisational time, without any guarantee that you will find a star; so, it’s a good idea to invest in keeping your good people happy, even during tough times.”

The individuals who don’t feel included or like they fit in:

Tyler says that organisations also risk losing workers with specialised skills or from under-represented groups. As a consequence of their uniqueness, these workers may not feel fully integrated into the organisation – potentially threatening workplace diversity if they decide to leave. 

“The reshuffle is a perfect time to invest your time and resources into workplace inclusion,” he says.

Team members with carer responsibilities:

“If you don’t have flexible workplace practices, employees with carer responsibilities will feel particularly burnt out post-pandemic – if they haven’t already quit – and may be on the hunt for alternatives that better support their needs,” Tyler says.

“Have a conversation about how you might better accommodate those needs in the future, otherwise you may start to see a pattern of turnover among your more experienced employees.”

Discover what motivates your team


#2 Discover what motivates your team

In the age of the Great Reshuffle, leaders should understand that there’s more to job-switching than the search for better pay.

“Remember what tends to motivate people, beyond the material benefits of the job,” Tyler says.

“This includes meaningful work that is purposeful and value-aligned; the opportunity for learning, mastery and professional achievement; a chance for some self-directedness in their work; and feelings of belonging and esteem from their peers.”

Director at PwC Australia and UQ Master of Business Administration (MBA) alumnus Stephanie Elwin agrees, noting that she focuses on what her team needs to be happy and engaged.

“If your team member gets a job offer that pays $50,000 more, it would be hard for them to turn it down – that’s something you have to accept,” Stephanie says.

“But there are other things you can control as a leader. Every day I think about how to support my team by giving them purpose, autonomy, and the opportunity to learn, encouraging team camaraderie, and providing a sense of belonging.

“Certainly, the feedback I’ve had is that the team feels motivated and connected to what they’re doing and to each other.”


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Sell the experience


#3 Sell the experience

According to UQ Business School hospitality and tourism workforce expert Associate Professor Richard Robinson, participating in the Great Resignation or the Great Reshuffle is a middle-class privilege not afforded to all workers.

“Many service sector workers in operational roles, such as waiters and cleaners, live hand-to-mouth and can’t afford to even think about their work-life balance or re-evaluating their lives,” Richard says.

Associate Professor Richard Robinson

However, Richard believes some hospitality and tourism workers – particularly those in specialist professional roles such as finance, accounting and marketing – are making the most of the Great Reshuffle.

In his research for the Australian Government’s National Careers Institute and his Advance Queensland fellowship, Richard found strong evidence that many of these workers had opted to take their transferable skills to other sectors due to job insecurity concerns.

“When COVID hit and the hospitality and tourism industries shut down, workers had to seriously think about how they would support their families and what their future careers would look like,” Richard says. 

“We already know that the service sector pays less for some of these specialist professional roles than other industries do.”

To retain specialist staff, Richard believes leaders in hospitality and tourism should focus more on selling the experience that workers can have in their industry.

“It’s an exciting industry to be in despite the sometimes lower pay. Many people choose it because they’ll have the opportunity to work in exotic locations, raise their kids by the beach and meet new people every day,” Richard says.

“Leaders need to talk up the benefits, but also ensure the experience they’re creating for their staff is actually exciting and authentic. Their actions should match their words.”

Pay close attention to staff wellbeing


#4 Pay close attention to staff wellbeing

In the aftermath of the pandemic, workers around Australia are experiencing burnout and poor wellbeing outcomes.

In Richard’s view, it’s up to leaders – particularly those in the service sector – to be more attentive to staff wellbeing.  

“Fundamentally, leaders should acknowledge the conditions that people work under in frontline service roles and aim to treat them better,” Richard says.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric out there around treating your employees right so they’ll treat your customers right, but there’s often a big gap between rhetoric and reality.

“Leaders should make a concerted effort to close this gap and treat their staff with dignity and respect. See them as humans rather than assets for your business.”

Tyler says leaders across all sectors should ask questions, listen and empathise with their team’s struggles, even if their ability to address those struggles is limited.

“Not only does this help you understand what is going right and wrong in the workplace, it also shows your value and respect for the experience and needs of your employees,” he says.

“Share your vision for a positive culture, work together to understand the challenges and empower your people to be part of the solution.”


Learn more about the 5 leadership trends that will transform the way you perform under pressure in 2022

Offer opportunities to upskill or retrain


#5 Offer opportunities to upskill or retrain

Many workers joining the Great Reshuffle aren’t interested in simply doing the same job for a different employer, according to Tyler. These workers are eager to upskill or retrain to work in an alternative industry.

“Research shows that most workers will make at least one major shift at some point in their careers,” he says.

“The COVID-19 disruption offers the sort of shock to their work habits that can inspire workers to start considering alternative employment options.

“Those organisations that allow a bit of “job crafting”, or who sponsor continuing education opportunities, may have an advantage in retaining employees who feel like they need something different in their careers.”

Decide what your organisation stands for – and walk the talk


#6 Decide what your organisation stands for – and walk the talk

Stephanie Elwin
Stephanie Elwin

Leaders may be tempted to think that providing staff with “office perks” – think ping pong tables, breakfast bars and treadmill desks – is enough to keep them inspired and engaged.

But as Stephanie points out, it’s more important to consider what their organisation stands for and ensure staff feel like they’re part of “something bigger” – a mission and vision that aligns with their values.

“We saw an example of this with Qantas when they publicly backed marriage equality in 2017,” Stephanie says.

“I would encourage all CEOs and leadership teams to think about what their organisation represents, and how they can back up their views and words with strong actions.

“This is a key part of keeping your employees interested. It sends the message that they belong and can be proud of where they work.”

Consider the composition of your executive team


#7 Consider the composition of your executive team

Despite efforts to improve the diversity of the workforce, women and culturally diverse groups continue to be underrepresented in Australian leadership, board and executive roles.

As Stephanie explains, a lack of diversity in executive teams could be the difference between retaining your top talent or losing them to the competition.

“The younger generations look at the executives leading the organisation and ask ‘who are these individuals and will they lead in inclusive ways?’,” she says.

“As an employee, if you’re looking at two different companies and assessing whether you want to stay where you are or jump ship, that would have to be part of the calculation for a talented person – for example, a young woman who has an MBA up their sleeve.

“Succession planning with inclusivity in mind and thinking about who’s in your executive team and what message that sends is vital to retaining the people we can’t afford to alienate or lose.”

Tyler says that if you keep these tips in mind, they should help you stay on track – but there’s also no “silver bullet” for retaining top talent.

“If there are culture problems driving turnover, the recovery is going to take time, but it’s achievable if leaders at all levels of the organisation put in the work,” he says.

Lead the way through the Great Reshuffle with UQ’s MBA.

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