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Workforce trends 2017

4 min read

Population trends both nationally and regionally are redefining Australia, with a knock-on effect for the world of work.

Demographic and social trends such as greater cultural diversity, the implications of an ageing population, household transformations and increased mobility are introducing significant changes. And with the oldest of the emerging Generation Z entering the workforce this year, organisations need to understand the trends that drive this group.

Trends affecting the Australian workplace this year include teleworking, tenure shifts, multi-career expectations, the gig economy, and emerging attraction/retention/engagement factors. Here is a look at these factors in detail…


One in 12 people work from home, a growing trend enabled by advances in communication technologies. Our research at McCrindle has found that the top three reasons people work from home are flexibility, improved work/life balance without long commutes, and increased ability to work without distraction. Our workplaces can be busy hubs of activity, while home bases can provide more peace for thinking and working.

Tenure shifts/careers

Australia’s job mobility is a far cry from a job for life – in fact, it is closer to three jobs a decade. The national average tenure in a job nowadays is three years and four months, based on voluntary turnover of around 15 per cent a year. If this plays out consistently in the life of a school leaver today, assuming they start their working life at 20 years old in a part-time role and work through to their 60s, they will have 17 different employers in their lifetime. Based on three jobs before upskilling or changing career, this means they will also have five separate careers in their lifetime. This means job tenure is higher than it has ever been, with employees upskilling and retraining more regularly.

Gig economy

In the span of a generation, the proportion of Australians working on a part-time or casual basis has tripled from one to more than three in 10. But in the past year or so, online services like Airtasker, Deliveroo, Freelancer and Uber have ushered in the “gig economy”. This means that more of the emerging generation will end up being freelancers, contractors or contingent workers than ever before.

New research shows that a third of the national workforce participates in contingent work, and more than three out of four employers believe it will become the norm for people to pick up extra work through job-related websites or apps. Technology and new employment options have made it possible. It is being driven by businesses looking to manage their staff costs and liabilities, as well as Generations Y and Z who value variety, flexibility and opportunity over job security. These factors are taking the gig economy mainstream this year.


Even in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the attraction and retention of good staff is still a key issue. It is also growing as we face expanded labour demand in a recovering economy along with a declining labour supply because of the ageing demography. The emerging generation of workers does not seek a job as much as seeking an opportunity. They have multiple expectations of an organisation – beyond the job description they look to the workplace culture, the variety, fun, training, management style and flexibility. In light of this, it is not enough to focus only on financial benefits as a tool of attraction and retention.

At McCrindle we have conducted many studies of young job seekers, we have surveyed thousands of working Australians and have run dozens of focus groups and interviews investigating the employment factors that attract and retain. The different studies agree about one aspect: the size of the company and/or the recognition of the employer/brand do not define an employer of choice, but rather a job opportunity and challenge offering varied roles and career pathways. Considerations include workplace culture, lifestyle benefits, management style and work/life balance. These are factors often offered by small employers and non-profit organisations, not just corporations. Interestingly, salary alone is not the main drawcard, and out of the many interviews remuneration was mentioned less often than non-monetary factors and rewards.

Emerging generations have grown up in a world where everything is incentivised. Customer loyalty is bought with frequent-buyer programs, points or discounts. Accordingly, employee loyalty is regarded in the same vein. By understanding and meeting the needs of the new workforce, and motivating through reward and recognition strategies, better retention can be achieved. Flexibility to study, travel and achieve work/life balance is a basic expectation of new job seekers.

Workers today look to have multiple needs met at work. While working is about achieving outcomes and receiving financial rewards, for the emerging generations it is also about fun, social connection, training, personal development, greater fulfilment and even environmental sustainability. A job for the emerging generation is more than just delivering a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. They have an expectation it will also help them achieve social, training and lifestyle goals as well.

Emerging employees need to feel that their jobs equip them for the future, and that they are being invested in and valued. The increase in workplace ping-pong tables, lunchrooms with coffee machines and sandwich makers, and work meetings in a local cafe highlight the recognition of staff wellbeing, team engagement and activity-based working in achieving improved retention and commitment. The favour is likely to be returned – staff in organisations that develop this culture are likely to be more engaged, which is positive for retention and productivity.

It is self-evident that every business, team and brand is just one generation away from extinction. By recruiting and engaging with the next generation of employees, our organisations will be more innovative, adaptive and futureproofed.

Ashley Fell, Social Researcher, McCrindle.

This article originally appeared in Third Sector’s March print magazine.

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