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Three-quarters of Australian workers think now is a good time to change jobs. This is what managers can do better to keep them

This article is by Assistant Professor, Libby Sander and was originally published on The Conversation.

Australian workers are more likely than those elsewhere to be planning to change jobs, with 74% reporting now is a good time to look for a new position, compared to 52% globally.

In addition, only 25% of workers report feeling engaged or committed to their company’s goals, according to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2024 report released on Wednesday.

While engagement is up on the last report, 48% of Australian workers experienced a lot of stress, perhaps explaining the high numbers seeking new jobs.

High levels of bullying, harassment or discrimination, as reported by one in two workers in 2023, are also likely to be a contributing factor.

Why engagement matters

Engagement levels trended upward globally for several years, reaching a record high in 2021 before dropping in 2022 when the pandemic took hold.

When employees are engaged, they bring all aspects of themselves, cognitively, emotionally and physically to work. Engaged employees are likely to find work meaningful and to feel connected to their team, manager and employer.

Research has shown autonomy, work variety and significance, coaching and feedback, opportunities for growth, social support and supportive coworkers improve engagement.

These factors are valuable resources, which become even more important when job demands are high, such as during the pandemic when many employees reported longer hours, higher workloads and increased dissatisfaction.

Without these, engagement can suffer, which, the Gallup report warns, has the potential to cost Australian companies more than A$220 billion annually, equating to 9% of the nation’s GDP.

What can be done?

Gallup’s research found managers or team leaders alone account for 70% of the variance in team engagement.

This is why clear effective leadership is necessary to reduce job dissatisfaction, disengagement and burnout.

While how we work and where we work has changed dramatically since the pandemic, approaches to leadership have been slower to adapt.

Research shows this kind of outdated “zombie leadership” harms individuals, teams and organisations.

The idea that managers must be able to see their employees in the office to know they are working is an example of this.

Autonomy is important

Given autonomy is a key factor in job satisfaction and commitment, leaders need to be willing to update old leadership styles to get the best from workers.

Work follows us everywhere now, and with more people working from home some of the time, being able to switch off is vital for recovery. However, leaders need to model this behaviour.

Recent research showed when leaders engaged in pleasurable post-work activities, their next day mood was significantly better. This resulted in better employee performance and creativity.

A separate survey showed 90% of employees said having their manager show more empathy would make a positive difference to their work life.

Wellbeing and mental health

In addition to 48% of Australian employees reporting significant stress, 15% reported feeling angry a lot of the day and 19% said they felt sadness for a prolonged period the previous day.

In a separate survey of more than 1,000 workers, 87% reported burnout in the past 12 months. This figure has not changed in the last three years.

The survey also found Australians wanted their company to create a better work-life balance (38%), for more people to be hired to get the team’s work done (28%) and for more flexible work arrangements (26%).

Organisations must also provide opportunities for growth and development, meaningful work, and fair pay and benefits.

And finally, company culture plays a key role in employee satisfaction and engagement. More than one in four workers (26%) indicated a toxic work culture hurt their mental health.

The impact of best-practice initiatives is significant. Companies practising best-practice consistently achieved employee engagement levels more than triple the global average.

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