We’ve been in a toxic relationship with work for years. And we’re ready to drop it like a bad habit.
In less than 18 months, employees in general (and knowledge workers, in particular) have gone from wearing their always-on, rise-and-grind lifestyles as a badge of honor to prioritizing their health, well-being, and time with family above all else.
Case in point: a majority of U.S. and Australian workers surveyed in a recent study commissioned by Atlassian indicated they’d rather protect their work-life balance than charge up the corporate ladder.
The past year or so has challenged all of us to compare the world we live in with the world we want to live in – and our research reveals multiple areas of disconnect between employees and employers. Today, employees want their employers to step up, speak up, and put up the investments that will transform our society and our planet.
The study, conducted in partnership with PwC Australia, surveyed 3,500 workers across a broad range of industries in Australia and the U.S. to learn what they value most right now and what they expect of their employers. Today we’re sharing the results in our second annual Return on Action report.
In short, employees expect more. The world expects more. And the consequences of inaction are very real.
Workers mean business when it comes to mental health
Career goals have taken a back seat as employees wrestle with the need to balance work with family life, mental health, and wellness. Their relationship with work has been pushed to its limits and the cracks are beginning to show.
Consider that 64 percent of U.S. and 69 percent of Australian respondents are willing to turn down a promotion in the name of preserving their mental health. (Even more surprising: that number is broadly consistent across generations and income levels.) The pressures of high-powered roles and the exhaustion that comes from being “always on” just don’t seem worth it anymore.
This shift from a “live to work” mindset to a “work to live” mindset creates a new blueprint for employers – one that demands we take a more comprehensive view of our employees’ wellbeing. The overnight transition to remote work was rough at first. But now that we’ve got our sea legs, many workers are keen to hold on to the benefits remote work affords them: more time for family and personal matters, better focus, and greater autonomy.
- 45 percent of U.S. and 42 percent of Australian workers we surveyed say they would consider changing jobs in order to access flexible work options.
- Among Millennials/Gen Y, that number reaches 50 percent or more in both countries.
Values alignment matters more than ever
Imagine if half your company’s staff walked off the job in response to objectionable behavior on the part of the company. It’s not as far-fetched as you might think.
- 41 percent of Gen Y workers (the largest generational cohort in today’s workforce) in Australia would quit their jobs if it became clear their employer’s values did not align with their own.
- In the U.S., that number reached 49 percent this year.
- Across generations, both countries saw this number rise six percentage points over last year – a statistically significant increase.
This increasingly activist workforce demands that businesses act on – not just pay lip service to – the major issues of the day. 61 percent of American respondents and 66 percent of Australians agreed that companies that take action on important issues are more attractive as employers – another statistically significant increase over last year.
At a time when employees’ expectations go beyond a paycheck and perks, we as company leaders have an incredible opportunity to draw inspiration from our workforce. We can elevate social and environmental values and let them inform how we compete out there in the marketplace.
How to turn these insights into action
There’s a major upside for organizations that take these trends into account. Meanwhile, those that fall short will lose their best talent (and their competitive advantage along with it). Although no company can single-handedly solve all social and environmental issues, there’s a lot we can do in places where we have control or influence. And we have a responsibility to take action. Here are a few of the ways Atlassian and others are responding to the report’s findings and to what employees have been saying over the past year.
Embrace flexible work models
Businesses can score advantage in attracting and retaining talent by embracing flexibility around where and when people work. Most respondents (64 percent in Australia and 68 percent in the U.S.) agreed that their employer supported flexible and remote working during the darkest days of the pandemic. For most companies and most job roles, there’s no need to take that option away. And there’s a strong incentive not to, given how many workers have come to value flexibility.
For example, Atlassian rolled out a policy we call “Team Anywhere” that allows our employees to live anywhere within a few timezones of their team. They can choose to come into an office every day, or just a few times a year for special team events. And aside from whatever meetings are on their calendar, the rest of the day is theirs to design as they see fit.
Help normalize conversations about burnout
Leaders set the tone. When we open up about our own struggles around stress, burnout, impostor syndrome, and other work-related aspects of mental health, we create a more inclusive working environment for our staff who are grappling with those same issues.
Alyson Watson, CEO of Atlassian customer Modern Health, can attest to this. She not only leads a company dedicated to connecting people with the right support services but has also experienced her own mental health challenges as a result of the pandemic. The sudden surge in demand for services was a blessing for her business, but operating in overdrive mode quickly became a curse. She spoke about it openly with her staff and worked with them to find a more sustainable way for the company to operate: scrappy, but with an eye toward mental health, too.
“[CEOs] can play a huge role in paving the way and making a much healthier society. The onus is on us to step up and show support and care.” says Alyson Watson, founder and CEO of Modern Health.
Understand what makes your people tick (and act accordingly)
Our Return on Action report revealed which issues matter most to a representative sample of American and Australian workers. But what about your team members?
Part of our job as leaders is to proactively seek input from our employees as to what they value and how they want the company to show up in the world. Some companies do this by way of open Q&A sessions with their C-suite. Other companies monitor the pulse through employee surveys, or simply by making a point to be plugged into what’s happening where employees live and being ready to take action. (Atlassian does a bit of both.)
Regardless of how you gather this information, acting on it is vital. And action has its rewards.
- 52 percent of U.S. and 55 percent of Australian employees want to help shape the issues their employers take action on.
- 92 percent of U.S. and 89 percent of Australian employees who are satisfied with the level of action their employers take are satisfied with their current employers holistically.
Invest in sustainability and building a resilient business
We can’t disconnect ourselves from the people, customers, communities, and planet that support our businesses. They are inextricably linked and threats to one will affect the others.
It’s not about “doing the right thing.” These investments are critical to the long-term sustainability and future-proofing of any business. Social and environmental progress should be integrated into everything we do as businesses. From investing in our people to protecting the rights of our customers to engaging with our communities, and addressing climate threats – this is what creates a thriving ecosystem over the long term.
The bottom line
Businesses can’t thrive unless the people who power them are thriving. Those that take this to heart and pivot in response will position themselves for long-term success.
Now is the time to go big. Take a moment to look at what’s happening in the world around us and how those changes will impact our employees, customers, communities, and planet.
- What role can we play as business leaders to shape a better future?
- What programs and policies can we implement to reduce work-related stress and support employees’ well-being?
- How can we make sure our decisions protect the rights of employees, customers, and communities?
- What investments can we make in the stability and resilience of the planet and the people on it?
Find the issues most relevant to your business and stakeholders. Decide where you can have the most impact and make the investments now. The opportunities are there. And the financial and brand risks of inaction are only increasing.
Download the full report to get a deeper understanding of the trends that are shaping our present, and join us in leading the way to a better future.
This article originally appeared in Atlassian.