The issue of low wage growth has recently dominated headlines in Australia’s political discourse. Considering the weight that the issue currently carries, it’s surprising that Gartner’s quarterly Global Talent Monitor found that Australian workers didn’t even place it into the top 3 in their list of concerns. Rather than just underpaid, workers feel disrespected and burnt out.

business stress - Overextended businesses face backlash from workers

In order to maximise their effectiveness and minimise costs, businesses have pushed their employees to work more and harder for less. The resulting company cultures are such that workers are even more frustrated about their working conditions than the more easily understood compensation issue. The top concerns listed by the sample of nearly 2,000 Australian workers that Gartner surveyed are work/life balance, and the amount of respect employees were shown as professionals.

In order to access as well as to retain the top talent they need, businesses need to work to better balance their short term ambitions, and their ability to succeed and grow in the long term. Those who do so best stand to benefit enormously, securing their place in their respective industry for years to come.

Employees feel left behind

In the past decade, Australia’s economy has maintained strong growth, and businesses overall have become much more profitable than they were a decade prior, with corporate profits nearly doubling since 2010 to $93 billion. Employee productivity, however, didn’t increase at a similar rate, and neither did compensation. Instead, businesses achieved these profit margins by applying new technologies that encouraged employees to spend more time working, not to work more efficiently.

A key factor in this trend are “always on” technologies, which have decoupled work from the workplace, resulting in the expectation that employees should always be available. Employees work longer hours, often without pay, and take work home just to meet their employer’s productivity expectations. This has enabled businesses to pursue and meet aggressive growth targets with minimal investment. While that sounds great, it also comes with a steep long-term cost. Workers increasingly feel disrespected, exhausted, and unmotivated. As a result, they are less loyal, less productive, and much less engaged in the workplace. Only 30 percent of employees surveyed indicated a “high intent” to stay. Most were either merely complacent, or actively looking for the door.

Wages shouldn’t be ignored

Some might consider Gartner’s findings evidence that wages are not actually as serious an issue in Australia as believed by politicians. Larger trends suggest otherwise, though. Australians are suffering from a lack of disposable income, which is measurably slowing the country’s economic growth. Stalling consumer spending, and the departure of middle-income Australians from urban centers is consistent with a reduction in disposable income as costs rise and wages stay the same.

Low growth in compensation is a serious issue for the Australian economy, but these other issues have grown up around it as well, outlining a broader problem that employers need to find a way to deal with —employee burnout.

Businesses need to react to protect their investment

Workers are beginning to actively search for employers that treat them with respect, offer competitive compensation, and allow for a healthy work/life balance. Naturally, the most talented and experienced individuals will be those most able to secure an employer that suits them.

Any business that wants to succeed in the long term needs to attract and retain top quality talent like this. By over-prioritising short term success, many currently successful businesses are driving away the key innovators and problem-solvers that they’ll need to grow in the future.

Take control of your culture

Businesses often strive for cultures that simply maximise productivity. A great company culture, however, also helps to keep employees healthy, motivated, and engaged in the long term. This ensures that a business doesn’t just meet a specific deadline, but that it can consistently perform well indefinitely. Businesses need to reexamine their cultures, and the policies that shape them, and take action to become a place where employees feel valued and respected.

Now is the time to shop for talent

Those businesses who manage to meet these challenges head on, as well as those who already had healthy cultures and policies, now have an opportunity. While skilled workers in Australia are becoming increasingly scarce, poor working conditions and low wages have many looking to jump ship. By emphasising what you have to offer in terms of culture and work/life balance, you can attract skilled workers who would otherwise have never seriously considered leaving their current job.

Businesses ultimately rely on their employees to provide not only labour, but also the ideas, energy, and momentum that allows them to innovate, engage customers, and grow. Succeeding in the long term means not only maximising profits today, but also ensuring that your business secures the talent it needs to do so in the future.

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