Depending on what you read, Australian workplaces are either in the midst of a great resignation, great reshuffle, or reset. What’s certain is that the proverbial ball is firmly in the employee’s court.
Australians are emerging from the greatest social, cultural, and workplace shift since WWII. Empathy and understanding are now expected from employers, and top talent is not afraid to move if their needs aren’t met. Large numbers of Aussie professionals are chasing change on the back of a hot labour market and new expectations, research from LinkedIn shows. People are thinking more about how, where, and—importantly —why they work.
As leaders strive to meet changing expectations and create inclusive, productive workplaces that transcend office walls, categorising these new ways of working as perks completely misses the point. In a new report commissioned by ServiceNow, leading AI expert Catriona Wallace predicts that employees will increasingly demand empathetic, hyper-personalised experiences.
The new world of work
Self-care, me time, and side hustles might sound like Gen Z parlance, but Wallace views these behavioural characteristics as the foundation of our future workforce. It’s not just younger cohorts demanding a different experience and fundamental rethink of how work is done.
In the past, leading organisations offered flexibility as a competitive advantage to attract and retain talent. Today, hybrid work is the rule, not the exception. Four-day weeks, asynchronous working styles, and designated “thinking days” are just some of the new work models on offer.
Understand me and I’ll trust you
One in five Aussies changed their jobs in 2021, and a quarter are considering leaving their workplace this year, according to data from National Australia Bank. The top reasons cited for wanting to jump ship include a lack of personal fulfilment, career limitations, and mental health concerns. Other key drivers include lack of work-life balance, burnout, and needing a fresh start.
These statistics represent a stark warning for organisations waiting for life to go back to the way it was. The reality is, it won’t.
The mass move to decentralised work taught us two valuable lessons, according to Wallace. “Firstly, we know ourselves better: what makes us happy, what types of work give us satisfaction, what we need to evolve and grow,” she explains. “Secondly, we expect our employer to have followed this personal journey and know us better too.”
Aussie workers are rewriting the social contract they have with their employers, shaping a very different vision for how they “show up” at work. Wallace’s analysis identifies the rise of an employee-employer relationship that prioritises trust and “whole-self” transparency.
Employees are seeking the harmony state, where individual fulfilment and productivity are in perfect balance—the former enabling the latter. They are prioritising physical and mental health and relationships alongside wealth and their careers. They want to use their days more effectively, engage in more creative pursuits, and solve real problems for themselves and others.
For Aussies, reclaiming more time is the ultimate reward. Expectations have shifted accordingly. Reliance on digital services during the turbulent pandemic period has produced more astute consumers, leading to a realisation that the brands we trust and love often know us much better than our bosses.
As consumers, we’ve come to expect tracked-to-the-second delivery, a virtuous feedback loop of post-purchase reinforcement, and algorithms that offer unnervingly on-point product suggestions. Unsurprisingly, employees are eager to feel the same level of understanding at work.
According to Gartner, workers want systems and tools that better will help them achieve balance. “There is also an expectation that management will step up and show more respect and appreciation for hard work through cultural change and tangible incentives,” said Aaron McEwan, VP of Gartner’s HR practice.
Leading organisations are starting to recognise the symbiotic relationship between employee and customer experience. Yet most continue to run them as two separate functions. It’s not until they transition from separate employee and customer experience teams to a more unified approach that the benefits really come into focus.
Companies defined as leaders in digital experience enjoy greater market share, lower capital costs, and other advantages, according to a global survey by ThoughtLab and ServiceNow.
Wallace’s analysis supports this convergence and identifies a new experience parity: Finally, employees will receive the same care, deeply personalised consideration, and predictive guidance that customers have long embraced. AI tools and systems will provide the foundation to do so.
The currency is time
At New Zealand’s Department of Corrections, every minute counts because more employee capacity corresponds to higher-quality interactions with vulnerable people in its care.
“If we can have that right interaction with the right person at the right moment, that can not only put their life on a different trajectory but can create really different outcomes for future generations of their family,” says Richard Waggott, deputy chief executive of people and capability at the department.
“A busy, complicated system where people are rushing around is less safe than one where capacity exists,” Waggott adds. “The more time we have people tied up with low-value activity and less time engaging with those people on sentence in our system is a real lost opportunity.”
When Waggott and his team began exploring ways to digitise complex and time-consuming interactions between employees and corporate administration, they realised the go-to approach was sending emails with attachments. When issues arose, lengthy email chains chewed up hours of time.
Anything that could be done to free up employee time could help the department and the communities it served. Waggott’s team mapped key internal processes and transformed them into intelligent digital workflows. As a result, the time needed to resolve certain issues shrank from 16 days to six. This helped employees earn back the currency that really mattered to them: time to focus on rehabilitation.
Automate to win hearts and minds
The Corrections Department example illustrates a key principle of digital transformation. Digital strategies should play to employee strengths. With today’s technology, virtual assistants can serve up the right information at the right time, so employees don’t have to waste time searching for it. Machine learning algorithms can analyse common requests and work patterns, and suggest the next best action for an employee to take.
Wallace’s research suggests a possible future where organisations use AI tools to identify behavioural patterns that predict employee burnout before it happens, so managers can divert or change workloads to prevent it.
By streamlining work processes and automating mundane tasks, leaders can give time back to their teams, building trust and loyalty in the process.