Business Advice

Here are the forces set to change workplaces forever from 2018: Don’t get left behind

Emma Koehn /

Australian workplaces are getting younger and staff are demanding more flexible work, but experts say too many small businesses still fall into the trap of using old-school staff management tactics that don’t work with Generation Z.

On-demand jobs platform Sidekicker released its Emerging Workplace Trends report this week, focused on the game-changing movements in the Australian employment sphere that will alter the way businesses hire staff and execute strategies from as early as next year.

“Failure to recognise and adapt for these trends will likely see employers become victim to costs of skills shortages, high turnover and productivity losses,” the report suggests.

So what should you be preparing for within your business? Here are three key trends to keep on top of.

Baby boomers step back as grads step up

One quarter of the Australian workforce is currently made up of baby boomers, but Sidekicker says the next five years will see a big shift in the Australian economy as more of those born between 1945 and 1964 reach retirement age.

Meanwhile, more than two million generation Z workers will arrive on the scene, looking for work opportunities over the next five years, according to the report.

General manager at wattsnext HR, Ben Watts, says even though businesses have seen this change coming, too many SMEs are still struggling to build leadership culture in a way that suits these younger workers.

I think the biggest issue is managers not adapting managing style to suit. It seems to be that the Baby Boomers are still stuck in their management ways,” he says. 

The changing composition of the overall workforce also means many mid-level workers born after the Baby Boomer cohort will be looking to upskill in hopes of nabbing senior positions in businesses when older workers retire, Sidekicker suggests.

Watts says younger workers down to generation Z entrants have an idea of how their future careers should connect to a broader purpose, and during this flux it is critical that businesses cement their values proposition to attract top talent.

“They want to work for someone bigger than themselves, and what we’re seeing is a lot of businesses just don’t have that sense.

“[These changes] are kind of a catalyst to kick start that, as it’s always important to have a strong mission and values.”

Retraining and refocus key as automation rises

One in ten workers will need training in future to ensure they stay relevant in their roles as automation services take hold, according to future of work research compiled by Sidekicker.

More than half of the world’s current jobs will change due to technology, the company predicts, with SMEs urged to look years into the future to determine what kind of training their staff need today.

“Failure to retrain existing employees, or leverage the tech-education of students or graduate employees, will leave businesses unable to see gains from technology that can make their work simpler,” the report suggests.

Over the past few months, experts across several sectors have warned SMEs that their reach to customers will only be as strong as their ability to leverage the automated tools at their disposal, such as data analytics.

When it comes to marketing strategy, for example, director of InsideOut PR Nicole Reaney told SmartCompany last week that companies no longer have pools of cash to spend on advertising. Rather, they must leverage data and tracking tools to measure return on investment for their branding ideas, and make decisions based on that data.

“No longer are big budgets thrown around, but cut-through strategies that meet identified targets,” she said. 

The power of flexible work

The number of short-term roles available in Australia has increased 68% over the past decade, according to Sidekicker’s report.

Meanwhile, the report suggests an increase in job candidates citing a desire for more flexible workplace opportunities and the ability to line up short-term gigs.

Flexibility has been the name of the recruitment game in 2017, with the organisations pinned as the top employers in the country all prioritising flexibility, from “work anywhere” policies to compressed work weeks. 

However, as the number of Generation Z workers increases across Australian offices, Watts observes that many SMEs are still not ready to walk the walk when it comes to their management styles.

“There should be a changing of style when it comes to managing Generation Z. They want that greater flexibility, but also what we have seen the most is them wanting to have a greater purpose.”

Managing director of recruitment company Nine2Three, Kathryn MacMillan, says ultimately businesses need to do more planning when it comes to offering flexibility in roles across their businesses.

“Often issues around this come with the seniority of a role, because people are happy to be flexible for junior positions, but once you hit senior level, they’re not so keen on it,” she says.

In the years ahead, SMEs should be taking a step back to rethink how their offices work, given so many “knowledge workers” can in fact use their expertise from anywhere, MacMillan says.

“Just have a little bit of planning, and that’s so important because flexibility is such a good retention tool.”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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