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Another day, another dollar, another job - are we entering a new era of work mobility?


The rise of the “great resignation” through the disruption and reflection of the global pandemic might be more than just a blip on the employment radar – it could be a peek into the future, writes Shane Rodgers

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I once interviewed a 20-year-old for a job and asked her if she saw the role as a long-term proposition.

“Oh definitely,” she replied. “If I like the job, I’ll probably stay for a whole year.”

Contrast that with 100-year-old Walter Orthmann, of Brazil, who has just chalked up 84 years working at the same company, earning himself a place in the Guinness World Records.

When it comes to jobs, different humans have vastly different attention spans. One person’s biennial is another person’s eternity.

The issue of job mobility has been a strong talking point in recent months as the pandemic distortion interrupted the natural flow of employment churn.

The interest was piqued by the notion of “the great resignation” (a.k.a. the great reimagination, the great reset and the great realisation) in which the natural churn was said to be super-charged by a deeper reassessment of life, priorities, working hours and career trajectories.

A few months on, as they say in the classics, the results are in. And, yes, there are signs of a great resignation, at least in some sectors and relative to a shortish span of chronology.

A detailed job mobility analysis published by the Reserve Bank of Australia this month plots a significant slowing of job change during the height of the pandemic, followed by some of the highest churn rates for some time.

Significantly, RBA researchers Susan Black and Emma Chow concluded that there has been “a sizeable number of job switches beyond a simple catch-up following the initial decline”.

This is in sharp contrast to the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis era where labour market recovery was slow-burn and sluggish.

Professional services and health services, for example, have recorded their highest mobility rate in more than 20 years.

There are also signs that the shake-up is not over.

The proportion of workers expecting to change jobs in the next 12 months is at its highest level since 2008, with particularly elevated mobility expectations in high-skill occupations.

If you take a few more steps backwards, and look at history from a higher vantage point, the mobility rates are even more interesting.

An analysis of job mobility back to 1972, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in May, shows that the golden age of rampant job churn was in fact during the massive demographic and technological change zone in the 1970s and 1980s.

Job mobility peaked at a whopping 19.5 per cent in 1989 (proportion of people changing jobs that year) and was above 15 per cent for most of the 1970s and 1980s.

Following this period, there was a clear, quantum, long-term drop down to low double-digit figures after the economic and employment shocks of the early 1990s and a further drop into single figures after the GFC a decade later.

Even with the pandemic labour maelstrom, the ABS says the 2022 mobility rate is only 9.5 per cent. It may still be rising but there is a long way to go to reach 1989 levels.

It could transpire that when we look back in the future, the mobility rate will only be telling us part of the story of the great reinvention (as I prefer to call it).

Anecdotally, I have never heard so many people having conversations about flexibility, hours of work, family-friendly workplaces and pursuing dreams and altered states.

I have never seen so many men asking employers for part-time work (women too, but the male thing feels new and different) and so many genuinely looking at options around portfolio (multiple) jobs rather than just doing one thing 9-5 five days a week.

At this stage it is hard to know if this phenomenon is at the margins or deep in the core of the work-life vortex. Equally there is no real way of knowing if this is a blip or a fundamental history pivot.

I suspect it is the latter. The world was already changing fundamentally based on rapid moves to the knowledge economy, digital technology and a growing disquiet around finding workable balances in an “always-on” economy.

The pandemic may have just amplified and accelerated something that was already rumbling below the surface. In particular, this period has given us permission to have different conversations as workers generally passed the trust test in less rigid work environments.

Don’t look away. We live in interesting times.

Shane Rodgers is a business executive, writer, strategist and marketer with a deep interest in what makes people tick and the secret languages of the workplace.



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