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Australian workers concerned about job security, while stronger demand builds for remote working - PwC Hopes and Fears Survey

  • PwC Hopes and Fears Survey is one of the largest ever studies of the global workforce
  • 32% of Australians think their job will be obsolete within five years
  • Australians confident about the future
  • 3 in 4 want a mix of remote and in-person working
  • PwC Australia launches new report on hybrid working alongside global survey

A new survey of 32,500 workers in 19 countries paints a picture of a global workforce that sees the shift to remote working as just the tip of the iceberg. In one of the largest global studies of workers, the Hopes and Fears Survey by PwC which includes insights from over 2,000 Australians, revealed a mostly optimistic view of a post-pandemic future of work, while also highlighting some concerns that employers need to address.

While the pandemic has accelerated a number of workforce trends, 59% of Australians are worried that automation is putting many jobs at risk; 46% believed traditional employment will decline with workers having their own personal brands and selling their skills on a short-term basis; and 32% of Australians think their job will be obsolete within five years. However, 72% of Australian workers feel they have the digital skills to perform their role and 75% are ready to learn new skills to stay employed.

Australians are concerned about job security

Anxiety about the future intensified due to the pandemic and the survey showed that 56% of Australians think few people will have stable, long-term employment in the future (more than two years). Of those respondents, the most concerned about job security were from the technology sector (74%) and the banking industry (73%). Automation presented concerns for Australians with 59% worried many jobs were at risk and 44% felt uneasy about their own jobs being at risk.

More than half of Australian participants in the survey (61%) felt the government should act to protect jobs, with that feeling being more acute among 18-34 year-olds (63%) than those over 65 (50%). Workers within hospitality and leisure, one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, felt most strongly about government efforts to ensure job security (79%). Yet, 55% of Australians noted that technology will improve job prospects, while 28% said it will impede and only 17% said it will make no difference.

Tim Rawlings, Director and Head of Training Product Development for PwC’s Skills for Australia, said, “As companies accelerate their automation plans and many jobs continue to be remote, employees across every sector will need to acquire new skills. Technology has always changed the way we work, creating more productive, higher quality jobs. Key skills like digital skills, creativity and complex communication skills will be critical over the next decade.

“To meet the demands of rapid technology change without skilled migration, business needs to shift its focus to reskilling and upskilling employees. Organisations that invest in their people develop stronger cultures and are more confident of their future success. We need to plan for dynamic rather than static tomorrows. Upskilling creates opportunities so that by the time one job is declining a person is ready for a new, better job.”

Remote work is in demand

Flexible, remote working has accelerated as a result of the pandemic and the world of work has changed forever - the new world of work is hybrid. The ideal work environment for 74% of Australians is a mix of remote and in-person working, while 16% said they would prefer a wholly virtual place where they can contribute from any location. Only 10% favoured a traditional work environment to meet face-to-face, which would likely require significant time spent commuting.

The top three global trends Australians believe will transform the way people work over the next few years, as identified in the survey, included rapid advances in technological innovation such as robotics and automation (51%), changing attitudes to remote working and benefits preferences (45%), and global shifts in the location of work and economic activity, that is, where services are performed or where physical work happens (40%).

The survey showed that 42% of Australian workers would agree to let their employer use technology to monitor their performance at work, including sensors and wearable devices, with 35% against it. However, 42% of Australians said that they would be unwilling to give their employer access to their personal data, including social media profiles, with only 36% willing to. Those employed part-time or on a contract or temporary basis were even more reluctant to provide personal data (48%).

PwC Australia’s Future of Work lead Dr Ben Hamer said, “Prior to the pandemic, organisations would have resisted shifting to an entirely remote operation. Organisations were then forced to take major risks and we learned we can radically rethink the way we do work, try new things and adapt at pace. While some organisations might want to go back to the old way of doing things, the world of work has changed and hybrid working is re-writing the rule book.

“Companies need to recognise that knowledge workers as well as non-office workers are having a different experience, and in some instances there are tensions playing out between the two. Managing both frontline and remote employees requires empathy and collaboration to understand the impact of change on each - and empower all staff with a sense of fairness, vision and trust. This is a once-in-a- generation opportunity to fix what needs fixing, redefine the social contract, rethink work and explore new and better ways of creating value.”

More focus on health and wellbeing

A commitment to mental health and wellbeing by workplaces is vital for productivity and delivers a return on investment. However, the survey findings show there is still work to be done across the country - 26% of Australians said they are encouraged to take short breaks in the working day, while only 21% said their employers help them to learn about healthy working and living and allow them to take time to build wellbeing initiatives into their daily activity.

“Employees struggled through the pandemic and the challenge of staying productive while battling loneliness, isolation, and burnout. We've heard from our own people that over half of them feel like their workload has increased, and that's being echoed across other organisations as well. When you can't see someone face-to-face it can be difficult to pick up on wellbeing cues, particularly with working from home, that line between work and your personal life is quite blurred.

“Organisations need to ensure they have the appropriate policies, programs, and safety nets in place to manage and mitigate the risks associated with employee wellbeing. Taking a proactive approach also poses a significant opportunity. Our research shows every dollar spent by businesses on successful mental health programs, organisations can expect a return on investment of between $1 and $4 depending on which activities are chosen, at an average return of $4.60,” said Dr Hamer.

PwC’s recent CEO Survey found that Australian CEOs are placing more focus on workplace culture and behaviour - 53% said workplace culture and behaviour would have the greatest impact on organisational competitiveness which was significantly higher than the global average of 32%. Focuses on health and wellbeing (37%) also fared higher than overseas counterparts, while only 16% of Australian CEOs said developing leaders for tomorrow and diversity and inclusion was a priority.

People want to work for purpose-driven companies - but not at any price

Nearly three-quarters of Australians (74%) said they want to work for an organisation that will make a positive contribution to society. This sentiment was especially strong for Australian workers within the insurance industry (90%) and in other regions overall including India (90%), China (87%), and South Africa (90%). In general, half of Australians polled preferred to take every opportunity to maximise their income whereas the other half would choose a job that makes a difference.

“Employers that are purpose-driven and build around this can achieve continued loyalty and employees are more likely to perform better at work. As we continue to deal with the fall out from the pandemic, workers are demanding more from the business community and expecting their employers to make a positive contribution to society. Purpose-driven companies can experience significant growth and a boost to their bottom line, as well as increased employee satisfaction,” said Rawlings.

“Organisations needed to reconsider their workforce, worktype, workplaces, and experience of work well before the COVID-19 pandemic. While the disruption has presented its challenges, it is clear the future of work is hybrid.”

PwC Global Upskilling Hopes and Fears 2021 Survey

PwC Australia’s “Changing Places: How hybrid working is re-writing the rule book”

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