Australian workers are ready for change. Are leaders ready to engage them?

Workforce Hopes & Fears Survey 2024

2024 Hopes and Fears
  • Insight
  • 12 minute read
  • June 28, 2024

Six actions to build a future-fit workforce in an age of transformation.

Change is everywhere – and employees are feeling it. PwC's 2024 Global Workforce Hopes & Fears Survey - the fifth in a series dating back to 2019 - found more than half of those workers say there's too much change at work happening at once. In Australia, 54% don't understand why things need to change at all. At the same time, workers also report increased workloads, uncertainty about job security, and pervasive financial struggles.

Before you assume the picture is bleak, there are also strong signs of optimism and engagement. Most employees say they’re ready to adapt to new ways of working. Many are eager to upskill and see potential to use generative AI (GenAI) to increase their efficiency. More than half agree recent changes they’ve experienced make them feel optimistic about their company’s future.

These mixed signals, based on a survey of more than 56,000 workers in 50 countries and territories, including 1,500 from Australia, suggest a workforce caught between today and tomorrow. Workers are open to the future, but present-day pressures may be clouding their vision of what it could look like and how they can contribute.

Although there are compelling business reasons for change – CEOs are urgently trying to evolve their companies to remain economically viable over the long-term – leaders must double down on making the case to their most important stakeholders: their workforce. Unless employees understand and help drive change, transformation plans are unlikely to succeed.

This year’s survey explores employee perceptions and attitudes relevant to six critical actions  C-suite leaders must take to build a change-ready workforce across key transformation themes: leading through transformation, unleashing GenAI and fueling performance through upskilling and the employee experience.

Change is everywhere—and employees are feeling it

Question: Thinking about changes you have experienced in your role in the last 12 months, to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
(Showing only ‘slightly agree,’ ‘moderately agree’ and ‘strongly agree’ responses)

Source: PwC’s Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2024 of 1,500 workers across Australia

Leading through transformation

Many of the changes employees have experienced have them feeling distinctly optimistic. For example, three out of five employees agree that recent changes make them excited about the future of their company.

But even positive change can still be stressful, especially when the rate of transformation is intense. Nearly two-thirds of employees say they’ve experienced more change at work in the last year than in the 12 months prior, and one-third of global employees say they’ve experienced four or more changes at work in the last year, including to their team structures and daily job responsibilities.

Leaders must support their workforce in new ways even as they accelerate change as the business evolves. Two key leadership actions can help achieve this balance.

1. Lead in new ways to build resilience among a stressed-out workforce

Red flag alert: the risk of change fatigue and overwhelm in your workforce is high right now. Just over half of respondents in Australia (51%) say their workload has increased significantly in the past 12 months, and they’ve had to learn new technologies to do their job (48%), among other shifts in their roles and responsibilities (see chart below).

More than a third of workers have experienced significant change in their role in the past year

Question: To what extent, if any, do the following statements describe changes you have  experienced in your role in the last 12 months?
(Showing only ‘to a large extent’ and ‘to a very large extent’ responses)

Source: PwC’s Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2024 of 1,500 workers across Australia

In addition, global employees are experiencing stress from other work-related sources e.g. financial stress (see chart below). In Australia, 67% of workers feel extremely or very confident in their job security overall, compared to 60% of their global counterparts. However, a significant number say recent changes at work have them concerned about their job security. Taken together, it’s likely many workers may not be able to give their best at work due to increased stress and anxiety, fear of taking risks, or decreased morale.

All this is happening at a time when the world itself is rapidly changing, as climate change, geopolitical disruptions, AI, and other forces reshape many aspects of life.

Financial stress eases for some but continues for most

Question: Which of the following best describes your current financial situation?

Source: PwC’s Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2024 of 1,500 workers across Australia

Where to focus: Leaders have an important role to play in helping employees strengthen their abilities to navigate change and stress. The rapid pace of change may make it difficult for employees to fully engage in their present work, let alone invest in how their jobs may evolve in the future. It’s essential that leaders recognise this and prioritise well-being as a core value within their organisation. That includes creating a culture that encourages work-life balance, where leaders set realistic expectations and communicate openly and with empathy and transparency. Not only does this benefit individuals, but it’s also a critical enabler of performance, as overstressed and distracted workers are less likely to perform well.

Because change is unlikely to slow, leaders must also help workers learn to better adapt to it. That requires transformative leadership – helmed by those who can challenge the status quo in a way that inspires and empowers others to embrace change. This approach helps employees build resilience so they’re better able to navigate uncertainty and seize opportunities, even if change is still churning around them. 

Although it’s important to cultivate resilience across the entire organisation, senior leaders should assist middle managers, in particular, to help develop resilience themselves and foster it within their teams. These critical employees often bear the brunt of organisational pressures and need to navigate complex situations while maintaining their own well-being. Helping them build resilience can strengthen their ability to overcome obstacles, adapt to change, and more effectively lead their teams.

2.    Engage employees on change to drive transformation

Overall, business leaders and employees are broadly aligned on how big forces – such as technology, climate change, and competitive dynamics – will reshape companies and jobs. However, there are some notable differences. For example, CEOs are more likely than workers to cite technological change as a major driver of change. And behind these aggregate numbers is the need for leaders to communicate and engage with all segments of their workforce in conversations about why change is needed, the actions the company is taking, and the implications for roles and jobs.

Granted, some workers do appear to anticipate change. For instance, 41% of Australia’s respondents who have used GenAI in the past 12 months say it will fundamentally change their profession within five years. But leaders must aim to engage all segments of their workforce in their vision for the future so that transformation efforts stick. 

Where to focus: When employees understand the reasons for change they’re more engaged and connected to the organisation's goals. Leaders must communicate how megatrends such as technological disruption are altering the business context and how this influences the company’s strategy; then they must connect that to the changes they’re asking employees to make. Frequent and transparent communication will be required from leaders at every level, but especially from CEOs and other senior leaders.

Equally important, however, is to engage and inspire employees by sharing your vision for the future of the company, and their role in that future. When people feel excited and motivated about what lies ahead, they’re far more likely to embrace change. 

They also need to be empowered to contribute, as they’re more likely to buy into change when they help create it. One approach is citizen-led innovation, which empowers employees to propose and test new ideas and ways of working in their daily jobs. This approach requires advocacy and support from senior leaders so employees know they can experiment. By placing innovation in the hands of workers, the approach provides them with opportunities to actively engage in and drive change.

Unleashing the power of GenAI

The true potential for groundbreaking innovations with GenAI will come from workers themselves, particularly those who actively use it. But widespread use of GenAI in the workplace hasn’t yet caught on. Although 62% of workers in Australia say they’ve used GenAI at work at least once in the past 12 months, far fewer are using it on a daily or even weekly basis (see chart below).

To maximise the benefits of GenAI, leaders must empower their workforce to experiment and use it to rethink how work gets done. They must also address the challenges that keep some employees (and leaders) from exploring its capabilities, such as not seeing opportunities to use it in their line of work. And they must enable employees to gain the skills needed to get the most out of GenAI, in addition to continuing to help them build the human skills they also want, such as communication, leadership and problem-solving. PwC’s recently published AI Jobs Barometer calculates that skills sought by employers are changing at a 25% higher rate in occupations most able to use AI. Two actions can help leaders gain traction on using GenAI in their organisations.

Most workers have used GenAI at least once in the last year, but far fewer are using it regularly

Question: In the past 12 months, how frequently, if at all, have you used generative AI tools (e.g., ChatGPT, DALL-E) for work?

Note: Percentages shown may not total 100 due to rounding and omission of ‘don't know’ responses.
Source: PwC’s Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2024 of 1,500 workers across Australia

Note: Percentages shown may not total 100 due to rounding and omission of ‘don't know’ responses.
Source: PwC’s Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2024 of 1,500 workers across Australia

Nearly one in four employees don’t have access to GenAI tools at work

Question: Which of the following best describes why you have not used generative AI at work?

Base: Respondents who have not used GenAI at work
Source: PwC’s Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2024 of 1,500 workers across Australia

3.    Help employees lead on innovation

Globally, workers and CEOs are on the same page when it comes to red tape, wasted time, and organisational friction at work. Both feel about 40% of the time they spend on administrative activities is being spent inefficiently – and both agree GenAI could help free up that time. Of our Australian respondents, 88% of workers who use GenAI daily expect it to make their time at work more efficient in the next 12 months. 

Of course, organisational friction can’t be eased entirely by technology. It also takes people working together to address sticking points and change behaviours that may be contributing to sludge, such as by changing meeting protocols. Leaders play a key role in this by establishing policies and role modelling desired behaviours, while employees play a pivotal role in dealing with change from the bottom up.

One caveat: People can’t use what they don’t have. More than one in ten Australian workers who have not used GenAI at work say their employer does not allow the use of GenAI tools, and nearly a quarter say their employer has not given them access to GenAI.

Where to focus: Creating efficiencies with GenAI is important, but it’s only scratching the surface. The promise of GenAI lies in going beyond simply improving the way work gets done to using it as a means for growth. That comes from giving employees the freedom to innovate and iterate, such as through a citizen-led approach and by empowering employees to interact with new digital intelligence to fill gaps in creativity and innovation. The fastest way to get your business to adapt to new technologies and ways of working is to empower your people to experiment with both.

It’s also essential to upskill everyone on GenAI regardless of industry or role. Even if the benefits of GenAI are not immediately apparent in all areas, there may still be opportunities for employees to optimise their work processes or support decision making using AI technologies. In addition, given that the ongoing advancement of AI technology is likely to significantly impact virtually all industries and job roles, upskilling everyone can help prepare workers which helps ensure employees are not left behind as industries evolve. 

In addition, senior leaders can lead by example. Only about one in five senior executives and 17% of managers globally say they’re using GenAI daily – a clear call to action for leaders to upskill and use GenAI as much as employees do, not just for their own work, but so that they can coach workers on ways to use it in theirs.

4.    Instil confidence in GenAI

Employees recognise that GenAI, like any technology, has both strengths and weaknesses. Among their concerns are that GenAI will increase bias against them at work, and that GenAI may produce misinformation that they won’t be able to recognise. These perceptions are more widespread among GenAI’s most frequent users. This speaks to the importance of a supportive environment with clear governance, guidelines and training. That also includes having guardrails and a Responsible AI strategy in place.

Despite their recognition of potential risks, employees’ perception of GenAI is notably more positive than negative (see chart below). More than 70% of Australian employees in our survey who have used GenAI agree that the tools will create opportunities to learn new skills at work, be more creative and improve the quality of their work. And nearly two thirds of Australia’s adopters expect GenAI to lead to higher salaries – an expectation that’s even higher than their global counterparts (51%).

Employees are bullish about GenAI, even as they recognise potential challenges

Question: Thinking about the potential impact of generative AI tools on your career, to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
(Showing ‘slightly agree,’ ‘moderately agree’ and 'strongly agree' responses)

GenAI benefits
GenAI challenges

Base: Respondents who have not used GenAI at work
Source: PwC’s Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2024 of 1,500 workers across Australia

GenAI’s daily users nearly unanimously anticipate benefits and are also more likely to see potential challenges

Question: Thinking about the potential impact of generative AI tools on your career, to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

GenAI benefits
GenAI challenges

*Based on respondents who have used GenAI daily at work in the past 12 months
**Based on respondents who have used GenAI at work less frequently than daily in the past 12 months
Source: PwC’s Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2024 of 1,500 workers across Australia

Where to focus: Every senior leader needs to be involved in establishing trust in AI, fostering adoption and ensuring it’s used responsibly across the organisation. It’s something leaders must prioritise and make time for, not just once, but continually as GenAI evolves.

A human-led, tech-powered approach can help leaders instil confidence that the risks associated with GenAI are understood and there are guard rails in place. Education and training on responsible AI use is critical for both employees and leaders if they are to spot bias and misinformation and counteract their effects. Emphasise the need for human review and verification—people should always oversee GenAI rigorously and make decisions in high-value or high-risk situations. In addition, support employees by using software tools designed to identify AI-generated content, verify its output and assess it for bias.

As companies roll out AI tools, including GenAI, leaders should be transparent about the use of AI systems in decision-making processes and communicate how these systems are designed, what data they use and what algorithms they employ. This transparency can help build trust and confidence among employees and address concerns about bias.

Finally, employee feedback is critical. Create channels through which employees can share their experiences using your company’s AI systems.

Who are the daily users in your workforce? Global workers who use GenAI every day, at and outside work, typically:

  • are younger: gen Z (14%) and millennials (15%) versus gen X (7%) and baby boomers (6%)​
  • are skilled: those with specialist training (16%) versus those without it (5%)​
  • have roles in IT (24%) or business strategy (22%).

They’re also more likely than other workers to:

  • be aware of change—they expect technological change to have a greater impact on their jobs than those who use it less frequently​
  • understand the steps leaders are taking to achieve their organisation’s goals and objectives.

Daily users also are more likely to agree that GenAI will create new upskilling opportunities and be greatly beneficial to creativity and quality at work, suggesting that familiarity and regular use help people see new ways to use it.

But be careful, because these employees are eyeing other opportunities: in Australia, 75% of daily users say they are very or extremely likely to change employers in the next 12 months. They’re also more likely than other workers to consider fair pay, fulfilment and flexibility important in their job, though they’re also more likely to agree that their current roles offer those attributes already.

It’s critical for those leading change in the workplace to understand this group. Daily users are the ones who are embracing change, are positive about shaping the future and are using technology to be better at what they do. In fact, those who feel they spend their time on administrative activities most efficiently are also more likely to use GenAI daily.

These daily users can become advocates for GenAI within your organisation and become mentors and trainers for others. Understanding and nurturing the mindset that this group exhibits may be the key to expanding efficiency and innovation across your organisation.

Fuelling performance through upskilling and the employee experience

Our survey suggests job satisfaction has ticked up slightly from last year: In Australia, 63% of employees say they’re very or moderately satisfied, compared to 56% who said so last year. But job satisfaction doesn’t necessarily mean employees will remain with their employer, and it appears much of the workforce is eyeing other opportunities. Across the globe, more employees say they are likely to change employers in the next 12 months than even during “The Great Resignation” of 2022 (see chart below). Though that sentiment may not be reflected in current labour dynamics, it sheds light on the psyche of the workforce.

Employees’ personal experiences at work shape their perception of change and their willingness to participate in it. For employers, getting it wrong raises the risk of disengagement, stalled innovation, attrition and diminished technology adoption. Here are two actions that can help.

5.    Recognise how critical skill-building is to workers

Upskilling has become so valuable to employees they see it as a company differentiator. Almost half of employees say that having opportunities to learn new skills is a key consideration when it comes to their decision to stay with their employer or leave for another job. To put that into perspective, Australian employees who say they are likely to switch employers in the next 12 months are nearly three times as likely to strongly consider opportunities to learn new skills in such decisions​ (see chart below).

Upskilling opportunities are a critical factor for employees seeking to switch employers

Question: Thinking about your decision to stay with your current employer or switch to a new one, to what extent would the opportunity to learn new skills influence that decision?
(Showing only ‘to a large extent’ and ‘to a very large extent’ responses)

*Based on respondents who selected 'very likely' or 'extremely likely' to change employer in the next 12 months
**Based on respondents who selected 'not likely' or 'slightly likely' to change employer in the next 12 months
Source: PwC’s Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2024 of 1,500 workers across Australia

What’s more, employees who are likely to leave may be more attuned to change than the general workforce: 64% of those surveyed in Australia moderately/strongly agree that the skills their job requires will change in the next five years. 

Companies with well-developed upskilling programs in place need to consider whether they are reaching all employees. In our survey, workers whose jobs require specialist training were more than three times as likely to agree that their employer provides adequate skills-development opportunities, compared with those without (20%).

Workers with specialist training are twice as likely to agree their employer provides adequate upskilling opportunities as those without such training

Question: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: my employer provides me with adequate opportunities to learn new skills that will be helpful for my future career?

*Based on respondents who selected ‘moderately agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that their job requires specialist training
**Based on respondents who selected ‘moderately disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ that their job requires specialist training
Source: PwC’s Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2024 of 1,500 workers across Australia

It’s also worth evaluating the scope of your upskilling program. On-the-job training, experience, and mentorship are valuable ways to help employees develop new skills as well as to use skills they may not get to use in their regular roles. Consider:

  • In Australia 45% of workers say they have skills that are not clear from their qualifications, job history, or job title. 

  • Of the Australian workers likely to switch employers, 63% agree at least moderately that they have “hidden” skills, and 69% agree it would be easy to find a new job that uses their skills.

Where to focus: Taken together, these stats show how critical it is for companies to create ample opportunities for all employees to develop skills on the job and to ensure that leaders are providing guidance and mentoring about what kinds of skills employees need to build. It’s also important to create a culture of learning, where creating time for learning on the job is part of the organisation’s DNA. 

Meanwhile, don’t overlook the talent hiding in plain sight. Use skills inventories to gain comprehensive insights into the skills and expertise of your workforce. This can also help you shift to a skills-first approach, which helps companies, workers and society by removing barriers to people’s ability to apply their skills and contribute at work.

6. Prioritise the employee experience for performance

What would help employees be more productive and engaged? It’s a timeless question from leaders, and one answer is to close the gaps between what employees say is most important and what they’re actually experiencing at work. Our survey found several such gaps, including in pay, fulfilment and flexibility.

Unsurprisingly, the top factor employees say will help them do their jobs better is fair pay for performance. Of the 88% of Australian workers who rated being fairly paid as very important or extremely important, less than three-fifths moderately or strongly agree their current job provides that.

Employees also ranked flexibility and fulfilling work as highly important. As with pay, however, there’s a gap between those who say those factors are very or extremely important, and what they’re actually experiencing.

Where to focus: Employees who feel they aren’t getting what they need are likely to be less engaged at work and less willing to buy into change. Pay in particular counts for a lot, and it’s critical that companies strive to ensure they’re providing a competitive and liveable wage. PwC US research shows that economic stress takes a toll on employees emotional and physical well-being and hurts their productivity and engagement.

Factors like flexibility and fulfilling work are also highly valued aspects of the employee experience. Flexibility helps employees better maintain their life-work balance, which helps them stay motivated at work and to have the energy and mental clarity to perform their jobs well. Fulfilling work helps them find purpose in their day-to-day jobs. Employees see purpose as a way to bring meaning to their work and understand the contributions they are making to the company, as well as society. 

One way for leaders to lighten the load for employees is through stronger rationalising and alignment of technology within their organisations.That could involve simplifying the overall technology setup, such as through centralised systems that replace disparate tools. For example, integrated technologies such as digital assistants can provide a user-friendly interface that supports employees in navigating and using various technologies. This can reduce the need for extensive training on multiple platforms and lead to more efficient ways of getting tasks done – which could be especially helpful at a time when employees are experiencing increased workloads and being asked to spend more time learning new technologies.

Is “The Great Resignation” over? That depends. The labour market has cooled in many parts of the world, lowering quit rates in some regions. But that doesn’t mean workers are content to stay with their current employers. Our Global survey found the number of employees who say they’re very or extremely likely to switch employers in the next 12 months has jumped from 19% during the “Great Resignation” in 2022 to 28% in 2024. 

Even if employees don’t actually leave their current employers, it’s worth understanding more about those who are looking elsewhere. Among employees who say they plan to switch companies in the next year:

Job satisfaction doesn’t mean Australia’s workers will stay:

  • 65% are moderately/very satisfied with their current job

  • 10% are moderately/very dissatisfied with their current job

Increasing workloads is a factor: Among those whose workload has increased by a large or very large extent, 41% say they’re likely to switch employers.

They recognise the value of skills:

  • 73% of workers in Australia say that opportunities to learn new skills would influence their decision to a large/very large extent (vs 25% of those unlikely to switch)

  • 63% of local workers moderately/strongly agree that they have skills not clear from their qualifications, job history or job titles (vs 30% of those unlikely to switch)

  • 64% moderately or strongly agree the skills their job requires will change significantly in the next 5 years (vs. 20% of those unlikely to switch)

They may be feeling overlooked at work:

  • 64% of workers in Australia moderately or strongly agree they have missed out on jobs/career opportunities due to not knowing the right people (vs 19% of those unlikely to change)

The bottom line

Chances are, you have a vision for your company’s future. But achieving that vision is unlikely to happen unless leaders and workers are driving change together. That starts by helping them understand why change is necessary and how they can contribute. Through inspirational and transparent leadership, business leaders can build a workforce that’s excited and eager to turn that vision into reality.


Pauline Sullivan

Pauline Sullivan, Partner, Workforce & Change, PwC Australia

Jahanzeb Azim

Jahanzeb Azim, Partner, Generative AI Advisory Leader, PwC Australia

Emma  Hardy

Emma Hardy, Partner, Workforce, PwC Australia

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