Why has Australian organisational culture hit all-time low?

Australian employee sentiment around workplace culture and inclusion continues to fall
Australian employee sentiment around workplace culture and inclusion hits all-time low, as return-to-office mandates kick in and staff resignations rise

Australian employee sentiment around workplace culture and inclusion continues to fall, despite efforts by an increasing number of organisations to bring DEI into the spotlight.

That’s according to Gartner’s latest Global Talent Monitor survey data, which reveals that employee perceptions of their organisation's cultural awareness and behaviour has reached a low of 27% in Australia, a decrease from 34% YoY.

“Workplace culture is a very complex issue, and some organisations are falling short by putting blanket strategies in place, particularly when it comes to return to office mandates,” said Aaron McEwan, Vice President in the Gartner HR practice.

This comes as an increasing number of Australian employers are rolling out implementation of return-to-office policies.

In May, the National Australia Bank’s chief executive, Ross McEwan, ordered 500 senior managers to return on all weekdays, but unions won staff the right to negotiate individually how much each worker comes into the office, while in September, Zoom required workers within 80km from its offices to return two days a week.

According to research by recruiter Robert Half, most Australian employers have now introduced a policy this year mandating the number of days workers must spend in the office,

While at the start of the year, just over half (59%) of business leaders said their company planned to increase the number of days staff were required to spend in the office – since then, a whopping 87% of Australian businesses have implemented mandatory days – with four days a week the most popular.

Among the leading benefits of bringing people back into the office, employers cite importance of face-to-face meetings (40%), improved productivity (37%) and cultivating a corporate culture (34%).

But along with benefits come drawbacks – and the rise of return-to-work policies is driving disengagement among employees and even resignation, according to Gartner and Robert Half. 

Return-to-office mandates

Nearly one-third of Australian businesses surveyed report having lost at least one employee due to in-office mandates, according to Robert Half, with 40% expecting staff to leave.

“Australian employer sentiments relating to working from home has shifted in the last six months. Businesses have put their foot down and allocated in-office days for their staff,” says Nicole Gorton, Director at Robert Half.

"While the benefits of bringing people back are extensive, careful consideration needs to be taken when making changes to something of utmost significance to the staff, especially if a business’s work-life harmony benefits are what got candidate through the door.

“Mandating makes people feel like they have been stripped of this choice. To manage this in a way that makes employees still feel looked after, employers could adapt a flexible approach and let staff pick which three or four days will fit their schedule the best to come into the office.”

When considering a career change, work-life balance is the second-most important factor after location, Gartner data finds, with respect following in third position. 

Work-life balance are among the top three factors employees look for in a job, finds Gartner data. 

“Being treated like a person, rather than a number, remains a crucial priority for Australian employees,” says McEwan. "The impact and support from their leader could be the deciding factor that pushes them over the edge."

This could be one of the reasons stress is on the rise among employees in Australia too. A recent study found 34% of employees reported lower mental health levels compared to six months ago.

Research indicates a combination of commuting, cost of living pressures, noisy open-plan offices, work culture, interruptions, decreased autonomy and co-worker relations are contributing to workers feeling more stressed.

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