More than half of Australian workers (55 per cent) expect their industry will change for the better after COVID-19 due to the changes being implemented in response to the pandemic, according to new research released today from Qualtrics, which finds workplace flexibility and gratitude as the most effective parts of organisations’ responses.

Qualtrics surveyed more than 1000 Australians for its Work Different study, to provide a look into how people rate their employer’s response over the last 6 months, what work routines employees want once the pandemic eases, and what shifts in workplace policies they expect of their employers.

The majority of respondents in the study (58 per cent) rated the way their employer responded to the pandemic as “above average”.

With more than 4million Australians currently working from home, a third (34 per cent) of respondents said their employee experience has improved during the pandemic, while half said it has remained the same. The most effective actions employers have taken to make their teams feel more valued throughout this period have been more workplace flexibility (37 per cent), gratitude from direct managers (21 per cent), executives (18 cent), and customers (17 per cent).

“As a result of their employers’ quick thinking and actions, the majority of workers across Australia currently feel a lot more valued (47 per cent) at their company, and a lot more proud (54 per cent) to work for them. This is in part down to the human centred approach many adopted when the pandemic hit …,”said Steve Bennetts, Head of Employee Experience for Qualtrics in APJ.

“While many have made steps in the right direction, businesses cannot afford to take their foot off the gas. Employees want to be listened to, and there is more change on the road ahead as people return and industries adapt. To ensure they continue to successfully move forward businesses need to formalise the human-centred approach adopted with employees,” added Bennetts.

A new approach to work

As businesses continue to plan and manage their return to the workplace, Qualtrics says the study gives insight into what measures they want to see, and what actions they expect their employer to take.

For 74 per cent of Australians, it’s important their employer asks them what action they want to see taken to make them feel confident about returning. The top actions workers want to see are more flexible work schedules (51 per cent), higher focus on personal hygiene (47 per cent) and office hygiene (42 per cent), greater focus on employee mental health (42 per cent), and being able to choose their work location (27 per cent).

These employee preferences closely align with the top actions they expect their employer will prioritise – higher focus on personal hygiene (58 per cent) and office hygiene (49 per cent), more flexible work schedules (48 per cent), greater focus on employee mental health (32 per cent), and improved digital communications (25 per cent).

“While employees can agree prioritising safety and hygiene is essential moving forward, there is a slight gap between the actions they want to see, and which they expect to see outside of this. Australians want to see their employers continue to focus on offering more workplace flexibility – such as less time spent commuting, and wearing more comfortable clothing to work – but they expect their employer to focus on digital transformation and finding ways to do more with less,” added Bennetts.

“While there is so much talk of when things will go back to normal or how we’ll come to terms with the “new normal,” those conversations are fundamentally missing the point, and missing an important opportunity to come back better, stronger, and more inclusive than ever. We’ve witnessed how changing the way you listen to and engage employees can have a positive effect, which is why those who make lasting changes now will have a key advantage in the future – from attracting and retaining talent through to improved loyalty and productivity.”

Industry specific findings

Retail: Half (51 per cent) of retail workers expect to see an additional focus on e-commerce and home delivery after the pandemic, with the majority (59 per cent) expecting an increased focus on website functionality and usability.

Technology: The majority (76 per cent) of workers agree the industry has reacted well to changes from the pandemic with more than half (58 per cent) feeling more productive than before.

Key changes workers expect to see as a result of the pandemic include:

  • 76 per cent expect increased remote work
  • 73 per cent expect an increased focus on new uses of technology
  • 62 per centexpect an increased focus on innovation

Automotive: More than half (57 per cent) of workers say that their organisation has reacted well to the uncertainties posed by COVID-19 with almost half (47%) saying they’ve been more productive.

While the industry has reacted well, staff expect fundamental changes including:

  • 60 per cent expect to see a shift to touchless vehicle delivery to the end consumer
  • 56 per cent agree there will be more online retail car sales
  • 29 per cent agree there will be a shift to remote/concierge service models

Financial services: 56 per cent of financial services workers agree their industry has reacted well to shifts in the industry, however they expect significant changes to the industry including:

  • 78 per cent expect to see increased remote working
  • 75 per cent expect to see a shift towards online and digital services
  • 74 per cent agree there will be an increased focus on new uses of technology
  • 63 per cent expect increased innovation to benefit customers

Travel and hospitality industries: Industry changes are expected to primarily focus on personal and protective hygiene measures over technology-led transformation changes. These changes include:

84 per cent expect to see an increased emphasis on cleanliness

  • 67 per cent expect public spaces will be designed to make social distancing easier
  • 64 per cent expect greater investments in contactless interactions
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