From perks to clothing: What Australian workers want has changed over 25 years

Casual workers receive less money per hour than their permanent counterparts despite pay loadings.

Casual workers receive less money per hour than their permanent counterparts despite pay loadings. Photo: TND/Getty

Two decades might fly by, but a lot can change in that time, especially people. But those changes aren’t just confined to personal lives.

Workers and work culture generally have been evolving for years – and the pandemic has pressed fast-forward.

Now employees and job seekers are looking for a range of elements in their jobs that were rarely dreamed of back in the late 1990s, from remote work to considering a company’s stance on sustainability before taking a job.

To commemorate 25 years since its Australian launch on Thursday, online employment marketplace Seek released a report looking back at the labour market to see how Australians have weathered everything from the global financial crisis and natural disasters to the COVID pandemic – and how all of it has changed the way we work.

Angela Knox, associate professor at the University of Sydney Business School, said the pandemic in particular had a ‘Big Bang’ effect on the way people work.

“There have been a whole range of changes that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, as well as those that didn’t exist prior to the pandemic,” she said.

Aspiring remote workers

Remote work is an obvious change of expectations of the workforce and job seekers over the past couple of decades .

Before 2020, the number of Australians working from home averaged just 4 per cent across four census years – and had actually been gradually declining since the late ’90s.

But the disruption of COVID saw the number of Australians working from home climb to 21 per cent in 2021.

While quarantine mandates are currently a thing of the past, Seek research shows more than a quarter of Australian workers consider the ability to work from home a must-have when looking for a new role.

But many employers are eager to see workers return to the office.

“I think, and research supports that, if [working from home] works well for individuals and their managers in the workplace, then it should be supported,” Dr Knox said.

“But it is a very individual decision, depending on the job, the workplace, the team that you operate within, the culture of the organisation, and the individual worker’s ability to work remotely.”

Mental health

Once very much a taboo topic, mental health is now discussed much more openly, and Australians are factoring it in to their job search.

More than two in five Australians aged 16 to 85 years have experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.

With growing awareness of mental health, 93 per cent of workers told researchers from Deloitte and Swinburne University of Technology their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing is just as important as pay.

Employers are paying attention; Seek data shows mentions of mental health and wellbeing support in job ads tripled to 25 per cent over the past six years, with COVID again taking the role of accelerant.

Dr Knox said this could be attributed to people suddenly being forced to work from home – and then recently being forced to return to the office after settling into remote work.

“If we’re suffering from a mental health condition, in the past, it either wasn’t known, and … it certainly wasn’t talked about,” she said.

“But there’s a growing acceptance and expectation that it is part of the person’s health, just like a broken leg or a broken arm.”


Recent severe bushfires and floods have put environmental issues front of mind for many Australians, and concerns are flowing through to working lives.

The report found there has been a growing expectation for Australian companies to demonstrate a commitment to sustainable practices, and many are trying to.

The number of ASX200 companies with a net-zero commitment doubled between 2021 and 2022, and the number of job ads that reference sustainability have tripled since 2016.

The company not supporting climate action/adhering to sustainability practices is considered a major deal breaker by 7 per cent of Seek survey respondents.

“If [a company] have good corporate social responsibility credentials, they’re going to attract more candidates to the roles that they advertise, and they’re also going to attract higher quality candidates,” Dr Knox said.


Employees who aren’t required to wear uniforms or protective gear are feeling more free to abandon the ‘smart casual’ standard following years of remote working in pyjamas.

The report found the impact of ‘Casual Friday’ lessened amid the ‘casualisation’ of workwear during the 2010s.

Since lockdowns, the concept of business wear is hardly a consideration for many white-collar Australians anymore.

Many Australian workers got used to being comfy at home during lockdowns. Photo: Pexals.

Dr Knox pointed out Australian workers have always dressed more casually than international counterparts.

“There are also some occupations where dress code is determined on a very cultural basis; the culture of the profession, the culture of the organisation,” she said.

“And for some of those occupations, that hasn’t changed as a result of the pandemic.

“But I think overall, Australians have typically been more casually dressed at work, and it has been magnified as a result of the pandemic.”

Work perks

Pay is obviously an important factor to consider when applying for a new job – but a few extra perks don’t hurt.

In the late ’90s and early ’00s, phones, cars, discounted health insurance, gym memberships, and free merchandise were among the top perks used to attract job seekers.

While discounted health insurance still places in the top three work perks job seekers are after, it is now joined in third place by discounted travel insurance.

Coming in second are discounted goods and services, and the flexible work from home options takes out the top spot on the collective wish-list.

Workers in demand

While occupations such as general managers and human resources managers rose by more than 700 per cent each between 1998 and 2022, ABS data shows occupations such as secretaries and sewing machinists fell by more than 70 per cent over the same period.

This is largely put down to increased automation, with innovations like chatbots and software taking over many repetitive tasks and reshaping the way Australians work across virtually every industry.

The report found while automation undoubtedly poses some challenges to the labour market, it also presents rich opportunities, as an additional 1.2 million new technology jobs are forecast to be created by 2034, thanks to further developments in automation.

“Twenty-five years ago, there was a lot of speculation about technology taking and replacing jobs,” said Lisa Tobin, managing director technology at Seek.

“A quarter of a century on we see that technology has the ability to enhance the way we work and rather than replacing us, frees us up to focus on the more human elements of our roles.”

Going by ad volume, more hands-on workers are in the highest demand, with Seek seeing trades and services and health and medical industries put out the highest volume of job ads over the past three years.

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