A cooling jobs market does not mean work-from-home is doomed

Job ad volumes have tumbled 8.2 per cent since the end of 2023, the latest ABS data shows.

Job ad volumes have tumbled 8.2 per cent since the end of 2023, the latest ABS data shows. Photo: Getty

The tug-of war between employers and employees looks likely to continue into 2024, with working from home the key battleground.

With the labour market cooling, the pendulum of bargaining power is starting to swing from job seekers back to employers – and the latter are taking the chance to walk-back concessions made during the tightest period of the labour market.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data released on Thursday shows the national unemployment rate remains stable at 3.9 per cent for the second month in a row.

But this is still higher than the record-low of 3.4 per cent seen in 2022. and unemployment is largely expected to rise even further this year.

Seek job ads data shows 10 per cent of all ads on the job search engine indicate the role can be done from home, either fully or as part of a hybrid arrangement.

This is down only marginally from last year’s high of 11 per cent, but comes after ABS data found the number of Australians working from home dropped more than 3 per cent between 2021 and 2023.

So does the cooling of the jobs market truly mean the end for work-from-home arrangements?

Experts say no.

Seek senior economist Matt Cowgill said the cooling of the jobs market is unsurprising given months of consecutive cash rate hikes, which have led to employers cutting back on new hires and in some cases, reducing workers’ hours.

A further fall in work-from-home opportunities is expected as employers find it easier to fill job openings.

But Cowgill echoed Stanford University professor of economics Nicholas Bloom’s prediction that the trend will imitate Nike’s iconic ‘swoosh’ logo, with an uptick to follow the fall.

“Seek [data shows] people search for ‘work-from-home’ at a high rate; it is something that people clearly value,” Cowgill said.

“And so employers are likely to respond to that. If your competitor is offering the ability to work from home at least some of the time and you’re not, that does potentially put you at a disadvantage when you’re looking to hire staff.

“So long as people place some value on [working from home], I think it’s going to stick around, although the exact levels [of] that the work from home rate might move around.”

Richard Sinden, director at specialised recruitment consultancy Robert Half, said taking away the option to work from home completely would see employers risk losing job applicants and existing employees.

Employees who have gotten a taste of the greater work-life balance that can come from working from home during the early years of the pandemic are reluctant to give it up.

Meanwhile, employers are struggling to create a solid company culture and keep an eye on workers without in-person contact.

Sinden expects the compromise of hybrid-work arrangements is the best chance of keeping both employers and employees happy.

“I think that compromise will be this hybrid model where people are able to work from home perhaps one to two days a week,” he said.

“It allows the culture and things like that to form within a business, but it doesn’t take away that ability for staff to have a work-life balance.”

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