Could cost-of-living pressures entice people into the office?

Many workers are returning to the office to improve their career prospects and take-home pay.

Many workers are returning to the office to improve their career prospects and take-home pay. Photo: Getty

As Australia’s labour market continues to soften, the cost-of-living crisis is prompting a growing number of people to search for roles that offer potential to grow – and better salaries or benefits. 

“There is definitely movement in the marketplace,” said Nicole Gorton, director and workplace expert at specialised recruiter Robert Half.

We are seeing more candidate availability, but we’re also seeing more candidates look to progress their career, take on more responsibility and want to earn more money to support the cost of living.

 “That is a real thing at the moment. People are prepared to change jobs if they can’t see a career path internally, because they want to have a great year this year.” 

And while hitting six figures was once something to aspire to, Gorton says that for employers living in capital cities particularly, that may no longer always cut it.

Meanwhile, as a result of more candidates in the market, many employers are realising they have greater leverage to get new starters into the office more, she says. 

In saying that, Gorton believes many workers, especially those who have shift companies, are quite happy to go in more often, at least on a hybrid basis.

“They want to progress their career. They want to be visible,” she said.

“Learning is caught, not taught. They’re all over, ‘OK, how do I become a part of this culture in this company and be a part of its success?’” 

And although many enjoy dodging the five-day-a-week commute (and the price of car parking or public transport), Gorton says being visible for at least some of the week will generally lead to more opportunities for growth, and higher pay.

“The people that think that they can grow their career from their bedroom, it’s not gonna happen,” she says.

A recent survey of 27,000 workers around the world by recruitment company Randstad asked what respondents were looking for in their next career move.

Good pay was very important (55 per cent), but it was eclipsed by work-life balance at 57 per cent. 

And despite growing fears of job security, 56 per cent of respondents said they would quit if they were forced to give up some of their current flexible arrangements.

I found that really interesting because cost-of-living pressures are definitely real, we absolutely know that,” Randstad executive general manager Angela Anasis said.

Anasis says along with flexibility, many workers are placing a high value on benefits like training and development, or the ability to take study leave.

They’re things that people end up forgetting but that’s actually valuable … or accessing different discounts etc as well.”

The cost-of-living crisis is also affecting some parents returning to the workforce, says Erica Hatfield, founder of Hummingbird Careers.

While most would love to go part-time, at least initially, it’s not always an affordable option.

“There’s so many individual considerations and I find this comes up quite a lot at the moment,” said Hatfield, who notes that many are struggling with large mortgages. 

Some find that going down to four days means they’re still expected to squeeze in five days’ work anyway – just without the full salary, she says.

“Is it really worth it? You’re doing it anyway. It’s super stressful,” Hatfield said.

“A lot of them find it’s easier just to get the money … do the five days a week and then you actually have time within that and you don’t feel like you are going 100 miles an hour every day.”

Others may opt to compress a full workweek into four longer days, which means saving on daycare. 

Gorton says while many workers may be desperate for a pay rise, it doesn’t always mean that companies – who are often battling an increase interest rates too – can afford it.

She suggests asking employers whether there’s other ways they can “slice and dice” what they’re offering through benefits packages.

Depending on where you are at, that might include anything from education, to health and wellness programs, or free or discounted car parking.

Gorton also recommends requesting a performance review, perhaps in three or six months’ time. 

Anasis also has some suggestions on negotiating a better salary. 

The first? Do some thorough research about the going rate for your type of role and industry.

Second part is, know your value. What value do you bring to the organisation and the team?” Anasis said.

Clearly articulate how your work positively impacts the business’ performance, she says. 

Lastly, try to skip the emotion and aim for non-combative conversations.

“We don’t always like talking about ourselves and all the stuff that we’re really good at,” she said.

“So be really comfortable to express that but also to hear out the person you’re speaking to – either the hiring leader or your manager.”

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