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The Best Places to Work In 2020: What Employees Value Now

The Best Places to Work In 2020: What Employees Value Now

8 months ago By Emily Harris
What Employees Want 2020

A stocked bar fridge, ‘nap pods’, an endless supply of office snacks or your own treadmill desk; in 2020 what do employees value from their workplaces? The global workplace research and consulting firm, Great Place To Work released their annual  Best Places To Work in Australia list for 2020 to determine just that and the companies that came out on top all had one key thing in common; a commitment to their people. Which suggests that while many factors have changed for workers in 2020, being part of a positive workplace culture that values their efforts is paramount for employees. The Best Place To Work List included Cisco Systems Australia, which received the top ranking within the ‘large organisation’ category (organisations with over 1000 employees) while Interactive took out the title for workplaces in the 100 and 999 employee category and SC Johnson & Son took out the title for workplaces in the under 100 employee category. Well-known companies like Salesforce, DHL, eBay Australia and Canva were also included in the list.

The winning workplaces were determined by two key factors; the majority (two-thirds) was based on employee responses to a survey, while the remaining one-third came from Great Place to Work’s evaluation of company procedures and policies. These survey responses and evaluations were gathered from September 2019 up to June 2020 and includes the initiatives the companies began during COVID-19 that resonated most with employees. The survey considered more than 39,000 Aussie based workers across 124 companies.

One of the key commonalities across all of the top ranked companies was the prioritisation of their people and a focus on employee wellbeing and mental health, especially during COVID-19. Design giant Canva for example, created a ‘Keeping the Vibe Alive’ website when Australia first went into lockdown, with resources that helped reinforce staff camaraderie while they worked remotely. Meanwhile, Salesforce launched a ‘B-Well Together’ half-hour series with tips and resources from wellbeing experts that employees and their families could use while working from home. It became so popular, Salesforce decided to make it available to customers and communities as well. Furthermore, the consumer goods company Mars Australia, launched a ‘Be Well’ program to help workers become emotionally resilient, mentally focused and physically energised.

What Employees Want- A Positive Work Culture Remains Important

While a company’s culture will depend on the shared set of values and beliefs of that organisation – for Google it might be based around innovation and creativity while Amazon might focus on ‘delivering results’-  Great Place To Work’s latest survey demonstrates that there are key common factors that create a positive environment for employees across the board. When consulting and training company The Energy Project teamed up with Harvard Business Review they discovered that employee happiness revolved around 4 core human needs being met: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs . Within a workplace setting, this translates to ensuring your employees are getting adequate rest and nutrition, feeling seen and valued at work; having the space and time to collaborate and be creative within their work, feel a deep sense of belonging with the company and feel like they’re part of something worthwhile.

In 2020, the focus on fulfilling these core needs is still paramount, however, the importance placed on each core need has shifted over the course of 2020. As the world faced a health the emphasis on our physical and mental needs, which might not have been such a significant priority to us prior to COVID-19, became very important. With the virus quickly overtaking the world, society developed a new obsession with health. People had to be more diligent with their hygiene and health professionals urged everyone to strengthen their immune systems with a healthy diet and exercise. Meanwhile, the social distancing and growing unemployment rate caused by COVID-19 started to have a significant impact on people’s mental health. Consequently, organisations that have gone to extra lengths to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace and support their employees with things like mindfulness workshops or complimentary online fitness workshops, have been greatly valued, perhaps more than would have been prior to 2020.

The mass transition to working-from-home has also impacted the importance of employee’s core needs, particularly their emotional needs. Suddenly employees can’t rely on chance physical interactions or walking over to a colleague or manager’s desk to feel connected to their team and their organisation. Subsequently, initiatives that helped reinforce staff comradery, like trivia sessions or virtual happy hours and mechanisms to facilitate clear and consistent communication chains like daily bulletins or regular newsletters and Q&A sessions became so highly valued by employees – especially during the early stages of COVID-19. This is reflected in the survey results from Great Place To Work, with the top ranking organisations investing a lot of time and effort into their internal communication with staff. 

Employee Values: What Has Shifted

Giving Back

A key factor that has become increasingly important for employees in 2020 and linked to their engagement is being able to align with their company’s values; believing in and being passionate about what their company stands for. This interest in altruism isn’t a totally new concept. In a 2018 global Linkedin survey, 87% of respondents said that having pride in the company they work for matters while 39% said that they would leave their job if their employer were to ask them to do something that they had an ethical dilemma or conflict with. Furthermore, when delving into what made those respondents feel ‘proud’ to work for their company, 46% listed having a positive impact on society.

In 2020, many significant events highlighted the importance of social justice and ‘giving back’. One being the police brutality shown to black resident of Minneapolis, U.S.A, George Floyd in late May which resulted in his death. His death and mistreatment sparked one of the biggest protest movements in recent memory, with people all over the world becoming more engaged in conversations on racism and diversity within society. Meanwhile, the beginning of this year saw Australia gain global attention during one of it’s most devastating bushfire seasons; as of 9 March 2020, the fires burnt an estimated 18.6 million hectares, destroyed over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes) and killed at least 34 people. It saw many communities unite together to support the bush-fire affected areas but also highlighted the significant impact climate change was having on the country. Finally, 2020 introduced the world to the virus COVID-19, which has had monumental impacts. It has killed of significant portions of the global population and indirectly caused one of the highest rates of unemployment countries have seen in over a decade.

These events have not only raised individual’s awareness of a number of social issues, but demonstrated the level of care and support people have shown each other; food drives for the most vulnerable during covid, unprecedented donations for volunteer firefighters and wildlife sanctuaries during the bushfires, or global support provided for the victim’s families of police brutality. These events have reinforced the importance of a social conscience and for many employees, they no longer want to just see their company as a place of work but a vehicle to support and give back to their community and this will be increasingly important for employees moving forward.

Organisation Habitat For Humanity work with the Bushfire Recovery. Source: Habitat For Humanity Australia

It’s also important to remember that 2020 saw Generation Z – those born after 1996 – make up 24% of the workforce. In an American survey asking Generation Z what they look for in most in an employer, nearly one-in-three Gen Z respondents said say they would turn down a job due to a companies negative social impact. According to research, Gen Z candidates are also more socially conscious than millennials. 3% of respondents said that charity contributions were one of their most desired benefits while 18% of respondents stated that a company's negative social impact would be a deal breaker when accepting a job.

Learning & Development

COVID-19 has irrevocably changed the business landscape and as Australia starts to formulate a new model of work, one thing has become clear; the role of learning and development (L&D) has transitioned from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’ for employees. According to a recent Linkedin Learning report, there was a significant spike – 130% increase- in the amount of time employees globally, spent learning on the Linkedin Learning platform. That’s an additional 4.8M hours-  equal to 454 years- of learning since the pandemic was declared on March 11.

Through forcing everyone to adapt to new ways of working, the pandemic has been able to demonstrate the importance of learning. Before covid, many employees didn’t know how to properly set up a home office, teleconference, formulate a virtual onboarding program, or transition events to an online platform. Ultimately, investing in L&D helps to cultivate resilience and adaptability in an organisation, which is something that businesses require in order to grow and develop post 2020.

Upskilling has also gained more importance to employees. While investing in learning programs which aim to develop an employee’s skills and capabilities has always been a key priority for L&D professionals, many believe it will take on more importance as businesses move forward and adapt to changing market demands. COVID-19 has meant that suddenly, Australian airlines couldn’t operate domestic and international flights and Qantas has had to stand down over 400 employees. Retail workers saw their hours cut in half and organisations across the country had had to restructure their business models. Because of this, many individuals have had to switch to completely different roles to stay employed; roles that they may have no prior knowledge or experience in. Consequently, being able to learn and develop new skills has become an increasingly important factor for employees in 2020 and many will be looking for development and learning opportunities when applying for roles in 2021, to help futureproof their career prospects.

Remote Working

The overwhelming change to come out of 2020, is the global embracement of remote working.  Many were sceptical about remote working when lockdown was first announced in March – could this really achieve the same results long-term? However, the results thus far have been overwhelmingly positive. According to a recent survey conducted by The Guardian, a significant percentage of Australian’s said they had changed their minds about working from home since the COVID-19 crisis began; 81% of respondents thought employees should now be able to work from home, even after physical distancing restrictions eases. A separate report conducted by data visualisation platform Tableau Public, claimed that 64% of Australians were feeling productive over this period, despite changes to their work situation. Certainly, many organisations are taking these results seriously; Australian software company Atlassian have announced their employees can work from home permanently following the decisions of tech giants like Facebook and Twitter.

Going into the new year, employees understand they might not be able to work from home permanently, but all will be looking for organisations that offer greater workplace flexibility, where being able to work remotely one or two days a week is encouraged.

Ultimately, as we look toward 2021, the key ingredients that make a workplace enjoyable for employees will stay the same; valuing employees and ensuring their key core needs – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual- are being met. However, how these ingredients are packaged together has changed. 2020 has had a significant impact on individual employees and society overall and this has shifted what employees prioritise or consider important to their emotional, physical or even spiritual needs; a bigger emphasis on communication and connection with staff, a stronger sense of corporate social responsibility or the prioritisation of flexible work options, for example. These factors will play a bigger role in the workforce moving forward and organisations that respond and embrace these changes will ensure they can retain an engaged and productive team.

To see the full list of the best places to work in Australia, click here: