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How pilates and yoga classes are a sign of shifting power in the workplace

One of the unexpected events that emerged from Covid was the flipping of some of the power between workers and employers. But how long can that last?

Sep 26, 2023, updated Sep 26, 2023
People participate in a yoga class (EPA/SARAH YENESEL)

People participate in a yoga class (EPA/SARAH YENESEL)

A year after restrictions ended some companies are still struggling to get staff back in the office.

We are currently in an era of significant transformation in the workplace, not just because of Covid.

There are also dramatic changes in work coming down the legislative pipeline such as the Albanese Government’s same job, same pay legislation that will have a big impact on sectors like the mining industry.

It has also released a White Paper on employment which is how it sees the future with changes coming from climate change, ageing population, technology, geopolitical risk and demand for care.

Before Covid, it would have been considered rare for a worker to demand and receive the ability to work from home, even if it did make sense. I had one boss who often refused to hand out taxi vouchers because he wanted staff to stay put where he could see them, so for him the current situation would be an existential crisis.

The power shift has been a result of record unemployment and the lack of available workers. It’s not across every business, there are key industries where the demands are stronger than others, but it has already been a factor in the growth in workers demanding and receiving more money.

There is one mining company that was advertising for dragline operators in central Queensland and offering a $15,000 sign-on fee followed by a $10,000 retention payment at six months. That was on top of a pretty handsome salary well into the six-figure territory.

Companies have reported that if an in-house yoga or pilates class is full then the workers who missed out on a place won’t come into the office that day.

It’s an interesting dynamic, a kind of finger-up at the employer.

Then there is the so-called quiet quitting (doing the bare minimum). I’ve never been too sure whether this a post-Covid phenomenon or the age-old practice of bludging, but it seems to be a factor.

All these issues appear to be feeding into a power shift that is changing the whole dynamic of the workplace.

It has meant companies have to do more than just provide a desk and chair to attract workers.

It also means that a CBD office space is no longer as important as it once was and the flow-on effect of that has been a sizeable drop in the value of commercial property in the CBD.

Councils have also reported that they have had to hire engineers and planners with far less experience.

For those engineers and planners it’s a rare moment they should grab.

To attract workers and seem like a good employer companies are adopting progressive causes such as the Yes vote in the upcoming referendum, but also issues like same-sex marriage.

Given the number of conservative businessmen on corporate boards, it isn’t because the company’s leadership necessarily agrees with the issue but because they see value in adopting it. They see value in being seen as a supporter.

There have been some significant efforts by companies that want to be seen as a leading employer.

Suncorp recently announced a policy for people undergoing gender reassignment allowing them additional leave to deal with the medical and logistical issues.

Given that this must affect a very small number of employees, the company must see the value in being seen as a compassionate employer that is supportive of minorities.

That value is clearly not just how the public sees the company but also how potential workers see it.

We have also seen companies shelling out millions to the Yes case in the referendum on the Voice to Parliament.

If a poll was taken of the leadership of those companies would it reflect the same support for the Yes case? Highly unlikely.

The balance of probabilities is that there is a far bigger downside in being opposed.

The same goes with climate change and coal. Companies see value in being seen as an employer of choice.

 

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