Australia’s happiest workers — and why joining an organisation is smart

By Justin Lees
News.com.au
June 23, 2016
Click here to view original

WANT to be happy at work? You have a better chance in the private sector.

You also likely value jobs more and put a higher emphasis on quality of life than the 16-plus per cent of Aussie workers who are public employees.

But wherever you work, you are probably happier with your organisation’s vibe than with that of Australia in general. Flag-wavers, take note and read on.

The findings shine a new light on our work culture — and the different groups within it.

They come from the 2016 National Values Assessment, which unveils the values and behaviours Australians want to see in general society and the organisations that employ them, as well as the problems they currently see in both areas.

Jobs are a massive concern for all Aussies, even more so than when the prestigious survey was last taken, in 2009 — despite that being a year after the global financial crisis.

Employment opportunities are now the fourth most desired cultural value, up from number nine — while unemployment is among the top ten attributes seen as currently dominating society.

The top three are caring for the elderly, housing affordability and accountability. You can read more here or dive into the stats in the interactive below.

Back in the workplace, the survey has interesting insights for both employees and bosses — especially those looking to change jobs or hire workers.

Among the highlights, it shows jobs are also more highly valued by new arrivals to the country than those born here. They also care less about home/work balance; as do older workers, wherever they are born.

Overall, home/work balance is the most desired organisational value for those under 30, but dips once past 40.

Similarly, general quality of life becomes increasingly important as people approach 40 then fades as a priority goal. It is the tenth most desired value for those aged 20 and under, eighth for ages 21 to 30, and fifth for ages for 31 to 40. It is not in the top 10 values for those over 40.

The survey was taken by the prestigious Barrett Values Centre as part of My Big Idea; among the ambitious campaign’s targets are suggestions from ordinary Aussies on how to improve working life in areas ranging from the workplace practices to more opportunities.

For those in the private sector, customer satisfaction is the most desired organisational value; for our two million public employees it is accountability; and for those in full time education, achievement.

Fulltime students are, like private employees, more content in their organisation than public sector workers; but all three are happier with the cultural values of their organisation — be that a corporation, institution, volunteer group — than with those of wider society.

What’s My Big Idea?

Nine of the top ten current values seen by Aussies as predominant in their organisation are positive, with just one limiting factor — bureaucracy — as opposed to the top ten outside, of which eight are potentially negative.

The top ten general current culture values include bureaucracy, wasted resources, uncertainty about the future, blame, corruption, short-term focus, unemployment and crime/violence. All with negative overtones.

The top ten current organisational values seen by Australians — other than bureaucracy, ranked in ninth place — are teamwork, accountability, honesty, customer satisfaction, home/work balance, cost reduction, achievement, commitment and efficiency.

At the heart of general content with organisation culture is likely a sense of like-minded group belonging, plus feelings of gratitude and loyalty.

“There’s plenty of research that talks about people feeling good when in a consensus situation,” says Dr Lauren Rosewarne, Senior Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

She adds that appreciation of the organisational values is underlined when people count themselves as fortunate to be in the situation, such as holding a job in tough economic times. “You have a sense of appreciation for it.”

But what about being proud Aussies? It may be flag-waving is less important to Aussies than brand-belonging, suggests Dr Rosewarne.

“Perhaps we’re more likely to identify with the values of an organisation rather than Australia as a whole because we lack the kind of patriotism of countries like the US.”

And when it comes to the public/private divide, Dr Roswarne suggest that the size of the public service makes some employees feel the environment is impersonal “and that they have less ability to change values/culture” — and that they may feel stifled in terms of innovation, opportunities and rewards.

It’s far from bad, however, as she reminds us: “Of course, the findings do not seem to account for some of the big reasons people prefer work in the public sector: better work/life balance, often higher superannuation and a perception of great stability.”