Australian workers show strong intentions to changing jobs, with almost one-third of employees indicating they’re looking to leave their current roles within two years, according to the 2014 Global Workforce Study.

The 2014 Global Workforce Study provides a detailed view into the attitudes and concerns of workers around the globe. This year's study, which covers responses from over 32,000 employees across a range of industries in 26 markets, is part of a larger research initiative designed to capture employee and employer perspectives on the emerging trends and issues shaping the global workplace. There were 1,003 responses from Australia.

The fluidity of the labour market globally suggests employees are unsettled, and looking for better job offers. In Australia, 31% of employees saying they’re likely to move on within the next two years. This increasing retention risk for employers begs the question of what they need to do to encourage their employees to stay.

The survey, conducted every two years by Towers Watson, shows the fundamentals remain key to retention – base pay, career advancement opportunities and job security.

The rhetoric that ‘people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses’ may no longer hold true. Employees have sent a strong message to senior management by saying their level of trust and confidence in leaders is one of the top five reasons they would leave. Only 44% of employees feel confident in the job their senior leaders are doing.

The Global Workforce Study also shows employee engagement in Australia is in jeopardy. The research indicates there are three measurable elements essential to sustainable engagement:

  • Traditional engagement - employees’ willingness to expend discretionary effort on their job
  • Enablement - having the tools, resources and support (typically through direct-line supervisors) to do their job effectively
  • Energy - having a work environment that actively supports physical, emotional and interpersonal well-being

Compared to global results, the workforce in Australia contains fewer highly engaged employees with only three in 10 people (32%) scoring highly on all three elements of sustainable engagement.

A combined total of 68% of employees lack the elements required to be highly engaged, painting a grim picture of Australian workplaces particularly when considered in relation to mobility risk.

For the first time the survey results showed that leadership is the biggest driver of sustainable engagement. Where Australian employees perceive both their leader and manager as being effective, 72% are highly engaged and just 3% are disengaged. This stands in contrast to those that perceive both their leader and manager as being ineffective with just 8% of these employees being highly engaged while the majority (56%) are disengaged.

What constitutes effectiveness according to Australian employees is different from the picture elsewhere in the world. Only 44% of Australian employees say their senior leaders are effective, compared to 52% globally. Immediate managers fare slightly better with 57% of employees rating them as effective, compared to 61% globally. There is a substantial emphasis at a global level on a leader’s ability to effectively adapt to changing internal and external circumstances, but in Australia there is no reference to the behaviours that underpin adaptability. Four of the top seven drivers of leadership effectiveness relate to a leader’s ability to envision the future by determining the direction and clarifying priorities.

Some other global highlights of the Global Workforce Study include:

  • Just four in 10 employees are highly engaged, so there is room for improvement.
  • Regardless of employee age, base pay is the reason most frequently cited by employees for joining or leaving an organisation.
  • 41% of employees cite job security as a key reason to join an organisation.