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Employee insights for small business

By Joshua van Gestel

Report finds Australian employees’ biggest concerns are emerging technologies, workplace stress and the employee experience.

The 2018 Sunsuper Australian Employee Insights Report has raised some confronting findings in relation to how Australian employees are currently feeling on a range of issues.  Interestingly, many of the findings that employees have shared in this year’s report are influenced by the size of the company they work within.

The report found that:

  • more than two thirds (68%) of Australian workers don’t feel in control at work. The smaller the organisation however, the more in control an employee feels. For smaller organisations, of less than 20 employees, more than half (51%) of employees stated that they a sense of control of their work environment.

  • nearly half (47%) of employees in medium-sized organisations, of 20 to 500 employees are worried about the impacts of emerging technologies in their workplace, with employees within smaller organisations being less concerned (40%).

  • regardless of company size, over half (54%) of employees feel stressed at least weekly while at work, with the main causes across all organisation sizes being ‘excessive workload’ (39%) and ‘unrealistic expectations’ (34%). It is important to also note however that 31% of respondents stated that their cause of stress at work was related to situations outside of work, and 20% blamed a lack of work-life balance.

  • for 1 in 5 employees (20%) concerns about finances outside of work is a major contributor to stress in the workplace, especially for those in smaller organisations. This stress is greatest for Millennial employees (25%) and those earning less than $50,000 (28%).

  • the larger the organisation you work for, the more you think your employer needs to do to improve your experience of work… two thirds (66%) of employees in small organisations believe that their employer could do more, increasing to 84% when they work in medium-sized organisations, and almost 9 in 10 (85%) of employees in large organisations.

  • when it comes to ways their employer can best improve their experience at work, 49% of employees suggest a ‘positive culture’ and 42% suggest ‘recognition and rewards’.

  • in a reflection of the important role employers play in the financial wellbeing of their employees, 41% of employees say that ‘Additional financial benefits’, including additional super contributions, will improve their experience of work.
  • Causes of workplace stress

    The 2018 Australian Employee Insights Report also found that the biggest causes of workplace stress were excessive workload or unrealistic expectations (55%). This was greatest for employees working in Financial Services (60%) or Government employees (62%), and lowest for those in small organisations (47%). Other contributors to workplace stress included personal issues with colleagues (22%), issues with managers (21%) and lack of work-life balance (20%).

    These results are alarming given that stress at work can impact employees’ engagement and productivity. Research shows us that stressed employees tend to have higher rates of absenteeism, are less engaged at work and aren’t as efficient, so the resilience of employees is important not only from a general wellbeing perspective, but also in terms of a company’s productivity and bottom line.

    The good news is that workers say there are positive steps their employer can take to ease workplace stress. When asked about the ways their employer could ease their stress at work, almost half (47%) of employees said a positive workplace, including confident managers and good teamwork, would help prevent workplace stress and help support those who are stressed. The importance of this increases as employees age, increasing from 42% for Millennials to 58% for Baby Boomers.

    Other ways companies can help ease stress at work include: setting clear goals and reasonable workloads (41%), flexible working arrangements (34%), stress and compassionate leave (24%), financial wellbeing benefits (23%), training to deal with new technology (23%), mental health services (22%) and physical wellbeing benefits (18%).

    Concerns about emerging technologies

    More than one third (36%) of employees thought that technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and cognitive computers would start replacing jobs within the next few years. Those in small businesses are more likely (25%) to believe that their job will never be replaced, compared to those in large organisations (17%). 

    Employees in smaller organisations are also less concerned about technologies impact with 56% stating their not concerned at all. This decreases to less than half for larger organisations (49%) and medium-sized organisations (48%). Baby boomers are also far less concerned with 85% stating that emerging technology will not impact on their role compared to 52% of Millennials, while those working in Finance and IT roles are far more concerned (57%) than those working in the Mining (22%), Education (24%) or Public (25%) sectors.

    The findings highlight that Australian workers’ believe that technology is undeniably changing the nature of work. Things like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, chatbots, voice-enabled assistants, facial recognition and cognitive computers are all starting to streamline business operations and have a direct impact on many employees’ roles. 

    At Sunsuper we’ve started using robotic process automation in our finance and administration teams and we’re currently working on a chatbot to digitise some of our front-end forms. Although employees were initially apprehensive, they definitely now see the value in these emerging technologies.

    The report also found that although 25% of people thought emerging technologies would save time and money by automating boring processes and tasks and 17% thought it would create opportunities to do more interesting work, 19% felt they’d need to retrain and 15% were concerned it would increase the pace and pressure of their work. While 12% saw it as a positive that they are always able to be connected and know what is happening, 16% also saw constant connectivity, and the pressure it created, as a negative. These findings were quite consistent, regardless of the size of the organisation the respondent worked within.

    These technologies have the potential to reinvent workers’ roles, and companies need to consider how they’ll design jobs, organise work and train and re-train their employees in the future.

    Improve the employee experience

    The report also found that 60% of employees said their productivity would improve if their experience at work was great, 58% said it would enable businesses to keep the best employees and 45% said it would help achieve better business results.

    The results show that employees have high expectations of their employer to provide a great experience for them at work, and workers’ expectations of their employers are increasing. Therefore employers need to consider if they’re doing enough to build an employee experience that their staff value enough to stay with their company, and go the extra mile when you need them to. Just as businesses need to walk in the shoes of their customer, creating a compelling employee experience involves seeing the world through employees’ eyes and focusing on what they most value.”

    Some of the best ways employers can improve the employee experience include providing a positive culture (18%), additional financial benefits (12%), flexible work arrangements (11%), recognition and rewards (10%), great leaders (9%) and opportunities for career advancement (7%).

    Interestingly, culture rated as higher in importance than most other benefits many would have expected to see reflected, including clear goals (5%), performance feedback (5%), fair employment policies (3%) and workplace facilities (2%). 

    Better financial wellbeing support

    The results show that lack of financial security was the biggest cause of stress for people (40%). Nearly half (48%) of employees in small organisations felt their employer cared about their financial wellbeing, compared to 37% in medium sized organisations and less than a third (28%) of employees in larger organisations.

    The report found that more than a quarter (28%) of people define financial wellbeing as ‘not being stressed about my finances’ – particularly women (31%). Males are more likely than women to want to be either debt free or on top of their debt (19% compared to 13%). For 1 in 5 people (19%) ‘being able to retire comfortably when I want’ was their definition of financial wellbeing.

    These findings suggests that offering resources to help employees improve their financial health can add to a company’s employee experience and help employees cope with stress. With money-related issues in particular causing Australian workers significant stress, employee demand for their company to provide financial wellbeing benefits is increasing.

    When questioned about how they would most want their employer to support their financial wellbeing, 40% said through additional super contributions, 31% by offering financial advice and education, 21% said discounts on everyday items and 8% through budgeting guidance. Although these benefits were largely consistent across organisational sizes, they did differ based on generation – Millennials were more likely to want access to day to day discounts (26%), access to financial education (15%) and cashflow guidance (11%), while Baby Boomers would prefer to receive additional superannuation contributions (57%). 

    Across all generations and organisations ‘access to financial advice’ was seen by almost 1 in 5 people (19%) as valuable in supporting financial wellbeing. When asked what obstacles stopped them seeking financial advice, 41% rated perceived expense, 29% said they didn’t know where to go for it, and 33% stated they didn’t know who to trust.  

    It’s clear that a significant proportion of Australian employees’ stress is caused by money worries and employers need to be doing more. It is clear as well that employees are seeing financial services and assistance as an important part of the benefits their employer offers to them.

    What about super and retirement?

    Superannuation is certainly seen by many as a key employment benefit, with one third of respondents (33%) saying they are members of a super fund chosen by their employer. 

    Almost half of all employees (46%) stated that they didn’t understand their super, with only a quarter (24%) stating that they were ‘on top of’ their super. Almost one in five (18%) stated that they found super too complicated, while one in ten employees (10%) blamed it on the constant changes to rules. A further 11% of employees said they didn’t think about their super.

    When questioned on their employers choice of superannuation fund 26% of employees (and 34% in small organisations) stated that they trusted their employer chose a good fund for them, while 30% stated that they didn’t know if their employers choice was a good one – when prompted half of these respondents (16% of overall) suggested they should find out whether their employers had made a good choice.

    When questioned on how often they checked their super there was little variance in responses across different employment sectors, gender or work status. Unsurprisingly, as individuals aged or earnt higher incomes they were more likely to check their balance more frequently – 27% of those earning under $50,000 stated they knew how much they had in super and checked their balance regularly, compared to 40% of those earning $150,000 or more. 21% of Millennials stated that they checked their balance regularly, compared to 54% of Baby Boomers.

    Perhaps a little surprisingly the size of the organisation an individual worked in also had an impact. Almost half (43%) of employees working in small organisations stated that they didn’t know how much they had in their super, compared to 35% of those working in Medium organisations and 33% in large organisations.

    Only 24% of employees felt they had sufficient superannuation savings, while 14% had no idea. 38% of those earning above $150,000 were confident, compared to 15% of those earning under $50,000.

    It is perhaps not so surprising that so many feel they are underfunded, when we look at questions around what income they will need to receive in retirement. 37% stated that they’d need the same or more than they earn now, while 25% said they didn’t know or hadn’t thought about it. Worryingly, although many said they were unsure if they had enough or didn’t know how much income they need, more than half (54%) said they would need to partly or wholly rely on the government age pension, with only 18% suggesting they would be able to rely on their own savings.

    When it came to people’s biggest concerns about retiring, 42% said not having enough money, 14% had no concerns, 12% said losing their health, 10% said being bored, 8% said losing my mental sharpness, 7% said losing their purpose, 4% losing their social connections and 3% said having to spend more time with their spouse.

    So, how can employers assist? In proving that an employer’s choice of superannuation provider for their employees is important, 39% of employees would like financial advice provided to them at no cost, 29% would like easy to understand communications and 26% would like access to free education. 

    By Joshua van Gestel, National Manager of Education, Sunsuper

    About the 2018 Sunsuper Australian Employee Insights Report

    The 2018 Australian Employee Insights Report is based on research conducted by YouGov Galaxy on behalf of Sunsuper, of 1,000 Australian workers (who are not self-employed) aged over 18 years. It also includes findings about company culture, employee resilience, workplace diversity, emerging technologies and financial wellbeing.   

    The views of the author and those who provided the responses to the comments posted on the Knowledge Centre are not necessarily the views of the Sunsuper Board. While Sunsuper attempts to make a wide range of information available via the Knowledge Centre it may not cover all the options available to you. We’ve put this information together as general information only and as such it doesn’t take into account your personal financial objectives, situation or needs.  You should get professional advice before relying on this information. 

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