Whether there will be a “Great Resignation” in Australia has been fiercely debated for weeks. But whatever the different viewpoints, stabilisation, recovery, and growth in 2022 will be critical for most businesses. Timing is everything – the need for growth coincides with widespread fatigue and burnout among the workforce, ongoing uncertainty associated with the new Omicron COVID-19 variant, and anticipated high levels of job transitioning and career downsizing. Add to the mix that remote and hybrid working is here to stay in 2022 and beyond.

Will this combination of factors brew into the perfect storm or little more than a storm in a teacup? One thing is certain, though – most employers can’t afford to find out the hard way.

To best prepare, employers should now focus on supporting top talent to revive and thrive in order to minimise attrition. Revitalising culture will be important. Extended COVID-19 lockdowns have seen most businesses improve the accessibility and seamlessness of their apps and platforms for facilitating remote work. The downside is that workers report their workdays have extended, and colleagues are less cohesive and connected. Finding sustainable ways to address these concerns will go a long way to minimising burnout and attrition.

But if your best efforts aren’t enough, what then? Sophisticated employers are starting to think about some of the things that will be relevant to employee departures, including:

  1. Future-proofing employment contracts. Are there appropriate contractual notice periods and post-employment restraints in place? For those employers looking to implement remuneration reviews in the new year, this presents a timely opportunity to bolster these protections. Moving forward, it will be particularly important to carefully define the parameters of post-employment restraints, including who your competitors are, given that top talent are now uniquely positioned to access remote work opportunities with competitors far and wide.
  1. Re-writing the playbook for remote exits. Employers will need to think about the systems they have in place for managing employee exits in remote working environments, including:

(a) how they will ensure employees return confidential and sensitive information to the employer

(b) retrieving work devices from remote workers, and

(c) establishing a clear line of sight over departing employees’ actions during their notice and gardening leave periods (any delays in acting upon suspected misuse of confidential information or intellectual property, or breaches of restraints, can seriously impede the ability to enforce those obligations).

  1. Enforcing post-employment restraints. The consequence of a “Great Resignation” may be that employees resign in order to work for direct competitors. 2022 may well be the year for a resurgence in litigation about the reasonableness of restrictions on working for competitors or soliciting customers from former employers. Employers ought to think carefully about how they approach this – and any pre-planning that might need to be done so that they are best positioned to succeed in any dispute.