Fewer than one in five IT workers in the Australian and New Zealand (ANZ) region expects to stay with their current employer, according to new figures suggesting the storied ‘great resignation’ will bite hard even as employers try to lure employees back into the office.

What employees want most is to work flexibly.

Although 29.1 per cent of global IT workers expressed “high intent to stay” with their current employer, a new Gartner survey found that percentage to be much lower for Australian and New Zealand workers – just 18 per cent of whom strongly intend to stay with their current employer.

The figures confirm that the so-called ‘great resignation’ – massive employee attrition as the pandemic pushes them to reconsider their work and life priorities – is far from over as continued disruption from the Omicron coronavirus variant forces both employers and employees to reset expectations.

A recent Roy Morgan survey found that just 37 per cent of Australians believe this year will be better than 2021 – a significant decline from the optimism expressed in a similar survey at the end of 2020.

The fact that Gartner’s ANZ figures were the lowest of five regions surveyed – European employees were the most loyal, with 39.8 per cent expressing “high intent to stay” – is a red flag for employers holding out for a return to regular office work.

The pandemic has totally rewritten many employees’ relationship with work and their workplaces, and surveys suggest many workers simply aren’t sharing their employers’ eagerness to get back to ‘normal’.

“Gartner has heard of IT organisations implementing back-to-the-office policies only to experience mass resignations and having to reverse course,” the firm reported.

Another recent survey, from Citrix, found 49 per cent of IT workers are less satisfied with their jobs, half are less productive, and 24 per cent are disengaged from their work.

CIOs risk losing the war for talent, Gartner warns, raising particular concerns about the finding that younger workers are three times more likely to leave their jobs than already attrition-prone older workers.

Just 16.2 per cent of workers aged 18 to 29 expressed a high intent to stay in their jobs – compared with 48.2 per cent of over-50s.

After years spent fighting to win and keep well-trained, innovative young workers, those figures pose a particular problem for CIOs that, Gartner notes, “value these employees for their new ideas, digital native skills, creativity and energy to drive digital acceleration.”

Can better offices keep employees close?

With young employees presenting such a flight risk, many companies are doubling down on old strategies by refurbishing or expanding offices to convince them that physical workplaces can still be both fun and relevant.

Google – which became a talent magnet in its early days by shaking up conventional office culture with gaming consoles, free meals, scooters, and rock climbing walls – this month announced it will spend nearly $1.4b ($US1 billion) to buy a London office building where it hopes to increase worker numbers from 6400 to 10,000.

The investment “represents our continued confidence in the office as a place for in-person collaboration and connection,” Google said, noting that “whilst the majority of our UK employees want to be on-site some of the time, they also want the flexibility of working from home a couple of days a week [and] some of our people will want to be full remote.”

A major renovation will focus on “creating more overall space to improve wellbeing”, with outdoor covered working spaces “to enable work in the fresh air” and configurable ‘team pods’ that support focused work or team collaboration depending on requirements.

Yet for all their good intentions, companies that focus too much on office spaces are likely to alienate employees whose two years of working from home have driven them to reprioritise what they want from a company.

Work flexibility is important but office amenities didn’t even rate in the top 10 reasons people join or leave a company, according to a recent Contino survey that found IT employees were much more likely to be swayed by competitive salary packages and the opportunity to work with modern technologies and practices.

Gartner agrees, noting that conventional office-centric strategies are correlated with higher fatigue, higher attrition rates, and lower overall performance than ‘human-centric’ working environments built around addressing employees’ requirements first and foremost.

“CIOs know they must implement a hybrid work model, but a bad design will worsen key outcomes, including attrition of IT workers,” the firm noted.

“CIOs should beware of relying on gut instincts about work that may now be obsolete, overly simplistic stereotypes and one-size-fits-all assumptions,” Gartner warns. “Hybrid working alone will not deliver the business and talent outcomes that CIOs want.”