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The rise of multi-job shift workers in Australia

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A new report from Deputy, the leading shift work management platform, found that in 2023, all major industries experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of shift workers working multiple jobs. A total of 7% of the shift workforce held multiple jobs simultaneously in 2023, exceeding numbers seen in the last 25 years. 

This number is higher than figures seen in both the United States (5.2%) and the United Kingdom (4.9%) and is a reaction to the rising cost of living and ongoing housing pressures, a major cause for concern for shift workers across the country in 2023.

This trend is led by the hospitality industry, where 8% of workers hold multiple jobs, followed by 7% in healthcare and 6% in retail. Even in industries like services — professions such as delivery and postal workers, security personnel, and those in employment services — where workers historically preferred to hold only one job, the industry has decadal highs in multi-job holders at 5% of its workforce.

Dr. Shashi Karunanethy, Chief Economist at Geografia, collaborated on the report with Deputy, and noted that the majority of multi-job holders are young female shift workers. “We’re seeing an unprecedented number of shift workers holding multiple jobs, a phenomenon we refer to as poly-employment, in response to the cost of living crisis. Females make up 58% of workers working multiple jobs and the majority of these female workers are young. Having entered the workforce during the pandemic, a period of instability and widespread layoffs, this generation is using poly-employment not only as a means to navigate rising costs, but also in the search for sustainable employment, reliable shifts, and financial stability,” he said.

This is supported by recent data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which found that while females generally make less than men, part-time females are not just out-earning their male counterparts, making $816.60 per week compared to $758.70 per week, they are also out-working part-time males, making up 29% of employees compared to 13%.

Generational differences also come into play, with the overwhelming majority of multiple job holders being from Gen Z (65%) followed by Millennials (27%). According to a previous report by Deputy, Gen Z workers were also most likely to agree that their pay has not kept up with inflation, contributing to the rise in multiple job holders among this cohort. 

“I’ve worked in hospitality since I was fifteen years old and I’ve always had multiple jobs on the go. From originally working at McDonalds, to becoming a waitress at an Italian family-owned restaurant, to picking up shifts working with disabled children — I love keeping busy. I find working multiple jobs at the same time allows me to pick up shifts that fit my schedule, stay engaged with the work, and socialise with different people too,” says Gen Z shift worker Tylah Sherritt.

Stimulating CBD Economies

In response to the decline of activity in Central Business Districts (CBDs) following the pandemic, city governments have made a concerted effort to stimulate CBD economies through a range of interventions, including night-time economy activity to encourage suburban dwellers to visit and spend their nights in the CBDs.

In New South Wales (NSW), the Government is leading in night-time economic development through the newly established Office of the 24-Hour Economy Commission. Deputy’s analysis shows that in NSW, businesses are rostering more workers to cope with increased footfall — for every 10% increase in night-time dining and entertainment spending, there’s a 6.2% increase in night-time hospitality shift work hours.

Similarly, in Victoria, where night-time economic intervention is primarily led at the city government level, particularly by the City of Melbourne, every 10% increase in night-time dining and entertainment spending, there is a 5.6% increase in night-time hospitality shift work hours.

According to Dr Karunanethy, despite travel picking back up post-pandemic, many Australians continue to postpone large-expenditure travel in the face of rising costs. This “travel deficit” has led to a preference for recreational activities that are both affordable and local, resulting in heightened spending in CBDs and a notable 7.5% increase in spending within the hospitality sector from January to September 2023.

Generational Changes in Shift Work

In 2023, hospitality and retail businesses saw a change in generational tides. While these industries have long been made up largely of Millennials, Gen Z now takes up the largest share of employment. 

In 2023, Gen Z made up 38% of hospitality workers, compared to 34% of Millennial workers. The same trend was seen in retail, where Gen Z made up the majority of the workforce and took up half of the total shift work hours in 2023.

In the services sector, Millennials still make up the majority at 37% of shift work hours. However, this tide is quickly turning with Gen Z close behind at 36%. In 2024, Gen Z is expected to be the largest workforce in the services field as well.

Healthcare is the only industry where Millennials still account for the majority of work hours. In the medium term, this is expected to continue, given the industry’s propensity to attract and retain older workers.

“While it is natural that we would see an increase in Gen Z shift workers, this change is taking place much faster than anticipated, about three years ahead of the projected timeline, and far ahead of their counterparts in other markets,” said Dr Karunanethy. “With Gen Z taking up the majority of shift work hours, they have the ability to shape workplaces, and business leaders will have to adapt to their specific needs to attract and retain talent amid tight labour conditions,” he added. 

Commenting on the report’s findings, Emma Seymour, Chief Financial Officer at Deputy said, “The common theme we are seeing across the report is rising living costs driving many Australians to find, or expand, employment in shift work, with record high numbers of shift workers engaged in poly-employment. During this tumultuous period, it is crucial that businesses work efficiently while offering flexibility, and stability to their workforce. Deputy is committed to providing solutions that meet the needs of an ever-evolving workforce, allowing shift workers and the businesses that employ them to not just survive, but to thrive.”

For this report, Dr. Karunanethy, analysed 114,200,375 shifts and 778,232,332 hours of 679,860 shift workers from December 2019 to December 2023. For more information and additional findings, access the full report here.

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