McKinnon Poll: Understanding attitudes towards employment and the labour market

29 August 2023

Recent job figures indicate a record-breaking participation rate and employment to population ratio. It is an opportune time for policymakers to understand the sentiments of Australians regarding work.

Conscious of current policy challenges, the McKinnon Poll investigated Australian’s attitudes towards the evolving nature of work, factors that motivate labour mobility and barriers to working, and the future of work in Australia. Importantly, we also gathered insights into the real trade-offs Australian workers face when looking for work or moving between jobs.


In 2021, The Susan McKinnon Foundation funded the newDemocracy Foundation to conduct three polls and examine how systemic, high quality opinion polling could have an impact on or improve the quality of public policy decision making in Australia (the Pilot). Building on this work, in 2022 the Foundation commenced an extended pilot in partnership with JWS Research to further test the capacity of non-partisan and non-advocacy focused opinion research to support more informed public policy debates and better decision making by government (the Extended Pilot).

The McKinnon Poll combines qualitative in-depth expert interviews and focus group discussions, as well as a quantitative online national survey of 3,000 Australian adults.

Through this rigorous methodology, the McKinnon Opinion Poll Research Program aims to encourage better policymaking by providing a richer and more in-depth understanding of public opinion as an input into the policymaking process.

The first poll in the Extended Pilot focused on public attitudes to social support in Australia, with a focus on aged care, the NDIS and childcare. The second looked at views on electoral reform.

Research objectives

This poll explores public perceptions of employment and the labour market in Australia, considering issues such as:

  • Employee satisfaction
  • Labour mobility
  • The importance of various aspects of work
  • The future of work in Australia.

The quantitative research for this poll was in the field from 5 May 2023 to 17 May 2023.

Research insights

From a national survey of n=3000 Australians (> 18 y.o.) conducted in May 2023, key findings include:

  • Among those working or looking for work, higher pay is the most important job consideration (32%), ahead of job security (21%), and flexibility (17%).
  • 26% of workers with children find the balance between work commitments and family responsibilities difficult.
  • Among those working, looking, or planning to look for work in the future, 10% are currently working in the gig economy and a further 40% are interested in undertaking work in the gig economy.
  • More Australians see technological advancement, decarbonisation, globalisation as having a positive impact on their work than negative.

Job satisfaction and entitlements

Those working full-time or part time hours are largely satisfied with their current work situation (75% and 67%, respectively). However, most are just ‘somewhat’ satisfied, rather than ‘very’ satisfied. In contrast, those currently looking for work are mainly dissatisfied (45%) or neutral (29%) about their situation.

Overall, a majority (57%) of workers are content to work the hours they do now, with a slight preference for fewer hours (24%) than more hours (18%) among the balance. However:

  • one in three adults working fulltime hours would prefer to work less – a preference which is also higher than average among women.

While a majority (59%) of permanent full-time workers are satisfied with their pay and other financial benefits, just half (50%) of permanent and casual part-time workers, and a minority (46%) of full-time casual workers are satisfied with this.

  • Among part timers, permanent employees see an award increase as their main pathway to a pay rise ahead of negotiating with an employer – but casual part timers would look at changing employers, slightly ahead of waiting on an award increase.

Non-standard work situations

Almost one in five (18%) of Australian workers currently have multiple paid jobs. This includes a small group (5%) who have three or more jobs.

  • Many of these adults are casual, part time and / or gig workers, working non-standard hours.
  • Community / personal services workers, construction workers, technician / trades workers and Generation Z are also overrepresented among those with multiple paid jobs.

While increased income is the key driver for working multiple jobs (66%), variety (24%), flexibility (23%) and a lack of regular hours (17%) are other main reasons for doing so.

Around half of people in the workforce, or who plan to return to it in the future, are interested (40%) or have already undertaken (10%) gig economy work – defined as providing services on-demand, where people find clients and receive a payment for each service through a mobile app or website.

Labour mobility

Six in ten Australians currently working intend to look for a new job in the future, most within the next 2 years. While most intend to stay within the same industry, some intend to change:

  • 20% to a different job, same employer,
  • 35% to a different employer in the same industry,
  • 31% to a new industry.

In total, three in ten Australians have previously moved house either within their city/region or beyond for a new job opportunity.

Among the current workforce and those who plan to return to it in the future, there is some openness to relocating for work:

  • 33% say they are likely to consider a different part of their city/region,
  • 27% a different part of their state or territory,
  • 25% a different state or territory,
  • 19% a different country.

Future of work and upskilling

Australian workers are more positive than negative about the nature of work in the future. They believe technological advances, such as automation, robotics, AI and the like will have the most positive impact on their job and industry (30% positive impact, 42% neutral or no impact).

Fewer workers believe decarbonisation and the transition to Net-Zero (25% positive, 47% neutral) or globalisation (20% positive, 50% neutral) will have a positive impact.

Almost half of Generation Z (48%) and Millennials (45%) believe it is extremely or very likely that they will need to upskill through study or training to stay working in their industry over the coming years.

Employers are considered most financially responsible for the payment of study and training to keep workers’ skills up to date (47% most responsible), followed by governments (25%) and lastly, employees (19%).

That said, 68% of people working, looking for work or planning to look in the future say they would contribute to the cost of upskilling or re-skilling and a majority of these would say they would contribute $500 or more. More would be willing to spend time on studying or training to upskill or re-skill (82%), the majority saying they would contribute three hours or more.

Further in-depth details, findings and insights relating to electoral reform were shared with relevant stakeholders, including Members of Parliament, government agencies and other interest groups at the time. The data set arising from the research is available for download. Details, findings and insights relating to the Extended Pilot will be published in due course.