The Great Work/Life Divide in Canada (Report)Feb 10, 2022
Catalyst-CNBC survey finds unfulfilled desire for flexible and/or remote work during the pandemic.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the “Great Reset,” workplace flexibility has come to dominate discussions of how businesses move forward.
Since March 2020, companies have relied on flexibility to ensure their business models would not falter, even as they planned for employees to return to the office. Employees learned to appreciate flexibility and now expect it as they manage new personal and professional challenges. Companies are starting to understand that they must be agile and responsive to these shifts; they must create real culture change that ensures employees can flex when and where they work and that their dispersed workforces have equitable resources to succeed.
But do employees believe their organisations value flexibility? Are employees’ needs being met equitably? What is driving their willingness to make career changes?
We sought to answer these questions in a study of 502 full and part-time employees in Canada, commissioned by Catalyst and CNBC, and conducted online by The Harris Poll in October 2021. The data highlight the pandemic’s continued impact on employees’ desire for flexibility and to live more fulfilling lives. Regardless of location, nearly three in four employees (74%) want their employer to make work permanently flexible. But employees are also getting conflicting messages from their employers about the value of onsite versus remote work.
Companies should be concerned. The data show that it is important to dispel misconceptions that favor onsite work and create opportunities for employees to thrive whenever and wherever they work. This report extends the research we conducted on the US work/life divide.
- Employees Are Receiving Conflicting Messages About Onsite and Remote Work—Despite nearly three quarters of employees (74%) saying that their employer supports flexible work options related to work location, and nearly two-thirds (63%) saying the same of flexible work schedules, employees are still getting the message that onsite work is preferred: Most employees believe their employer thinks that employees are more innovative (69%) and work harder (67%) when onsite. These conflicting messages reveal a disconnect about the value of flexible work.
- Companies Need to Better Support Remote Employees—Only 43% of fully remote employees say their employer has implemented practices or policies since the pandemic that have positively impacted their willingness to stay on the job. And only 23% of remote employees say that their manager regularly asks about their non-work life.
- Employees Are Prioritizing Flexibility in Career Decision-Making—Nearly half of employees (48%) intend to make a career change because of the pandemic. This is true for both remote and onsite employees (55% and 42% respectively). For those who intend to make changes, two in five (40%) plan to ask for remote-work flexibility.
- Employees Desire More Fulfilling Lives—In addition to career changes, many people want to have more fulfilling jobs and lives. Employees want higher pay (42%), more flexibility around where they work (30%), a job with more purpose (23%), to be their own boss (13%), and/or to take a step back from their career and focus on their personal life (13%).
- Companies Must Understand Parents’ Concerns—Among working parents of kids ages 3-17, 72% are afraid their children will get Covid-19 at school, and 66% think their ability to do their best work has been impacted by worries over sending their children back to school in the pandemic. More than half (52%) feel burned out at work from managing their children’s education needs during Covid-19.
Employees Think Their Employer Devalues Remote Work—Despite Support for Flexible Work Options
Location flexibility pertains to remote work, distributed work, work-from-anywhere, and work-from-home arrangements.
Work schedule flexibility pertains to schedule flexibility, flexible time, flextime, and flex work.
More than seven of 10 employees working in Canada feel that their employer (74%) and manager (75%) understand their need to manage life and work demands. The same proportion (74%) say their employer supports flexible work options related to work location and nearly two-thirds (63%) say the same of flexible work schedules. Interestingly, fully onsite employees (72%) are more likely than remote employees (46%) to think their employer supports flexible work schedule options.
But there is a disconnect. Employees are also getting the message that onsite work is more valued than remote work:
- 69% say their employer believes employees are more innovative when they are onsite.
- Fully remote employees (87%) are more likely than onsite employees (56%) to say this.
- 67% say their employer believes employees work harder onsite.
- Fully onsite employees (77%) are more likely than remote employees (52%) to say this.
Employers should be concerned. Regardless of location, nearly three in four employees (74%) want their employer to make work permanently flexible. But employees are getting the message that their organisation prefers onsite work, and the profile of this messaging varies between fully remote and onsite employees. This raises questions about retaining talent who may feel some pressure to work in a way that doesn’t work for them. It is important to dispel misconceptions that favor onsite work and create opportunities for employees to thrive whenever and wherever they work.
Fully Remote Employees Need Support
Throughout the pandemic, companies have had ample opportunity to show how much they value their employees by supporting them and alleviating struggles they may be experiencing. Yet:
- Only 23% of remote employees say that their manager regularly asks about their non-work life—showcasing that few managers are demonstrating empathy or care and concern during this prolonged crisis.
- 17% of remote employees say their mental health has suffered due to ongoing struggles during the pandemic. While there are many factors that affect a person’s mental health, companies must pay close attention to providing support for employees’ well-being wherever they work.
- 43% of remote employees say their employer has implemented practices or policies since the pandemic that have positively impacted their willingness to stay on the job. While this is a significant portion of remote employees, it also indicates that more than half do not share this view. Companies must assess who benefits from initiatives and who is being left behind, and then rethink how to support all remote employees so they don’t lose them.
Employees Want Career Changes Because of the Pandemic
Nearly half of employees (48%) intend to make a career change because of the pandemic. This is true for both remote and onsite employees, and two in five plan to ask for remote work flexibility.
Among those who intend to make a career change, the most common reasons are wanting location flexibility (40%) and wanting a raise and/or promotion (27%). Other reasons include looking for another job in a new industry (25%), looking for another job in the same industry (22%), and wanting to start their own business (10%).
The Pandemic Is Motivating Employees’ Desire for More Fulfilling Lives
In addition to career changes, many people want to have more fulfilling jobs and lives. Companies must ask hard questions about what their employees actually want and then actively respond; otherwise they may lose talent.
The top items employees said they wanted were: higher pay (42%); more flexibility around where they work (30%) and the hours they work (27%); a job with more purpose (23%); to be their own boss (13%); and to take a step back from their career and focus on their personal life (13%).
Parents’ Unique Concerns Lurk
It is not surprising that working parents continue to face distinct challenges and stressors during the pandemic, even with the return of in-person school. Indeed, 72% of working parents are afraid their children will get Covid-19 at school, and 66% think their ability to do their best work has been impacted by worries over sending their children back to school in the pandemic.
While 45% of working parents say their employer has improved their childcare offerings/policies since last year, 52% feel burned out at work from managing their children’s education needs during Covid-19. This suggests that even with improved company childcare policies, parents could use more support from their employers.
These concerns likely connect to differences between working parents’ and non-parents’ unfilled needs at work and their willingness to stay on the job. Working parents are more likely than non-parents to:
- Intend to make career changes as a result of the pandemic.
- Desire more flexibility around the hours they work.
- Want higher pay.
This survey was conducted online within Canada by The Harris Poll on behalf of Catalyst between October 8-11, 2021, among 502 Canadian adults ages 18+ employed full-time or part-time, among whom 256 are men, 246 are women, and 175 are parents of kids ages 3-17. Results were weighted for age within gender, region, race/ethnicity, household income, education, and size of household where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.
This is the second installment of an online survey focused on understanding preferences when it comes to working onsite and remotely as well as to gain insight on what is important to working parents. The first report, The Great Work/Life Divide in the United States: How Employee Desire for Flexibility and Concern From Companies Is Driving the Future of Work, highlighted somewhat similar patterns among full- and part-time employees in the United States.
How to cite this product: The great work/life divide in Canada. (2022). Catalyst.