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North American companies expect employees to work more hours than they did prior to the recession, according to the Towers Watson Talent Management and Rewards Survey.

The study, which polled 316 North American companies, 218 from the U.S. and 98 from Canada, noted the trend may continue for some time.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of U.S. respondents report that employees have been working more hours over the past three years, and more than half (53%) expect this trend to continue over the next three years. Additionally, about one in three (31%) companies said their employees have been using less of their vacation or personal time off over the past three years.

More than half (56%) of U.S. companies are concerned about the long-term effects that changes they made during the recession will have on their employees’ ability to maintain a healthy balance between work and their personal lives.

“In the short run, having employees work extra hours can increase productivity, but in the long run, extended hours can negatively affect employee well-being and retention,” said Laurie Bienstock, North America leader of rewards consulting at Towers Watson. “Employees at many organizations are already suffering from change fatigue. As a result, when the labour market does recover, companies can expect a sharp increase in voluntary turnover, especially if they do not address employee concerns, and deliver reward and talent management programs more effectively.”

The survey also found that despite most U.S. companies finding it relatively easy to attract or retain workers, thanks to a rocky economy, they are having difficulty attracting and keeping critical-skill employees.

“Although economic conditions have improved and hiring rates have increased modestly since 2009, companies are experiencing difficulties finding and recruiting employees with critical skills,” said Laura Sejen, global head of rewards consulting at Towers Watson. “Companies are taking longer to fill these positions, and more of them are open. There is clearly a greater-than-normal mismatch between the skills employers seek and those that are available in the marketplace. In short, despite the overall weakness in the job market, companies need a more appealing offering to attract critical-skill employees.”

Additionally, respondents are concerned about the impact that organizational changes they made in response to the recession are having in areas such as employees’ work/life balance, productivity and willingness to take risks.

Nearly six out of 10 U.S. companies (59%) reported problems attracting critical-skill employees this year, an increase from 52% last year and 28% in 2009. Forty-two percent also reported difficulty attracting top-performing employees.

© Copyright 2014 Rogers Publishing Ltd. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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