As employers and their employees exit the coronavirus pandemic, they’ll be confronted with a host of new challenges, said Linda Duxbury, Chancellor’s professor in management at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, during the keynote session of Benefits Canada’s 2021 Benefits & Pension Summit this week.
“Much like with a tsunami, [smaller] waves are going to follow the initial storm.”
Employee burnout, dissatisfaction with return-to-work plans and retention are just a few of the disruptors awaiting employers as they come out the other side of the pandemic, said Duxbury, noting now is the time for employers to develop an action plan to manage the coming challenges and remain competitive in an ever-changing landscape.
During the session, she reviewed the results of an employee well-being survey conducted by the Sprott School of Business that polled more than 700 Benefits Canada readers among other full-time employees.
The results revealed the current public health crisis has increased demands on employees on both the work and family fronts, leading to work-life conflict that’s taking a toll on their overall well-being. “Hours in work and family activities are times you don’t have for yourself to relax and sleep,” said Duxbury. “Overload in work and family is a major predictor of well-being. The more overloaded you are, the less well you tend to be.”
In terms of hours, mothers are spending an average of 77 per cent of the week either working or looking after their kids, while 64 per cent of fathers said the same, leaving little time for self-care. And 82 per cent said they’re spending more time on childcare in the wake of pandemic-induced school and daycare closures. With family members home all day amid provincial and local pandemic lockdowns, 40 per cent said they’re now spending more time on chores around the home.
Women were also more likely to report high levels of work and family overload. Notably, women without children reported the highest levels of work overload at 33 per cent. Early data indications suggested employees in this cohort are living alone and isolated and don’t have social support, said Duxbury, noting they’re coping poorly — and employers, with all the best intentions, are taking away work from their employees who are parents and giving it to this group.
The survey also found many employees are feeling anxious and stressed about caring for elderly dependants. Indeed, 33 per cent of dual income female respondents and 26 per cent of men are part of the sandwich generation, shouldering both childcare and elder care responsibilities. Seven per cent of female respondents are single parents with elder care responsibilities. “Elder care is the new childcare,” said Duxbury, adding employers need to ensure they’re adequately supporting these employees since it’s a huge issue that’s only going to become bigger.
As the line between work and home blur, levels of stress and burnout are increasing, the survey found. A vast majority (93 per cent) of respondents said they’re spending more time on work-related meetings than they did before the pandemic, while just over half (55 per cent) noted they’re now working more outside of regular office hours. And 20 per cent said they’re putting in more working hours daily.
Prior to the pandemic, 73 per cent of respondents said they did some work from home, but that’s no risen to 98 per cent. “Burnout is a result of chronic stress that [hasn’t] been addressed over time,” said Duxbury. “In many cases, the workplaces probably weren’t healthy going into the pandemic and [people] were probably working too much as it was.”
The survey also revealed a younger crop of employees has been severely affected by the isolation that comes with remote working. Although some in this group may not want to return to the office, others may steadfastly refuse to continue working in this capacity in the future, noted Duxbury. One-third of survey respondents said they didn’t have a proper home office prior to the shift and data suggested some employees from this generation may demand more support in the way of employer-covered expenses for their remote working setups, she added.
But what these workers all have in common is the inclination to quit their jobs over these issues, giving rise to a new movement called YOLO, short for “you only live once.” Duxbury said the ideology has been embraced by younger workers who, during these turbulent times, have found a newfound sense of professional purpose. As a result, they’re bidding adieu to their stable jobs for roles that are more fulfilling and accommodating.
Duxbury cautioned that attraction and retention will be key for employers in the post-pandemic environment. And in light of this, she noted they must consider how they’re going to retain employees in the future. “Everyone in the benefits and pension arena must up their game because the people you’re providing packages for are going to need a new and different and more profound kind of support.”