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Canadian employers are advised to brace themselves for changing workers' demands

Expert on work-life balance said the pandemic has changed workplace attitudes and priorities
270422_LG_Hybrid Remote workplaces PHOTO Sized
Dr. Linda Duxbury.

Canadian employers will have to prepare for a major readjustment to accommodate their workers' demands in a post pandemic work world.

That is part of the advice offered to an online virtual mining health and safety conference hosted from Sudbury by Workplace Safety North on April 27.

Keynote speaker Dr. Linda Duxbury of Carleton University's Sprott School of Business is regarded as an expert on work-life balance and what companies and employers will need to consider moving forward from the pandemic. 

Duxbury was commenting on the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic created a situation where tens of thousands of workers across Canada were told to stay at home and to continue working remotely.

"So in terms of moving forward, and in terms of what you have to consider, remote work — it's here to stay in some form or another, probably in hybrid form," Duxbury said. 

Duxbury said many employees have excelled at working from home, productivity has increased in many cases and many employers are pleased with the change. The problem is that this is not universal. Not everyone is happy with working from home, she said. 

"That's going to mean that we're going to have to reskill people, there's not enough people in the pipeline. So there's going to be a lot of people whose skills become obsolete very, very quickly," she said.

Duxbury said this means employers will have to invest in training, in reskilling and continuous learning; and not just talking about it. These are the bare basics just to keep businesses functioning. 

She said employers have known about the importance of having a good work-life balance for years, but most have only talked about it and have not really acted on it. Duxbury said the pressure is on now to take action. 

"Because people have come out of this pandemic, exhausted, cranky, burnt out, stressed; with very little balance. And so their attitude is, 'Hey, I'm not looking forward to more years of this. So you want to keep me and you want me to be happy, and you want me to be productive, then listen up'," Duxbury said. 

She said employers will have to take into account changing parameters for employee well being.

Duxbury said workplace surveys have indicated there is a significant amount of worker dissatisfaction related to work demands during the pandemic, especially among workers who were considered essential and had to show up for work versus those who were given the flexibility to work at home. 

"I've been working in employee wellbeing for almost 30 years and I can tell you, I've never seen data like this," Duxbury told the conference.

She said a good part of the research she has been involved with in recent months has been the emotions of Canadian workers. 

"So we classify emotions as negative or positive, active or passive. So what have we got right now? Frustration is an active negative emotion. Anxiety is an active negative emotion. Fear is an active negative emotion. Anger is an active negative emotion," Duxbury said. 

She added that the worker surveys have also revealed high numbers for passive emotions such as sadness, fatigue, depression and resignation. People who said they were happy were not in a large group, she added. 

Duxbury said the Canadian workplace will have to move away from what she called the "culture of face time," which is the long-established workplace culture of those who show up at the workplace all the time and the bosses appreciate that. 

It is when all the senior executives and managers are at work all the time and they give the best assignments and promotions to those they see at work all the time.

People who are always at the workplace and always responding to work demands do not have a realistic work-life balance, Duxbury said.

Duxbury said if the work culture moves forward with that traditional outlook, it is going to create problems. 

"That is not sustainable anymore. And it's not sustainable because for many, many people, this experience over the last two years has been traumatizing. And they've evaluated what they want from work; what they want from life, and they're not going to put up with it anymore," Duxbury said.

Duxbury said the issue is causing new concerns in all the workplaces across the country and she said the challenge is now in the hands of Canada's business leaders to find ways to adapt to the change. 

Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.


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Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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