Great Resignation or Great Realignment?

A shift in power is underway between employees and employers, HR experts agree

seema headshot
seema headshot

In the United States, a record 4.3 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs last August. Similar trends have been seen elsewhere in the world, including in the U.K. and Germany.

While it doesn’t appear the so-called Great Resignation is happening to the same extent in Canada, some studies show that workers are thinking about leaving or switching jobs.

The pandemic has altered people’s perception of the workplace, which has traditionally required employees to commute to an office building on a daily basis and remain there, for the most part, from nine to five.

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“The way we were working hadn’t changed that much since the ‘60s,” says Seema Aurora, president and CEO of Ottawa-based recruitment specialist TAG HR, of the “corporate mentality” that focuses on the more company-serving philosophies of doing business. 

“If you had things to do with your family, you had to arrange them on the weekends and in the evenings and so on. The work-life balance that everybody talks about was a constant angst for most people, but we couldn’t quite put our finger on how to change it.”

Some employees were frequently flying from Ottawa to Toronto, spending their whole day commuting for a one- to two-hour meeting. “That’s just the way it was expected for in-person meetings.”

Then, the pandemic came along and caused offices to go digital and employees to work from home. Sure, it was challenging at first, but people got used to it, says Aurora.

“It offered more flexibility. There was a sense of, ‘Oh my goodness, I have control of my time’. When you think about it, the most valuable asset that we all have is, simply, our time.

“All of a sudden it wasn’t the matter of the nine-to-five and clocking-in and clocking-out. You could clock in when it was suitable. It was the output or the productivity that was more important.”

In Canada, it’s not so much the Great Resignation as it is the Great Realignment, Aurora argues. It’s workers “taking stock” of their lives and deciding what their priorities are, she adds.

“Everybody is looking to find a bit more meaning and purpose. Is there a reason that we have to have daily meetings at our offices? Are deadlines a little more flexible, depending on what comes up? Do I have to do this work between nine to five or, because I have a young family, if I did it between eight and 10 in the evening or early in the morning, would it matter?”

With remote and hybrid work here to stay, companies need to show more flexibility with their employees, Aurora believes. “It requires a certain amount of maturity, responsibility and, most importantly, trust.”

The hiring and onboarding process becomes more important in this “new normal” because employers need to recruit employees who are the right fit with their culture, while employees are looking for flexibility for their work-life balance, she says.

Todd Luckasavitch, president of business solutions company Business Sherpa Group, is also of the opinion that what Canada is experiencing is not a Great Resignation as much as it is a “definite shift” in the power between employers and employees. The exception remains the highly disrupted frontline workers in such sectors as hospitality and health care. They’ve been quitting their jobs in higher numbers.

At the start of the pandemic, many employees decided to sit tight in their roles and not make a drastic career change, says Luckasavitch.

“There was still that notion of, ‘Maybe I’m not 100-per-cent happy in my job but, at the end of the day, I’m working from home, I’m comfortable, I’m virtual, I’m able to look after my aging parents or my child or walk my dog whenever I want’.

“Now, we’re seeing more and more people looking at opportunities, especially for their own personal development.”

That means employers are having to look at ways to retain their best talent. A recent survey by the Conference Board of Canada found that companies are setting aside an average of 3.9 per cent for wage increases this year, the most money since 2008. 

“It’s not all about the money,” says Luckasavitch. “A lot of employers are looking at ways to engage their people, engage their talent in ways that show value and purpose.”

Employers are also placing more focus on employee wellness, says Luckasavitch, pointing to the popularity of wellness spending accounts that allow staff to purchase items like new running shoes or gym memberships.

As well, companies are putting more effort into building a culture of collaboration and are recognizing the importance of learning and development programs, he adds. “Now, as the talent market is churning in a positive direction, we’re seeing a lot more investment in that.”

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