According to Statistics Canada’s latest tally, there are 731,900 unfilled jobs across the country. While some have speculated that this is largely due to recipients of pandemic benefits becoming spoiled and lazy and refusing to go back to work, my experience tells me that most people would rather work than not and that there are many other reasons for these numbers, including the following:
A recent Globe and Mail webinar on Preparing Canadians for the Workforce of the Future explained that with a fertility rate that continues to fall and an aging population that expects millions to retire over the coming years, there are more people leaving the workforce than entering it. One of the sectors in which this became noticeable was in education. With the onset of COVID, many long-standing teachers who were close to or past retirement ages, chose to leave the profession rather than risk their health. This allowed younger teachers waiting in the wings (for as long as seven or eight years in some cases) to move into those positions, vacating other jobs that were serving as placeholders.
There are 89,100 vacancies in the hospitality industries. Many who lost their jobs at the beginning of COVID, were unable to sit around waiting for their positions to be reinstated. Nor could they rely solely on CERB payments to cover rent, food, gas, etc. So they found, created or retrained for other jobs that in many cases paid better and offered more regular hours and greater security.
There are certain industries that have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic. Nurses, for example, have witnessed and experienced the worst of COVID. With the non-stop demands, long hours and in some cases, abuse of the last 18 months, many have suffered greatly and are leaving the profession. Some are retiring early (45% of nurses are over the age of 55), but many are quitting within one or two years of graduating. Defeated and disheartened, they feel they have no choice.
In a survey done by staffing agency Robert Half last summer, nearly half of the people who were interviewed were “rethinking their positions during the pandemic, and 29 per cent of those people said they wanted to pursue a more meaningful or fulfilling position.” If my clientele is any indication, these latter folks felt unchallenged, underutilized, undervalued. Many have concluded that their job and therefore they have no reason, meaning, or purpose. Their confidence has plummeted, they have lost motivation; their energy is low and they find they are quick to anger and irritation with those around them. These people have become ‘bored out’ of their jobs.
Then there is the study (also mentioned in the same article) released by Lifeworks and Deloitte Canada that found that “more than half of leaders surveyed said they are considering leaving, retiring or “downshifting” to a new position.” These folks constitute the growing number of ‘burned out’ professionals for whom the terms “The Great Resignation” and “The Great Attrition” have been assigned.
Again to use my clients as examples, these consultants, managers, directors have also been stretched to their limits. Like the nurses, they are working extremely long hours and feeling overwhelmed with the ongoing demands and expectations from those to whom they report. Unlike the nurses, many of them work remotely and find little to no separation between work and home and as a result, have no boundaries to separate the workday from their personal lives. Physically and emotionally exhausted, they struggle to enjoy a good sleep. They experience difficulties with concentration, memory and confidence. They have lost interest in a lot of the things that they used to enjoy. Many forget to eat or may use food, drugs or alcohol to a greater extent. And they have lost sight of hope for the future. (For those of you who are familiar with the symptoms of depression, you may recognize a number of overlaps between the depressed and the ‘burned out’ or ‘bored out’ individual.)
If they are brave enough to ask for help, they are often not only not offered any, but are often told to ‘tough’ it out or that they are not being “team-players.” If they ask for a leave of absence and get it, there is no guarantee that management will respect their boundaries and the agreed-upon terms of the leave. Many have felt harassed and coerced into returning before they were ready. One manager who had taken a two month leave of absence was burned out again within two weeks of his return.
What to do about this dilemma? If I had the ear of government and employers, I would like to offer the following advice:
Raising the minimum wage from $14.25 to $14.35 doesn’t cut it. Annually, this amounts to less than $25,000.00 a year. Nobody can live on these wages, and they certainly can’t raise a family on that, which is why many minimum wage earners are juggling 2-3 jobs to make ends meet.
Some employers are offering large monetary incentives to new hires, while ignoring those that have been with them throughout COVID’s challenging times.
Pay attention to and respect the personal needs, boundaries and rights of your employees. Don’t cancel their vacation at the last minute because you need them. Don’t expect them to work evenings and weekends when they are supposed to be enjoying some personal time to themselves. Ask your employees how they are doing. Encourage breaks and fun activities.
Trust that your employees are capable of doing what they were hired to do. Notice and recognize their achievements. Let them know that they are doing a good job.
Consider maintaining remote working options, flexible schedules or offering four-day work weeks. Companies that have given staff greater control over their work lives have found a positive effect on employees’ happiness and productivity.
Let Human Resources return to the work they were meant to do, looking after the human resources of the company, rather than focused on keeping the company free of lawsuits. Don’t just pay lip service to creating mental health programs for employees - offer them, encourage them, make time for them.
And if you have become disengaged at work, if you are feeling burned out, bored out, or simply bummed out, please call. I’d be happy to help. Contact me to learn more.