Most workers want to keep COVID-19 worklife changes

Katy Ingraham, spokewoman for the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition.

WORK JUST AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE and that’s the way to keep it say most Canadians faced with the prospect of a return to the way work used to be before the COVID-19 pandemic.

A May poll of 1,624 Canadians, conducted by the market research firm Leger, found 80% of respondents prefer not to “return to my usual pre-pandemic schedule” of going to work every day in an office or workplace. The changes they prefer range from:

  • 40% who said they would accept a mix of a few days a week at home and a few days at their workplace.

  • 19% who said they would only want to go to the office when necessary, a day or two a month.

  • 19% who said they don’t want to return to the job site at all

35% would rather quit

The desire to break free of going in to the office to work was so strong that 35% of those still working from home, said they would quit their job if their employers demanded they had to work on-site.

Barbara Bowes, a human resources professional in Winnipeg, says large companies definitely do want to get their employees back on site, but are aware that without a work-from-home possibility they risk losing workers.

“I think the hybrid work schedule and perhaps the job sharing will go forward,” Bowes said.

In another survey conducted by the Business Development Bank of Canada 74% of businesses said they will let their employees work from home post-pandemic.

Three million worked from home

More than three million Canadians set themselves up to work from home during the pandemic.

Jay Summach, an account manager, is one of them. He started working from his Edmonton, Alberta home in March 2020. “I’ve been 100 per cent from home since then,” he says.

Summach brought furniture home from work to make the transition more comfortable. He says his at-home office has led to a better work-life balance; walking to a local shop to grab lunch and being able to fit in a quick visit with his neighbour.

As far as going in to an office goes Summach says: “We need to be together at the times we need to be together, but what we don’t need is for everyone to be in the office all the time.”

No racism when you work from home

“I’m dreading going back to the office," says Kiran Jaswal. "And it’s almost entirely due to not wanting to deal with the constant ignorance of my coworkers.” Jaswal, is one of a few women of colour at a large Calgary-based non-profit. She says returning to the office means returning to daily microaggressions and disrespect from her coworkers.

“Being at home has been very good for my well-being because I can turn off the computer and be away and safe from that toxicity,” she says. “The office … didn’t provide that escape.”

A 2019 Race Relations in Canada study found the workplace was one of the most common places to face discrimination. About 40 per cent of those who experienced racism told surveyors that it happened at work.

No rush to go back

Worker reluctance to return to the “same old same old” is also affecting restaurant owners who are struggling to find enough staff to serve the big jump in customers when the covid restrictions are lifted.

“We’re getting days with nothing—absolutely no applications at all,” says Craig Smith owner of The Blues Can bar in Calgary. “We’re scrambling for staff right now and unfortunately for whatever reason, everybody is in the same boat.”

Katy Ingraham, is co-owner of Edmonton’s Fleisch Delikatessen and spokesperson for the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition. She says working in restaurants is  a “notoriously underpaid type of work.” She says the pandemic has further exposed cracks in the restaurant industry, which is prone to wage theft, wages below the minimum and the precarity of tipping

She said it should come as no surprise that many are not returning to work after living on income support during the pandemic. Ingraham said workers want to see change: living wages and safer, more equitable environments.

“Frankly, many of them are leaving the industry because they don’t see that change happening fast enough — or at all.”

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