A return to the office results in higher costs for workers and employers


Ten years ago, Nola Simon caught an unlucky break that gave her a long glimpse into the future.

At the time, she was participating in a pilot project at her workplace, which allowed participants to work from home from time to time.

A foot injury kept her from driving for a while, forcing her to do all of her work at home.

“I was actually the only person in the whole company who was working [at home] five days a week,” said Simon, a consultant based in Keswick, Ont., who works with companies on hybrid and remote working issues.

Flexible working would later become the norm for Simon, as it did for millions of Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet a growing number of workers are facing a change in their working conditions as the lifting of pandemic restrictions allows them to return to the office.

At the same time, they face the impact of inflation, which makes this return more expensive.

Sima Sajjadiani, assistant professor in the division of organizational behavior and human resources at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, says organizations should think carefully about their plans to bring staff back to the workplace. . (Submitted by Sima Sajjadiani)

Experts say employers should think carefully about what they can do to support their staff in the office, if they are to hang on to their services in a job market where many people are used to working more independently and try to keep up. increase in the cost of living.

“Organizations need these workers more than ever,” said Sima Sajjadiani, assistant professor in the division of organizational behavior and human resources at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

“They should care about organizational commitment, they should care about retaining their top talent.”

A gradual change

In March, just over a fifth of working Canadians said they did most of their work from home, according to the latest Statistics Canada Labor Force Survey.

This number was closer to a quarter of workers in January.

A commuter crossed a TransLink fare barrier at Vancouver’s Waterfront station last week. Eddy Ng, Smith Professor of Equity and Inclusion in Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., says many people who have worked from home for a long time during the pandemic are not eager to go. at work. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Eddy Ng, Smith Professor of Equity and Inclusion in Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said the return to work appears to be “slower than employers had hoped”.

He sees a number of reasons for this, including worries about the lingering pandemic, as well as family challenges that are more complex to manage when working outside the home.

There’s also the fact that many workers are content to stick with the pandemic-era status quo.

“People just aren’t eager to get back to a routine that requires more effort to get to work,” Ng said by email.

There are those, however, who are not averse to a change of scenery and a life involving a commute.

Ed Jay, from Edmonton, has been back in the office since last September, after a year and a half of working from home.

An office worker wearing a mask walks to work in downtown Toronto earlier this month. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The IT manager said he was happy to make the switch.

“There was no separation between work and home,” Jay said.

Higher travel costs

For Jay, driving to work is more expensive than it used to be, but the rising gas prices are manageable so far.

“It hasn’t been outrageous,” said Jay, who drives half an hour to work each day.

Ed Jay, from Edmonton, drives about half an hour to get to work. He says that even though petrol prices are rising, the rise has so far been manageable for his own travel expenses. (David Bajer/CBC)

Before the pandemic, Aimée Terrio of Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia, spent twice as long commuting to and from Halifax.

But that was when gas was much cheaper and she wasn’t paying $90 to fill up her Subaru Crosstrek, which was on a recent trip to the pumps.

Terrio said she had been worried about what it would cost to return to work, but a job change means she will be commuting less than before. So she now spends $20 a week on public transit on the days she goes to work.

“I was able to find a new job within my organization that allowed me to work from home more days than I had planned,” said Terrio, who now works as a training coordinator, by email.

Back in Ontario, Nola Simon may be doing her consulting work from home, but that doesn’t mean her household is immune to higher work-related costs.

This is because her husband is an entrepreneur who has to drive to work.

Nola Simon of Keswick, Ontario, north of Toronto, consults with businesses on hybrid and remote working issues. (Submitted by Nola Simon)

Simon said she thinks this broader impact of inflation on households is being omitted from the return-to-work conversation.

“It’s not just the person who works for the company who goes back to [the] office,” she says.

“Employers have to consider that there is an impact on the household budget, and employees will be making decisions about what will work best for the whole family.”

Eddy Ng of Queen’s University said employers are under pressure to help employees address these concerns.

This includes requests for support for “daycare, transportation or shuttle services, meals, additional ‘cost of labour’ compensation,” he said, in addition to ensuring workers have a safe workplace to return to.

Keep workers happy

In Canada’s most populous province, the view from the top of the Department of Labor is that organizations need to do more to ensure their employees are happy with their working conditions and pay.

“To attract the best workers, companies must be prepared to offer higher wages and consider benefits (like working from home) to retain them,” Ontario Labor Minister Monte McNaughton told Reuters. CBC News in an emailed statement.

Ontario Labor Minister Monte McNaughton at a press conference in Toronto last year said companies must be prepared to raise wages and consider offering employee benefits to attract the best talent. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Ahead of an election in June, Ontario’s outgoing Progressive Conservative government highlighted efforts to improve conditions for workers.

UBC’s Sima Sajjadiani said it’s clear many companies are able to pay their workers more – and it’s in their interests to do so.

“They can increase the compensation and in return they will save the cost of replacing people who leave,” she said.

“They will improve the well-being of their employees, they will improve their organizational commitment and all the benefits that come with it. [that].”