August 2022 – Is it time to rethink the way we work?

August 29, 2022:

In Atlantic Canada – as in much of Canada – unemployment is at record lows and employers are confronting a serious labour shortage. If you’ve travelled around the region this summer, you’ve likely noticed ‘help wanted’ signs in the windows of many businesses. Many organizations have had to adjust their hours, service provision, and/or product delivery, because of an inability to fully staff up.

Although it doesn’t make it any easier to accept, employee shortages shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. There has been much public discussion for years on how demographics in the region – a direct consequence of having the oldest population in the country – would lead us to this position. This has necessitated, and will continue to necessitate, an increased focus on population growth, and a need for increased immigration to meet our needs.

But demographics and staff shortages aside, the pandemic has created a new employment paradigm that should cause employers to question if it’s time to rethink the way we work.

Our latest survey of more than 2,000 Atlantic Canadians underscores how the necessary adapted employment practices during the pandemic have changed expectations post pandemic. Across the region, Atlantic Canadians largely believe (83%) that how people work has fundamentally changed as an outcome of the pandemic.  Only two in ten think how we work will change back to pre-pandemic practices in the future.

During the pandemic, more than six in ten employed Atlantic Canadians worked from home, either full-time or part-time, with employees in the public sector being more likely than those in the private sector. That’s an important point, given that in this region we have a disproportionately larger public sector compared to other parts of the country. (Keep in mind that prior to the pandemic approximately one in ten working Atlantic Canadians worked remotely.)  In this post pandemic period just under half of working Atlantic Canadians now report working full- or part-time from home. Working arrangements originally created out of necessity have evolved to be a more entrenched remote model.

Over half of surveyed Atlantic Canadian employees (57%) believe that both employers and employees benefit from working from home. However, workers are more than four times as likely to believe that the employee more so benefits from working remotely, rather than the employer.

When we assessed what is important to employees in the current employment climate, working Atlantic Canadians told us they place the greatest importance on salary, benefits, and location (being able to stay in their local community), consistent with pre-pandemic opinions. We also see that while having the ability to interact with others at work is considered crucial to the vast majority, most working Atlantic Canadians also now place importance on having the ability to work remotely as well.

Expectations have clearly evolved. A majority of Atlantic Canadians (60%) think working remotely provides a better work life balance for employees. Given the choice, most working Atlantic Canadians would prefer to work from home either exclusively, or a mix of onsite and at home, rather than work entirely onsite.

And here’s the challenge. Currently, two in ten working Atlantic Canadians told us they are actively look for work elsewhere, and a similar percentage anticipates that they will likely change employers in the next 12 months. This creates a conundrum for employers. In a tight labour market, the challenge is finding the right balance to be competitive in recruiting and retaining employees, while at the same time running a profitable business.

Is it time to rethink the way we work?

What’s the right mix of work-from-home? What other options should be considered? Is it time to contemplate an extended 4-day work week? Other geographic jurisdictions like Iceland and Spain have piloted that idea with some success but also have identified key drawbacks – and our research shows there is a keen interest (62%) in this concept among working Atlantic Canadians.

Perhaps we need to assess how we can attract a non-traditional workforce.  In a region where we have a disproportionately older population, how can we engage this older, experienced, segment that is retired or about to retire? Our study shows there would be considerable interest in returning to the workforce among retirees (39%) or delaying retirement among those who plan to retire within the next 10 years (63%), if a reduced workweek or flexible work options were available.

Employers in the region need to spend the time to create their own competitive employment proposition and be prepared to explore new work arrangements that will continue to meet their business needs. Companies not thinking about this now are likely to see labour challenges continue to grow.

To learn how we can help you better understand your workforce, and how your employees’ opinions compare to others in the region, please reach out to

Results discussed are from a survey with 2,082 Atlantic Canadians aged 18 years or older, conducted on Narrative Research’s East Coast Voice online general population panel between August 9th and 15th, 2022.

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