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Canadian SMBs struggling to meet pandemic-era worker demands


November 1, 2021
By Sage

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Sage has partnered with the Angus Reid Group for a newly commissioned report, Forward Together: Building a Resilient Future. The report uncovers new insights into the current hiring challenges among Canadian businesses, and how they are moving forward in 2022. This is a continuation of the March study and tracks how the pandemic has shifted Canadian businesses’ priorities and Canadian workers’ expectations in the second half of the year.

The new study explored three major areas:

  • Top concerns business leaders and their workers have had over the past six months.
  • How workers’ expectations and demands have changed and how businesses are responding.
  • How business leaders plan to move forward and fuel growth in their organizations.

Burnout continues to plague businesses and workers

Concerns about burnout have risen in the last six months and more workers are acknowledging the issue now:

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  • More than half of businesses (56%) are concerned about their employees burning out, up 9% from 47% in March.
  • More workers are acknowledging their concerns over burnout, up 8% from 32% in March to 40% in September.
  • 60% of businesses have still taken no action for mitigating burnout among workers.

Meanwhile, 39% of business leaders continue to expect negative impact on their revenues because of the pandemic, of which half (49%) consider burnout and dampened employee morale the main factors contributing to their negative outlook.

“The fallout from the pandemic has been a great deal of workplace disruption in the form of work instability, remote work and in some cases, burnout,” said Demetre Eliopoulos, Senior Vice President – Public Affairs, Angus Reid Group. “The result of this disruption is that it created an environment where people are asking themselves hard questions about the type of career and work environment/culture they want to be a part of. The Forward Together report reflects this reality and the steps employers are taking to address it.”

Businesses are prepared to invest in employees but are not meeting workers’ expectations

Although both businesses and workers agree there is a critical need to hire more people to prepare for post-pandemic recovery and fuel growth, not enough businesses are meeting workers’ quickly changing expectations. In the past six months, employees have expressed a desire for more tangible investments from their employers across nearly all areas than in March.

Meanwhile, the report found that:

  • 47% of businesses are planning to hire additional employees in the next six months, up by 13% since March.
  • 27% of businesses are now prepared to increase employee compensation to attract and retain talent, up by 11%. However, 50% of workers expect an increase in financial compensation.

In addition to greater financial compensation, workers are also demanding new programs and policies to help them deal with burnout:

  • 65% demand an increase in self-care benefits.
  • 64% demand an increase in self-care days.

Currently, only 35% of businesses say they have implemented new programs and policies to address burnout. Moreover, given the workers’ demands highlighted above, the programs do not seem to be working.

The majority (61%) have invested in knowledge resources related to mental health.

  • 25% have increased self-care benefits.
  • 32% have increased self-care days.

War on talent will continue

Hiring and talent retention have proven to be challenging for businesses over the past six months. In fact, 58% of leaders say attracting new talent, and 51% say retaining talent, have become more difficult in the last six months.

Meanwhile, six months ago, 61% of workers were not looking for other opportunities. However, in September, the research found that:

  • Workers’ satisfaction declined by 8%
  • Almost half (47%) of workers say they have or are considering exploring different opportunities
  • More than a quarter (28%) are considering opportunities outside their company, with 20% looking for opportunities outside their company and 8% planning to leave their job to pursue something different
  • 19% have changed jobs in the last six months.

“Having the right people, processes, and technology in place is paramount to ensuring the sustainable growth and resilience of Canadian businesses,” said Steve Ryujin, Managing Director (interim), Sage Canada. “A strong tech infrastructure, including cloud-based solutions, is the foundation for ensuring productivity and positively seamless customer and employee experiences. This second wave of the Forward Together report clearly suggests that business leaders should pay more attention to workers’ well-being and ensure they have the tools, resources and support their employees need in order to thrive.”

Ready for the future

Business leaders’ outlook on revenue impact into the next six months remains split: 39% expect it will be negative, 32% remain neutral, and 29% anticipate it will be positive. However, business leaders overall show more optimism going into 2022.

Of those who currently expect negative revenue impact, 75% expect the situation to improve by the second quarter of 2022 or beyond. For businesses who are experiencing a positive uptick in revenue, 36% expect the trend to continue.

Regardless of their current business performance, the majority of businesses (76%) and workers (66%) say their organization’s ability to handle future uncertainty/disruptions is good:

  • Two in five companies have shifted their priorities in the last six months.
  • Customer relationships (55%), innovation (54%), and workplace culture (49%) are identified as the top three business priorities.
  • Four in five businesses have taken some action to improve their resilience to future disruption.
  • Flexible work environment (48%), staff training (40%), and cloud-based business applications (29%) are the top three implementations to improve resilience.

Currently, more than half of businesses (57%) are planning to use internal funds for these initiatives, and 24% are considering taking on debt to finance their plans.

To learn more, please download the full Forward Together: Building a Resilient Future report.