Canadian Underwriter

Want your employees back in the office? Think flexibility…

March 20, 2023   by David Gambrill

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Three years into the pandemic-induced hybrid workplace, Canadian financial services employees are worried about losing their new-found flexible office arrangements and aren’t afraid to seek new employment opportunities elsewhere — meaning retention is the name of the game for employers right now, says a Canadian representative of a global staffing firm.

Forty-six per cent of more than 1,100 employees surveyed online by Robert Half said they were worried about losing the ability to work where and when they want in 2023. And 40% of financial services and administration employees said they wanted increased flexibility in where and when they work.

“The [survey] numbers actually surprised us, in that there is still a lot of people making plans to make a change,” Cal Jungwirth, director of permanent placement services for finance and accounting at Robert Half, told Canadian Underwriter in an interview.

“We did the exact same survey…last year and it said about 40% of people had plans to make move [at that time]. That number [now] is sitting at just over 50%. I think that’s a good eye-opener for all organizations to remember we’re in a very, very tight people market across Canada. It doesn’t matter which industry or sector, every organization is having a tough time finding people.

“So when I see numbers like this, I put on my retention hat. This is a good reminder that organizations need to make sure they’re putting their arms around their top performers and making sure they don’t lose them. That’s where I go first, retention. And if you do a good job of retaining people, hopefully, you don’t have to hire people.”

There are two keys to retention right now, said Jungwirth. First, employers should negotiate any changes in workplace flexibility with their workforce, as opposed to making edicts without consultation. Second, employers need to keep up to date with market trends in wages and compensation.

Regarding the first point, when it comes to workplace flexibility, employers must be aware that people are willing to walk away from companies that don’t offer it, Jungwirth observed. He added many financial services firms offer arrangements of between two days and three days a week in the office.

A March 2022 CU online survey of more than 650 P&C industry professionals showed more than 80% of the industry was working three or fewer days in the office at that time. Twenty-five per cent of the P&C industry was working remotely then (zero days a week in the office). A total of 57% were working in the office on any combination of three days (21.2%), two days (20.6%), or one day (15.4%) a week.

If employers want more people back in the office, it would be best for them to consult with employees about any initiatives that would reduce flexibility, Jungwirth advises.

“My first advice is to have an open conversation, whether that’s employee-driven and/or employer-driven,” he said. “Let’s have the discussion. Let’s ask the question, ‘What do you need?’ That’s a two-way conversation. What are some potential hurdles in the performance of this position?

“There might be very good reasons for an employer wanting to bring an individual back one or two or three days a week. It could be around team-building. It could be around building in-person culture. As long as there’s a discussion around it, versus just dropping a mandate. We think that’s incredibly important.”

If employers want people back in the office because production is dropping or performance is declining, they need to establish or use existing metrics to prove the case, Jungwirth said. They need to be clear, transparent and accountable with their employees about these key performance indicators (KPIs).

As for compensation, the Robert Half survey showed 71% of finance and administration employees wanted their salary to increase by the end of this year. This reflected a general concern (77% of survey respondents) about rising prices and interest rates.

“I’d say in the last 18 months, we’ve seen some serious salary inflation,” Jungwirth said. “Organizations need to make sure that they’re taking a look at their internal [compensation] grids to make sure that they’re keeping up with the market.”

And benefits packages, he added, need to be customized, as opposed to one-size-fits-all. Many workers want to be able to choose benefits that make sense for their own individual family situations.


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