TORONTO — The future of the workplace is more work and less place, experts say, given the impact of new technologies, an uncertain economy and the demands of a new generation of employees.
Those three big trends are expected to result in Canadians spending more time out of the office, but that freedom and flexibility come at a price: greater expectations.
Many Canadians are now calling in to meetings from the road, using online collaboration tools and cloud services to get work done on the weekends and — unfortunately for family harmony — checking emails at all hours, including at the dinner table.
"In many ways, we do it to ourselves."
Human resources consultant Peter Saulnier, partner at Vancouver-based Logan HR, said that with the technologies that exist today, there is far less reason to dictate where or when workers should get their jobs done.
Saulnier said many workers allow themselves to be available at all hours in exchange for more flexibility. But most don't do enough to set boundaries, he said.
"In many ways, we do it to ourselves," he said. "And there are far too many organizations that will say, 'Thanks very much, I'll take all those extra hours you're putting in for no additional pay.'"
While the Internet and new communications technologies have been changing the workplace for years, what's new is that companies are actually taking a step back, he said.
Organizations looking to recruit and retain the best employees are cutting down on overwork, he said, by managing expectations, capping working hours and placing a greater importance on people skills among management.
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"Smart organizations realize that it's a problem, and in taking care of your people, your workers are going to be happier and ultimately the organization will do better as well."
And while being on call outside regular hours is putting more stress on employees, their jobs are getting more precarious.
Contract work has surged since the 2008 financial crisis, with the number of Canadians aged 25 to 54 in temporary work growing nearly six times faster than overall employment — and those short-term workers could be in jeopardy as some are predicting the economy is in for another rough patch in 2016.
Saulnier said that while the rise in temporary work means more pressure on the pocketbook for some, it also means workers have more freedom to leave their jobs in cases of bad management or poor working conditions.
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Melanie Peacock, a human resources professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said employee happiness was often ignored under older management models focused on maximizing shareholder value or minimizing manufacturing defects, and that those top-down, hierarchical systems don't necessarily foster independent, empowered workers.
Now, she said, companies are turning more to metrics such as employee turnover, the time it takes to fill jobs, and absence rates to maintain morale and productivity in an economy of increasingly part-time and short-term workers.
"The economy isn't going to change overnight," she said. "The question is, after things like layoffs, how to deal with the people we have and keep them motivated, make them feel valued."
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Peacock said millennials — those born after 1980 — are now bringing the more independent values of their generation into the workplace, though she emphasized that the push towards more empowered employees is taking place across all age groups.
"The older generation too is starting to understand that work isn't everything, and we're all starting to understand that we have to build other things in and around our lives other than work," she said.
Wayne Berger, who heads the Canadian operations for Regus, a shared and temporary office space provider, said his company's periodic surveys of customers and other business contacts show what is important to the best young graduates and employees has shifted over the past 20 years.
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"This generation is not just about moving up the company chain," he said.
Berger said it's easy for small businesses and startups to embrace change, but he's now seeing the big companies that dominate Canada's private sector and even some government agencies using new methods of work to attract and retain the younger generation.
While concerns about commuting times, child care and time off are not new, he said, what is new is the willingness of millennials to change jobs and switch careers in search of a better work/life balance.
"They want an opportunity to produce their result but they want to do it on their terms," he said.
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