Teleworking employees want to know their employer's position: survey

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MONTREAL -- The COVID-19 pandemic has democratized telecommuting so much that many workers say they're thinking of not going back to the office -- if their employers will allow it.

Jonathan Anestin, an account manager for a technology company in Ohio, U.S., joined his new, remote team in August 2020.

Though he says he wasn't specifically looking for a job that would allow him to work from home full-time, he says he now enjoys the lifestyle and understands why some workers are apprehensive about returning to work in person.

The young father, who used to get up between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. to arrive at work by 9 a.m., says he happily traded the hours lost in traffic and the rush to get kids to daycare for the flexibility he's gained in the past year.

"Now, if you asked me to go back to the office, I don't know if I could do it," he said.

However, a lack of clarity around the terms and conditions of returning to work post-COVID-19 is making some workers anxious about returning to the office.

Employees whose organizations have not provided detailed information about future strategies for telecommuting say they are more likely to doubt that they will be able to continue working from home.

These people are also more concerned about returning to the office, according to findings from a survey conducted by LifeWorks, a wellness solutions firm formerly known as Morneau Shepell.

The survey was conducted online between May 28 and June 4 among 3,000 Canadian respondents.

According to the survey, one quarter (25 per cent) of employees have no idea what their organization is planning and 12 per cent do not believe their employer has a plan.

That means 37 per cent of employees surveyed still don't know what they're doing with five weeks to go until September -- the time many employers are targeting a return to the office.

More than one-third (38 per cent) of employees surveyed expect their boss to demand they return to the office.

Only six per cent believe they will be able to choose where they work. These employees reported a significantly better 'mental health score' (-6.0) compared to the general population (-10.7), using a monthly mental health index that LifeWorks has been working on since April 2020.

In June, the Mental Health Index was nearly 11 points below the pre-2020 baseline score.

The data indicate there are some concerns among those surveyed that they will be forced into a directive or denied a hybrid model by their employer, despite public support for telecommuting that has been widely documented in recent months.

LifeWorks' vice-president of sales and customer success, Lisa Angeloni, says there is a lack of information for employees about the various options.

"There's clearly an anxiety that's caused perhaps by a lack of communication or clarity about the return-to-work plan," she said, pointing out employers would be well advised to share their intention as soon as possible to avoid uncertainty.

This would also contribute to a greater sense of well-being and security, Angeloni says.

The firm says evidence suggests that workers whose employers demonstrate greater flexibility are more likely to be mentally healthy, motivated and productive.

Angeloni points out, according to other surveys the firm has conducted, a large majority of employees would like to continue telecommuting.

That's why she says LifeWorks believes companies must listen to employees' needs, especially during a labour shortage where people can choose to move to a place that guarantees more flexibility.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on July 23, 2021.

-- This article was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Grants. 

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