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Canadians Don’t Just Want, They Expect a Flexible, Hybrid Work Schedule, Says Cisco

COVID-19 has changed the way we work and the way companies operate. And while some people thought the changes might be temporary, it appears Canadian workers wouldn’t be averse to having some of them stay. Topping that list is the flexible, hybrid work schedule.

According to the Cisco Canada Hybrid Work Study, conducted by Angus Reid, 81% of Canadians say flexible work policies aren’t just a nice-to-have: these options influence whether they stay at or leave a job. Employees say flexibility in their work schedule, in fact, is a top priority, second only to salary. Even so, Cisco Canada also surveyed employers to get their perceptions, and there’s a clear gap in perception: 61% of employers have been setting a mandatory number of days to return to the office.

According to the survey, flexibility is no longer perceived as a ‘perk’ by employees, but an expectation. As a top priority, flexibility in work arrangements is cited by 23% of employees as being most important when choosing an employer. That’s not beyond the number-one priority, which is salary, cited by 34%. Both are ranked above work/life balance, benefits, purpose, and office perks.

“The future of work is hybrid and global,” says Shannon Leininger, President, Cisco Canada.  “Organizations that prioritize flexibility and choice as core business imperatives will reap the benefits.”

John Thomson working from home

It’s easy for employers to say that prospective employees who don’t like the set-up can look elsewhere. But Leininger believes this could cost them some great talent. “Canada,” she adds, “continues to face a tight labour market, and a flexible and inclusive hybrid work model that meets people where they are and where they want to be supports recruitment, talent retention, and overall happiness and wellness.”

The majority (79%) of Canadian employees say hybrid work has positively impacted their work-life balance, with 47% saying it’s had a very positive impact. This represents a 16% increase from the 2021 report’s findings.

Of the 61% of employers who said they have or plan to implement a mandatory number of days in the office per week, more than half (54%) have asked employees to return to the office more often, or plan to. Nearly a third (30%) of employers also said they expect employees to move closer to work if they live too far to commute.

There is a downside to working from home for the majority of the time, however, at least in the minds of employees. The survey found that while most employees prefer hybrid work, there is uneasiness that being away from the office will negatively impact career progression. Nearly half (46%) of employees who choose to be in-person more frequently expect to have more opportunities for engagement in the corporate culture, while 38% say the same for their career growth. The 2021 results were similar, with 46% of Canadian employees worried that those in the office would have more opportunities for engagement and career growth.

Employers, however, do not share the same concerns as employees: 49% of employers think that opportunities for career growth will be equal for employees that are primarily in office versus those that are primarily remote. Fewer believe this will be the case for engagement in the corporate culture (35%).

“Leaders and managers are critical to the success of hybrid work and need the proper tools and training to make it inclusive, equitable, and successful,” Leininger continues. “It is incumbent on leaders to role model and define hybrid work for their teams because it is not a one-size-fits all approach. By being intentional in how they lead, adapt, and evolve their hybrid work practices, leaders have the opportunity to build a culture that puts employees at the heart.”

The survey also found that hybrid work strategies have proven beneficial for employees giving the rising cost of living. However, while only 36% of employees say their employer has implemented new benefits to address the rising costs of living concerns, such as a salary increase, improved mental health benefits, and paid days off, a larger number of employers (63%) reported having implemented new benefits to address the rising cost of living.

What about when it comes to age? Perception appears to be different among generations, with different generations having varying beliefs about ‘who’ benefits most from new workplace policies. Younger people (18-54) are more likely to evaluate hybrid/remote work positively, with 86% versus only 65% of older workers 55+. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents feel that company policies prioritize certain generations over others; while 35% of young employees (18-34) feel their company’s policies prioritize Baby Boomers or Gen X the most. Further, younger employees are more likely than their counterparts to move further away from work.

One staggering bit of information: a previous Cisco study found that employees saved $11,100 annually on average when working in a hybrid model. That’s an average of $1,000 a month or for some, potentially an entire monthly mortgage payment or grocery bill. So, whatever the business model, it’s clear that flexibility in schedules, even if it’s the option to work from home 1-2 days per week, can save Canadian employees thousands in the long run, which alleviates a lot of unnecessary stress. It can lead to happier, healthier, more well balanced, and, particularly important to employers, productive workers.

The survey was conducted by Angus Reid for Cisco Canada between December 9 and 15, 2022. There were 1,000 employees and 509 employers surveyed from across Canada.