TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT are not just the lyrics to a Johnny Paycheck country music song any more. It’s a message more and more workers are delivering to their bosses these days. The bosses are worried. And they should be.
Pandemic lockdowns and layoffs forced most folks to take a break from their daily 9-to-5 grind and gave them the time to think about things. The more they did that, the more they came to the conclusion that a regular paycheque from a job was not good enough—particularly if the pay was not that great to begin with.
The idea of quitting to find something better made more and more sense. And more workers are doing it—just quitting.
‘More important things in life’
Valerie Whitt did it. She quit her job in July. The 50-year-old Markham, Ontario, woman had been a project manager for Ontario Health for 13 years.
“This pandemic has shown me there’s more important things in life than having that busy corporate career,” she says.
“Just having that space in my life — not having to get up and rush to work, rush the kids out the door — gave me a lot of time and space to really evaluate my life and what I wanted to do,” said Whitt. who plans to freelance as she works toward starting her own business.
Experts say a wave of employee resignations could trigger labour shortages in a variety of sectors.
A desire for more job flexibility
There is no statistical evidence of a mass exodus of workers from their jobs in Canada yet. However the percentage of workers leaving jobs in the USA is the highest it’s been in more than 20 years.
A Statistics Canada report released in May said 22 per cent of Canadian businesses surveyed expect “retaining skilled employees” will be an obstacle over the next three months, while 23.8 per cent identified “shortage of labour force” as a looming issue. The sectors most concerned about retention were retail (32 per cent) and accommodation and food (31 per cent).
According to industry lobby group Restaurants Canada, more than 800,000 Canadian food service workers lost their jobs or had their hours reduced to zero during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Staff are looking for more flexibility, and we’re hearing that across every sector,” said Scott Crockatt, spokesman for the Business Council of Alberta.. “In some cases they’re not interested in going back to their previous employment if they can’t get that flexibility.”
At Edmonton-based Morgan Construction and Environmental, president and CEO Peter Kiss said many of his fly-in, fly-out workers from other provinces are quitting.
“It seems like any sort of work stress, the travel, the COVID requirements at site, all those other things, are just too much stress for people right now,” Kiss said.
Higher pay a first step
It’s no surprise restaurant workers have flocked to secure jobs with higher wages, said David Macdonald, senior economist with the CCPA and author of the report, titled “Tipping point: Pandemic forced restaurant and bar workers into better paying jobs.”
Employment in food services is now 14.8 per cent below its pre-pandemic level.
By February 2021, almost a quarter-million workers in Canada who had worked in food and accommodation had found new “white collar” jobs.
“This isn’t to say that servers have become engineers, doctors or teachers but, rather, that they’re filling support positions in these industries,” reads the CCPA report.
Food and accommodation services have long operated on a low-wage business model that relies on easy-to-hire cheap labour to cook, serve and clean at restaurants and bars.
These low wages have worsened the job vacancy rates for these employers, Macdonald says: “Low wages are having a bigger impact on vacancies and the amount that they’ll have to increase wages in order to address those vacancies has grown.”
According to CCPA’s analysis, the job vacancy rate, now at nine per cent, could decline by three percentage points if employers raised their offered wages by $5 per hour.
Already back at work
The idea that programs like CERB and EI are too generous and the cause of workers unwilling to return to work in bars and restaurants is false, says Macdonald.
“Our data shows that (the workers) have already returned to work, just in a different sector,” he said.
Workers who shifted to other industries could return to the restaurant business, but it would likely have to be with higher pay and better hours.
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