By Sue Tiffin
Staff shortages and high turnover rates have been rippling throughout the county – and elsewhere, of course – in nearly every sector. Some of these challenges are caused as a direct result of the pandemic: health concerns, less immigration, a change in career paths after time to revaluate and reconsider commuting and cubicle work. Some can be traced back to pre-pandemic times: aging population, early retirement, slowed working-age population growth.
Some suggest that social safety nets like the emergency income support programs put in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 have more people preferring to collect pay at home rather than work – and while in some cases this might be true (although the CERB itself ended in 2020), it might also be that staying home during the pandemic was preferred or required for health reasons, or that the CERB’s $500 per week was more than some jobs offered, without the added stress of also having to arrange for costly childcare and pay for vehicle maintenance and high gas prices, too.
For years, a shift – in part generational – has seen many in the workforce looking for equitable pay, health benefits, flexible working arrangements and purposeful work. In Haliburton County, employees must also balance the challenges of rural life even as the pandemic continues.
Over the past few months, several discussions have taken place at county council meetings and Haliburton County Public Library board meetings about policies to support employees at work, and have been refreshing to hear.
Policies now in place enable staff who can work from home to do so on an occasional or emergency basis, providing greater freedom and comfort for employees who opt to work outside of the office, without diminishing productivity – for some, productivity increases.
Seeing the need to offer an increased gas mileage rate from 45 cents to 61 cents per kilometre as per the Canada Revenue Agency’s recommendation helps those using their own vehicle during work hours to do that work, even as gas prices increase.
Last month, the library began offering sick leave to part-time staff. The benefit enables employees the opportunity to stay home rather than coming to work sick, give care to others at home who might need it, or attend medical appointments as needed.
While the HCPL, as an employer, is not required under the Employment Standards Act to offer sick leave benefits for part-time staff, doing so shows an effort to care for staff’s health, and also respects the different needs all employees might have, relieving pressure for those who might have stresses outside of work to think on as so many do.
Lack of both public and personal transportation in the county has been a barrier for people to access services – and work – but last week, the county agreed on a pilot transportation program to help people access training programs (and also social services and health facilities). The hope is that more people will have access to training, and therefore, access to employment, a win-win for employers and employees alike. Ideally this will lead to greater rural transportation options, making employment throughout the county easier to get to for those who don’t have reliable or affordable access to transportation.
While it’s not possible for every employer to, say, raise wages (government wage subsidies would help), looking at benefits that can be offered to enable best working conditions is important. Employers can adapt in whatever way they can to the changing needs and interests of employees by listening and developing empathy for their needs: ensuring they are offering a living wage and equitable pay, flexible work hours if possible, meaningful work, and the opportunity for a balanced life with happiness at home and at work.
We can’t simply blame essential social safety nets without looking at all of the complex reasons people are choosing to resign, including looking at ways the past two years have been difficult for each other, and working to put solutions in place to make life better for employers and employees alike.