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‘Yesterday’s gone’: Brookfield weighs in on future of work


Empty offices during the COVID-19 pandemic are an opportunity for employers to rethink the future of work. (Sergey Nivens/Adobe Stock)
By Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

If your mental health and well-being during the pandemic is causing you to rethink how you make a living, leading labour economists believe you’re not alone.

Those reprioritization trends will likely trigger an overall shift in the way people work and the kind of employment they seek for years to come, according to a new report by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The think tank based out of Ryerson University explored job market possibilities for a post-pandemic world in a 66-page report. The breadth of potential changes were highlighted after speaking with at least 50 labour experts across Canada, gathering statistics from numerous government bodies and analyzing key areas of rising shifts. As a result, the study titled “Yesterday’s Gone” found eight socio-economic megatrends and 34 related trends that have been accelerated, disrupted or created by COVID-19.

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Yesterday’s Gone: Exploring the future of Canada’s labour market in a post-COVID world

Among them are: the impacts of working remotely, questions about a new wealth distribution system, how technological automation and climate change will affect employment, and a rapidly changing lifestyle that focuses on a better relationship between work and mental health.

“The idea is to gain a healthy level of foresight so that we can better prepare workers and employers for the future of Canada’s labour market,” lead author Heather Russek told the Free Press Tuesday. “These are changes that will impact businesses, governments, and policymakers alike — especially as we start to think of a road to economic recovery.”

Russek believes work-life balance is a “considerably paramount” change that comes as a result of previously deteriorating well-being, exacerbated by the onset of COVID-19. While there are many causes of poor mental health, she said primary among them is work-related stress and the growing imbalance between our professional and personal lives.

“Sure, this is about the emphasis on self-care, physical activity, meditation and other such wellness rituals,” she said. “But it’s also a lot more than that. It will be a big trigger for several major changes to our economy.”

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According to the study, one of those implications for the labour market is the “extinction of workaholism,” which could lead to new productivity measures becoming mainstream — such as a shift from number of hours worked to outputs produced. The shift in values may also emerge new kinds of work, a three-day work week, more part-time positions, gig work, freelancing and portfolio careers.

It could also cause the retail and hospitality industries to decline as individuals consume less overall. Larger families may become more common and since parents will have more time and energy available, experts believe societal outcomes like higher graduation rates are not far off.

“Not only will recruitment choices be dictated by these worker-driven career and life transitions,” Russek said individuals will “prioritize happiness over other employment prospects and maybe reinforce a rural boom with migration patterns driven by life preferences rather than location of work.”

As COVID-19 vaccines continue to be administered, that, too, will have an impact on the labour market and how it relates to workers’ well-being, the Brookfield study suggests.

“Restrictions, notably travel, will be placed on those who do not receive the vaccination,” reads the study. “There are circumstances where employees may be fired for failing to receive the vaccine. As such, it is possible that the vaccination status of employees may become an increasingly important form of identification in the future, and may impact access to education, employment, leisure activities, travel, and more.”

By the time it’s 2030, economists believe it may become common practice for employers to conduct 24-7 health and wellness surveillance of employees (including things such as temperature, stress, and physical activity), driving new demand for data privacy policies.

“And definitely that will affect employment levels itself,” said Russek, noting the job market will be stronger in regions with high vaccination rates and employment laws may need to be updated as a result.

“But perhaps the most interesting aspect we found out about is our level of work-related sociability, which will look quite different in the coming years,” Russek added.

People might spend more time with family and friends and less time at work, according to the study, which would decrease the need for shared spaces and lead to changes in building codes and urban design.

Lacking interactions between workers, even once they’re back in offices, could necessitate innovations in work culture that emphasize collaboration.

“At the end of the day, our work lives will be forever changed in many, many ways by COVID-19,” said Russek. “And a lot of that’ll come from decisions about how you navigate your own well-being at your personal time and pace.”