How employers can improve post-pandemic workplaces

New PwC research shows big divides between how employees and their leaders see company culture.

Canadian employers are still exploring what the future of work will look like as the country transitions out of the pandemic and toward recovery – and the impacts that a year and a half of remote work has had on workplace culture are becoming clearer, at least according to new research from PwC.

The firm, which just recently completed its Global Culture Survey, has released its outlook on the Canadian employment landscape. Among its findings: the extensive lockdown restrictions experienced in Canada – which were among the most severe in the world – have had a major impact on Canadian workplace cultures.

When asked about how their organization has helped people adapt to change – such as the transition to work from home at the onset of the pandemic – only 61% of Canadian respondents said their workplace culture enables those shifts.

That figure is “quite a bit lower” even than in the U.S., where 67% of respondents said something similar, according to Jean McClellan, national consulting people and organization leader at PwC Canada.

“You’re seeing that there are still quite a lot of people who are saying the culture of their workplace makes it hard to do this,” she adds. As a result, employees are finding it harder to collaborate and connect with their colleagues, and “people being challenged in this way doesn’t bode well.”

Also noteworthy in Canada is the “growing divide between senior leaders and their employees on workplace culture,” says McClellan. While 63% of senior leaders said they believe their culture is distinct and sets them apart from competitors, only 41% of employees agreed.

“That disconnection on culture really creates a cause for concern and the need for pause,” she says. “Are employees losing trust in their organizations? Do organizations need to refocus and understand what has happened to their culture through the pandemic? This is a really good time for leaders to lean in on this conversation.”

Another space where Canadian leaders need to take on a more active role is in role modeling the behaviours and values of their organization. Only 58% of Canadians agree that their senior leaders set the tone from the top, and only 56% of Canadians say their leaders consistently reflect the purpose, values and culture of their organization.

“If you’re a senior leader, you really have to make sure you’re modeling the behaviours that you think your culture is exuding,” she says. “There are some concerning things here, but there is also a wonderful opportunity for companies to invest in their culture and understand where there are gaps.”

But how can leaders better connect with their employees and strengthen their workplace culture? McClellan has some suggestions, including “being clear and articulate about the culture you want, knowing the culture you have and steadying it, and mapping out the behaviours in that culture that you have already or want to build.”

In addition, “setting the tone as a leader and role modeling the behaviours you expect is really important,” she says.

Another key is finding ways to “engage with your team on a daily basis” and “remove barriers for or coach them.”

“A lot of times, you’ll go into workplaces where the vibe is that people report up to their senior leader. The switch really has to be flipped to where that leader is now helping and enabling them, coaching them, and removing barriers,” explains McClellan. “They can’t get that as much from their peers [in a remote work environment] because they’re more closed off.”

Also key will be finding the right balance in the shift to a hybrid working model, which she says is becoming “very pervasive” with more than three quarters of the Canadian population wanting to work on a more flexible basis, and nearly two thirds of employers working to deliver on that.

“As we get more stability through the pandemic, vaccination rates rise and we’re able to move around the country more than we have in the past 18 months, we should really think about when there’s benefits to working in person,” says McClellan. “There are all sorts of benefits to working remotely, but we shouldn’t forget about the benefits of connection. Using both at the right times can be very valuable.”