BC Excluded Employees Back-to-Work Report

REPORT TO MEMBERS - March 2022

 

BC Excluded Employees Back-to-Work Quick Survey 2022

Because we’re intimately connected to provincial government employees, we’d been hearing anecdotal feedback for a while about government’s plans to shift people back to some form of in-office work. Knowing that this move would have impacts for those who have been working offsite and those who remained in the office during COVID, we decided to put together a survey to capture greater detail around how people were feeling about these issues.

We released the survey to BCEEA members on January 7, 2022. Despite receiving a number of out-of-office replies from people who were still enjoying paid time off, we were amazed to see the responses pouring in within minutes of hitting SEND. Within the first two days alone, we’d heard back from more than a quarter of our membership. We kept the survey open for people to contribute their insights until January 19.

Executive Summary

We developed five questions, asking respondents:

  • their general attitude regarding returning to in-office work as the norm;
  • their experience of communications on COVID policies;
  • their assessment of the impact of the COVID working arrangements on their productivity;
  • how different potential measures would impact their confidence in a return to in-office work; and
  • whether their experiences during COVID had led to them considering changes in their work life.

We also asked those respondents who manage staff for their ideas on how to best manage the post-COVID transition. Finally, we asked all respondents to add any further insights or comments that they deemed important.

A number of clear considerations emerged from the survey, based on people’s responses and additional comments.

First of all, people are expressing significant concerns about how the return to in-office work is being managed. A significant proportion of respondents have reservations about returning to the office:

  • In some cases, they feel time has adequately demonstrated that more flexible working arrangements are highly workable.
  • In other cases, people have shared that they feel in-office working conditions are inadequate, either from a health and safety or productivity view.
  • And a number of respondents shared their sense that government’s approach is not responsive to individual needs.

Another clear theme that emerged is that the experience of COVID has in effect been a large experiment in alternate approaches to work. For many, this has proven that a more flexible combination of on- and off-site work is both possible and has significant gains for productivity (and even for team building), given the investment in and use of new communications technologies.

Respondents pointed out significant benefits of flexible work arrangements in terms of reduced environmental costs, as well as improvements in work/life balance. This last bit is particularly resonant for those whose life stage sees them handling a heavier energetic load as they care for children or aging relatives. Plus, a lot of people noted the value of a flexible approach to work location as a means of attracting and retaining talent.

While government-wide communications are on the whole perceived as effective, survey respondents still expressed concerns about the ways their leadership sets, interprets and implements policies. Many people noted that overly rigid rules on returns to work and the blanket application of rules regardless of individual circumstance have had negative impacts on morale and on retention. (A clear example of this originates in the experience of an individual who has been working highly effectively from home but who is now being required to complete a daily commute of 2+ hours.) The number of people considering or actively seeking changes in their work due to their experiences during COVID speaks to this concern.

Based on the findings from this quick pulse check, the BCEEA has prepared a number of recommendations to government. You’ll find detailed survey highlights below these recommendations.

 

Recommendation 1:
We recommend that the BCPSA and ministry executives do their utmost to support hybrid work arrangements of three days or more remote work.

 

A significant proportion of respondents (over 50%) have reservations about returning to the office. They desire to have a more flexible combination of on- and off-site work. Respondents are confident that they can maintain high levels of productivity whilst having a better work-life balance. In addition, many supervisors believe these arrangements are crucial for attracting and retaining staff.

Throughout the survey, respondents took the initiative to highlight the advantages they saw in continuing to work remotely, for example: saving time and money due to not having to commute to work; reduced pressure on booking board rooms and other shared space; more efficient use of meeting times; and a sense of more autonomy over how they achieve their work objectives (which is one of the hallmarks of workplace engagement).

 

Recommendation 2:
We recommend that the BCPSA and SHR reassess telework policy and practice to ensure branches have the flexibility and authority to set up arrangements for maximum productivity.

 

Although the concept of flexibility is widely recognized and understood as evidenced by the number of telework agreements, it is clear from supervisors’ responses to the survey that approaches to implementing those agreements have not been universally flexible.

The current policy allows up to full-time (five days) telework and allows managers to directly approve two days of remote work. However, because three or more days of remote work requires ADM approval, some ministries see this as a direction to apply a two-day maximum, while others embrace full-time remote.

Those who manage others are asking for more autonomy at the branch level in making decisions about how to design flexible approaches that meet the unique circumstances of their teams, without having to get executive approval. Supervisors believe this approach sets the foundation for high levels of productivity.

Supervisors are clearly observing that their inability to respond in a more flexible manner is resulting in more staff churn as people seek other places to work where their needs are given greater consideration.

 

Recommendation 3:
We recommend that ministries improve or at a minimum retain current levels of technology use to reduce the amount of face-to-face interaction in future working arrangements.

 

Ninety percent of people surveyed were clear that their preference is to keep using remote meeting and related technologies as a work model. Half the respondents responded negatively to the question Are you looking forward to returning to in-office work being the norm? and expressed a desire to work from home full or part time. Improving technology to support remote work is a critical component of supporting these preferences.

If required to return to an in-office environment, respondents emphasized a desire for government to consider reduced occupancy to promote overall health, and to avoid infectious diseases such as influenza and the common cold, as well as Covid. Improvements could be made to support more effective use of technology, such as ensuring that boardrooms have capacity for TEAMS meetings.

 

Recommendation 4:
We recommend that BCEEA hold focus groups to better understand the factors underlying the number of employees wishing to leave their current position.

 

A significantly large percentage of individuals are considering — and actively seeking — a move from their current positions (45% to another ministry; 35% to a different position within their current ministry). In the survey, supervisors gave anecdotal evidence that a key driver for this trend is the lack of flexibility in telework practices. Supervisors expressed concern that employees are “shopping” for flexibility and that they risk losing good performers due to a lack of flexibility in working arrangements. We think we should explore this further because of the inherent disruption in work that results when employees leave.

 

Recommendation 5:
We recommend examining the BC Public Service’s telework policy and, more importantly, practices with a gender-based analysis (GBA) lens to ensure requirements are equally fair to mothers/parents who are primary caregivers in the workforce as they are to everybody else.

 

Survey comments suggest that women are disproportionately affected by BC PSA’s telework policy. The start-stop feeling of evolving policy was constant, and working mothers felt most of the burden and stress of this.

“I am a mother of two young children. Working from home (full time) has given me back hours of time that is not spent commuting. I am able to spend more time with my family, be more present and provide healthier meals than I otherwise could manage due to time constraints. I am concerned about how I will achieve work-life balance once we return to the office. I am also concerned about the financial implications (costs for driving, parking, eating out due to being “time poor”, etc.)”

“This has been a challenging time for communications. Most of the time communications have been clear, however, at times very late. That has had a significant impact on everyone, especially employees with children.”

Before the pandemic, working mothers had similar career ambitions as working women overall, but the added burdens at work and at home since the COVID-19 crisis have pushed roughly 33% of mothers to consider downshifting their careers or leaving their jobs altogether. Working mothers (at 75%) are more likely than working fathers (69%) to be struggling with mental health concerns. Since the start of the pandemic, working mothers are 1.5 times more likely than fathers to spend an additional three or more hours per day on housework and children.

According to McKinsey research [see article], remote-working mothers who report more effective time management and schedule flexibility are three times more likely than those who report work inefficiency and schedule inflexibility to have a positive state of wellbeing. Those with young children prefer remote-working models and flexible work locations.

It is not a difficult assumption to make that any primary parent would be as similarly impacted as this research highlights. Therefore, as staff move into hybrid work arrangements it is imperative that senior leadership take into account the unique needs of working mothers and parents who are primary caregivers.

 

Recommendation 6:
We recommend that the BCPSA assess how the telework policy implementation across ministries inadvertently places employment barriers:

 

  1. on Indigenous peoples, youth and new immigrants; and
  2. on those individuals who can’t afford to work in high-cost urban centres.

The BC Labour Market Outlook (LMO) predicts a total of 1,004,000 job openings through 2031. Sixty-three percent (63%) of these represent openings for people who will replace those leaving the workforce; the remaining 37% represent the new jobs created by economic growth (Work BC, 2021).

The Labour Market Outlook forecasts that 48% of these 1,004,000 positions will be filled with younger workers, and 34% of these jobs will be filled by immigrants. Most job openings will be in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Thompson-Okanagan.

The housing crisis has absolutely affected employees of the BC Public Service. Victoria and Greater Vancouver have presented significant affordability challenges to employees. Vancouver ranks as North America’s most expensive city to live, with Victoria ranking as the third (Economist, 2019). BC Public Service workplaces are located in the most expensive cities in Canada.

The Victoria Real Estate Board’s price index benchmark for a single-family home in the Greater Victoria area exceeded $1 million in 2022. Vacancy rate in the Greater Victoria area is 1%, with the average two-bedroom rental valued at $2,432. In Vancouver, the vacancy rate is 1.2%, and an average two-bedroom apartment rental is $2,498 [read article] (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp, 2022). Average market rentals are up by 3%, with the cost of a single-family home increasing between in the range of 10-25% from 2021 to 2022 (BC Assessment, 2022).

In the past 24 months, this sobering regional reality collided with the sustained pandemic and record-high inflation, creating some unforeseen outcomes. Remote work has made it possible for people living outside urban centres to work for the BC Public Service, creating more opportunities for under-represented groups.

Similarly, for newcomers immigrating to BC, we can remove barriers to employment by adopting hybrid workplace practices across government that enable near full-time work from rural/remote communities.

Working for the BC Public Service should be accessible to everyone – not just those who can afford to live in an urban centre.

 

Recommendation 7:
That the BCPSA Occupational Health Branch require ministries to employ mitigation to increase the safety and confidence of employees when in-office work is required.

 

Respondents stated that their confidence would increase around returning to some in-person work if specific measures were implemented and enforced: provision of hand sanitizer (82%); reduced occupancy through flexible scheduling (79%); enhanced air filtration (78%); provision of N-95 or comparable masks (76%); and enhanced cleaning of premises and all shared resources (76%).

 

Detailed Findings

 

QUESTION 1
Are you looking forward to returning to in-office work being the norm (whether you worked from home or not during the period)?

* Respondents used a sliding scale from 1 (very glad to be returning) via 5 (neutral) to 10 (really dreading it).

Respondents were divided on this item, with half feeling positive or neutral, and half expressing a negative view. Most notably, 16% of respondents scored a full 10, indicating they were “really dreading it” compared with only 14% scoring 1 or 2, indicating they were “looking forward to it”.

How respondents feel about returning to in-office workA quick scan of the graphic shows that half of people are not happy about the current return-to-work policies.

Let’s break it down further.

Just over 40% of comments on this question were from people who were either looking forward to or neutral about in-office work returning to be the norm. By contrast, the majority of comments were from those “dreading” the return, with 1/3 of this group sliding the scale all the way to the maximum, at 10.

For those commenters who were positive about returning (scoring 1-3 on the scale), half commented that they were personally looking forward to spending some time in the office and some at home, and that they wanted to have some common time with colleagues/staff in the office in order to build their teams. Some commented that there would be no change for them, as they had continued to work in the office or their schedule hadn’t changed throughout the pandemic. A small minority specifically noted a preference to keep their work and home life separate.

The respondents who had rated themselves as “neutral” (4-6) shared a variety of comments, but many stated that they didn’t expect much change for them personally. Respondents mentioned both the costs of commuting to an office and the value of casual interactions with colleagues, indicating an interest in continuing to work a combination of in-office and at home:

“I personally enjoy a hybrid model (2 days in office, 3 from home) and have found the ability to work 100% remotely during this time extremely beneficial. I and my team are all able to successfully work from home 100% due to the nature of our work and the fact that more is done virtually now. It is almost pointless going into the office when I am sitting in my office all day anyway.”

Comment themes for those who feel neutral about returning to in-office work

 

Prefer to separate work from home 4% 4%
Concerned that rules around return are too rigid and “one-sized” 4% 4%
Can do my work from home easily 4% 4%
Would like to work part time at home and in the office 12% 12%
Time and costs for commuting and parking 15% 15%
Like casual interactions with colleagues 19% 19%
There will be no change 38% 38%

By contrast, the large number of comments from people who had rated themselves on the “dreading” returning to work scale didn’t include any comments suggesting they expected no change.

People commented on this item both as managers and on a more personal basis.

Respondents noted that as managers, they find LWS workspaces unsuitable for their responsibilities, and that bringing distributed staff groups together was actually easier when most are working from home.

There were also a significant number of comments about how flexible working locations and arrangements are crucial for attracting and retaining staff. As one respondent said:

“I would like to see a change to the Future of Work to attract and retain talent. Government of BC jobs should be available to everyone across the province. This supports rural development and enables us to attract the best talent. It is costly to live in major cities and often pulls people away from their families and friends. I want to see people but there should be a purpose for meeting.”

Respondents pointed to the learning that has taken place over the last two years indicating significant potential for new and more flexible ways of working, attuned to the demands of the job:

“Most of us have learned individually, and collectively, through the largest (unsolicited) experiment that we can absolutely and effectively manage most programs remotely. This is fundamental NEW learning which has been established over nearly two years. Why would we want to go back to work IF there is no real imperative to do so.”

We found concerns about inflexibility and “one-size” return-to-work plans to be a common thread:

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity for face-to-face conversations with my staff. Unfortunately, the Ministry has put rigid rules around remote work, requiring a maximum of 2 days a week remote working. This has created a good deal of angst and resentment among staff. The message being sent by senior leadership is essentially that they don’t trust people to work remotely, nor do they trust leaders to manage their own teams.”

Concerns about a return to the office underlined observations about implicit messages from government:

“My biggest concern aside from my health with regards to COVID infection risk is that the push from government is to in- office. There is often an underlying (and sometimes overt) message that we can’t be trusted to do our work if we are not in the office. Instead, why doesn’t government trust staff, use ways to evaluate work, and support the work life balance that is for many of us a healthy outcome of work from home.”

Respondents raised concerns around health, citing overcrowding in shared workspaces, poor air quality, and specific worries about balancing work and personal life:

“I am a mother of two young children. Working from home has given me back hours of time that is not spent commuting. I am able to spend more time with my family, be more present and provide healthier meals than I otherwise could manage due to time constraints. I am concerned about how I will achieve work-life balance once we return to the office. I am also concerned about the financial implications (costs for driving, parking, eating out due to being “time poor”, etc.)”

Comment themes for those who feel negatively about a return to in-office work

 

Prefer to separate work from home 4% 4%
Concerned that rules around return are too rigid and “one-sized” 4% 4%
Can do my work from home easily 4% 4%
Would like to work part time at home and in the office 12% 12%
Time and costs for commuting and parking 15% 15%
Like casual interactions with colleagues 19% 19%
There will be no change 38% 38%

 

QUESTION 2
What has been your experience of government communications on evolving rules and policies regarding work during COVID?

* 3-point scale: effective; neutral; confusing

The majority of respondents found communications to be effective, but it’s concerning that almost 1 in 5 found them confusing:

 

Effective – I understand what’s happening and can follow requirements 60% 60%
Neutral 21% 21%
Confusing – I am not sure what is expected 19% 19%
Total 100%

People most commonly cited three main sources of information and guidance: government-wide communiques, Ministry communications, and communications from within their own division or branch.

Most Used Medium Least Used
Government wide communiques 55%55% 28%28% 17%17%
Ministry communications 42%42% 45%45% 14%14%
Communications from my division or branch 33%33% 55%55% 12%12%
MyHR 27%27% 38%38% 35%35%
Communication from my direct supervisor 24%24% 60%60% 16%16%
Other 21%21% 14%14% 66%66%
Communication from my peers and friends 12%12% 40%40% 48%48%

 

Forty-six percent of survey respondents added comments about communications. The themes across groups who had found the communications effective, neutral or confusing were remarkably consistent.

Lots of people noted the timeliness and consistency of messaging:

“Mixed information available through COVID 19 FAQ or directly from PSA Occupational Health has been timely, pertinent and concise. COVID related guidance through the MyHR portal, has been delayed, and inconsistent, often leading to confusion within the workplace. It has impaired (at times) my ability to provide adequate guidance to staff.”

“There should be a note in the communications by everyone that there should be some flexibility by each office to accommodate all staff without having to jump through hoops. In addition it would be helpful if the offices were not so rigid. Some offices get to work from home, some offices don’t.”

Many noted inconsistency of messaging and intent on teleworking / work from home:

“I think there has been a lot of good communication. However, the back and forth on the return to the workplace I think has been a bit tiresome but ultimately welcome the extension to telework. The communication and rationale in Nov. 2020 to return to work from Lori Wanamaker (to use “assets”) really left a bad feeling amongst my team. As well, in our division, 100% teleworking isn’t an option and that is not sitting well from the perception of many in my branch.”

“The last-minute announcements on pushing back the return-to-office dates have been hard on me primarily because I have to personally address the concerns and frustrations of my team. Up until now – it’s been pretty clear communication. I think the issues is not one of communication, it is about deciding whether / what is the future on working from home and whether / what changes to the culture to allow this will occur. What has led to miscommunication (I think) is the conflating of ‘return to work during covid’ vs ‘working from a home as a thing that government is now allowing / encouraging’. the return to work agreement that we all prepared and signed is not making any sense”.

People definitely recognized the challenge of communicating during a time of shifting information and policies. But many also noted a number of unintended impacts from messaging:

“Some communication has been open, clear and comforting, while other communication has come across as heavy-handed and lacking in understanding of the different workplace cultures and circumstances that exist across the diverse organization.”

“The back and forth re: return to office has been very frustrating. I don’t know why, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, with so much evidence that working from home has been a huge success (more engaged and productive staff, better work-life balance, etc.), there was this almost stubborn urgency to set return-to-office deadlines. All it did was cause unnecessary stress and confusion. I think government should have led by example and kept everyone home for health and safety reasons.”

“This has been a challenging time for communications. Most of the time communications have been clear, however, at times very late. That has had a significant impact on everyone, especially employees with children. The incremental stop-start moving of the return to the office deadline by a few weeks/couple of months has been exhausting and does not reflect strong, decisive leadership. Messaging and instructions for supervisors regarding the vaccination confirmation process was very complicated.”

 

QUESTION 3
How have the work arrangements for COVID affected your productivity, in your opinion?

* Sliding scale from 1 (I feel I’ve been less productive) via 5 (no change) to 10 (I feel my productivity has increased)

Impact on Productivity-Negative: 15%, Neutral: 36%, Positive: 49%

Just over 1/3 of respondents felt there had been no impact on their productivity. Almost half reported there had been a positive impact. Only 15% reported a negative impact.

Ninety-one percent of the responses indicating that working from home had delivered a positive impact cited one or more of three main factors: ability to focus on work, reduced distractions, and eliminating travel time.

When people talked about focus on work, they meant both the ability to concentrate on a task (or responsibility to complete), and that team and supervisory relationships were more oriented toward task and deliverable rather than interpersonal dynamics.

“I feel that I am equally productive. I enjoy the benefits of enhanced teamwork due to greater reliance on the technology available (e.g., MS Teams). There are fewer desk/hallway chats; however, some of these have been replaced with more instant messaging.”

“Most of my staff work in the office/field, with a small amount periodically at home. We had been working on virtual tools for cross office section synergy and work, prior to Covid. Covid restrictions enhanced this, but our staff were already skilled communicators in a virtual environment. They got better.”

Respondents working in the office and at home both noted reduced distractions, saying that email and IM communications were less distracting, and that the reduced numbers of other people in the office setting improved focus.

“As a manager my work productivity has increased as my staff schedule check-ins with me rather than stopping at my desk. More uninterrupted time. However, I have to be more deliberate about making sure work and employees are doing OK.”

“I work in the office, mainly and have enjoyed the space and quiet. I am allowed to telework ad hoc and I like that option/flexibility for when I have personal commitments.”

Travel time meant both formal commuting (i.e. to and from work) as well as time to travel for meetings, to set up in shared workspaces, and to find private space for meetings.

“The routines related to preparing to commute, commuting, settling into an LWS environment at the office, then packing up and doing the reverse, take a lot of time which I now spend working in my home office.”

Just over 1/3 of respondents who described negative impacts cited increased workload, with additional work due to COVID, lack of contact with colleagues, home demands, and uncertainty and anxiety related to COVID forming the bulk of the remaining comments.

    • Increased workload referred both to additional demands as well as additional work required to adapt to changes in policy. Several respondents noted that they worked longer hours because of not needing to commute, or that they regularly worked through mealtimes.

“Unfortunately this is not a good thing as we are now not taking breaks, working through lunch, starting earlier. There is limited down time to critical thinking, calendars are over booked and staff are not connecting in person so there is a loss of time for innovation and creativity”.

    • Additional COVID-related work included supervisors’ responsibilities in communicating COVID policies and requirements to staff, and managing specific issues.

“As a manager, my productivity has been decreased due to the need to update staff on changing COVID rules and having to implement the vaccination mandate. I have a number of staff who are choosing not to vaccinate and the process involved takes a lot of time.”

    • Some people felt that a lack of contact with colleagues reduced collaboration, creativity and innovation.

“My productivity has been inhibited by the general stress and chaos of the pandemic context, and by the loss of connection and ease of informal communication with colleagues that generates more robust and creative ideas.”

    • Home demands included the need to accommodate childcare and home-based schooling.

“My productivity has only been impacted when there have been school closures or breaks and I have to try to balance working, parenting and teaching from home simultaneously, which is impossible. This burden has fallen disproportionately on mothers, and apart from lip service, our employer has done nothing to help. But overall, my productivity is increased working from home and being able to set my own schedule, etc.”

    • A number of respondents specifically stated that their mental health and energy was affected by the long-running crisis.

“I’m less productive, though I’m not sure if it’s wholly attributable to the current work arrangements or more of an overall issue related to the 2 years of instability we’ve been stuck in, not just on a work front but also school, family, friends, etc. All of the channels that would normally bolster me through a tough stretch at work are equally impacted and I’m perpetually exhausted.”

 

QUESTION 4
How would potential measures impact your confidence in returning to in-person work?

* 5-point scale: not confident, somewhat confident, confident, very confident and no opinion

By far the most cited measure that people noted to increase their confidence in returning to work was the continued use of remote meeting and related technologies, with 90% of respondents stating that this would make them somewhat to very confident about returning to work. Only 3% of respondents said this would not result in their being confident in returning to in-person work.

The other measures that were most highly ranked (over 75%) for increasing confidence were:

  • provision of hand sanitizer: 82%
  • reduced occupancy through flexible scheduling (early/late shifts, partial at-home etc.): 79%
  • enhanced air filtration and fresh air: 78%
  • provision of N-95 masks: 76%
  • enhanced cleaning of premises and all shared resources: 76%

A few respondents contributed additional comments, providing greater context for these responses:

“There is only one scenario which I would be confident about that and that is working at home where I control my exposure which also protects my children”

“Surgical or N95 masks mandatory in offices for all staff. While sanitizing and distancing are important, there is a robust body of medical literature that proves aerosol transmission is the primary mode of transmission. Our protocols in the office still seem to be based on the information available at the start of the pandemic where the primary concern was ballistic droplets. The virus (and scientific understanding) has evolved”

“I am not concerned about my safety in the work place; more attention to air circulation and filtration is something that is needed now and important for overall health.”

“All the measures described will increase confidence in returning back to work only if they are enforced. During the pandemic it has been shown that a number of people are not adhering to the safety protocols or wearing masks etc. and the cleaning did not improve. Especially when working in an LWS office this is very frustrating.”

 

QUESTION 5
Has your experience during COVID led to you considering changes in your work?

* 4-point scale: actively seeking, considering, not sure and definitely not.

One hundred percent of people responded to this question. The most commonly identified change, which 46% of respondents indicated they were considering or actively seeking, was a significant change in their work schedule. This was also the change that only 37% of respondents said they were not considering. Hence, up to 63% of respondents may be interested in a change in their work schedule.

Actively seeking Considering Not Sure Definitely Not
Significant change in work schedule (e.g. reduced hours, changed location) 13%13% 33%33% 18%18% 37%37%
A position in a different Ministry 18%18% 27%27% 13%13% 43%43%
Retirement sooner than originally planned 13%13% 24%24% 12%12% 51%51%
A position outside government 13%13% 23%23% 10%10% 54%54%
A different position within my current Ministry 12%12% 23%23% 18%18% 48%48%
Moving to a different location in BC 6%6% 12%12% 13%13% 69%69%

Other changes of significant interest, as indicated by responses of “actively seeking” and “considering”, include positions in different ministries and early retirement. This tends to support the anecdotal evidence that many employees are seeking changes in their work as a consequence of their experience through COVID.

The fact that 36% are considering leaving government altogether is potentially concerning.

A number of comments illustrated respondents’ own experiences:

“I am happy with my employment in the public service; it has made me realize that working in office is a preference for me because of workstation and work/life balance; however it has made me realize just how much I don’t need to be at a shared physical location with my direct supervisors or reports. More positions can be posted virtually on an ongoing basis, and it may lead to better candidates being selected.”

“I DID change locations in COVID and was approved for a location change in my current role. I moved to a more affordable community with a shorter commute time that required no public transit.”

“Noting that I have switched roles to a new division over the past month and my preference for a remote work schedule is available in this division, and it was a pivotal factor in my decision to leave the other role.”

“Public service has been significantly more flexible than private industry – which suggests that labour laws need updating so that non-civil-service employees have greater rights.”

“I am considering taking leave if there are school closure or if we are forced to go back to work in person during the pandemic.”

 

ADDITIONAL COMMENT SECTIONS

In two final sections of the survey, we asked respondents for their comments on two points, if they found them applicable. One comment field was for respondents who manage other staff; a second comment field was offered up to capture any additional points that respondents wanted to raise.

Respondents who manage other staff

The Association had heard from some members that they’ve found it challenging to communicate and implement rules and policies that are introduced with little notice and limited to no flexibility in application.

So to gather more insight into this issue, we asked: “In your view, what would be an appropriate scope for managerial authority in coping with the next 3-6 months of COVID evolution? Please give concrete examples of the parameters that you think would be most useful for you to maintain both productivity and morale of your staff.”

Forty-two percent of people responded substantively to this question. Their ideas and experiences addressed a number of common themes. Forty-four percent of the responses showed a desire for more flexible application of return-to-work rules to address individual need. More broadly, we noted many people’s wish to have greater authority to determine work location and style, to meet the needs of their teams’ work and those of individual staff. Many people commented on the benefits of a more flexible approach to work location.

  • “Give complete autonomy and flexibility to the employee on where they work. Measure deliverables, quality and timelines, instead of attendance in person. Manage performance if this is an issue independently from in-person attendance.”
  • “Give staff the flexibility to work from home more than two days a week, on supervisory discretion. More flexibility in when staff has to come to the office. Do not force staff to almost make a business case if they would like to continue to work from home for more than two days.”
  • “Do not give an expected return to the workplace until Omicron has settled and no further variant is on the horizon. That should be in the next communication from Lori W. Speaking from our divisional decision – expand the telework agreements to allow staff to continue teleworking 100%. Increase shared office space throughout the province and to allow people to move to a geo location anywhere in BC that has shared space, for when an employee needs to be in the workplace – printing, power outage at home etc.”
  • “Given the employee market, I need some flexibility re: hiring, salary decisions, remote location/work decisions to maintain my staff morale/productivity. Consider what that new PSA rule re: staff who live outside of Victoria have to pay for their own travel will do to my ability to recruit talent for my niche program.”
  • “A week before a return-to-office is expected to take effect I would like to have the discretion to vary and communicate options for my staff based on their individual situation. i.e. A person with a new baby at home would be approved to work from home until the first week of in-office is over to ensure the glitches/proper behavior by others is sorted first; ability to decide on an immuno-compromised staff member without needing to seek higher approval (I’m a band 5) or communicating whey [sic] when that individual is keeping their medical issues private.”
  • “Avoid rigid rules, and have clear, justified criteria that allow staff to make decisions that reflect their own knowledge of what is best for their situation. Be honest about the rationale for decisions, even if that rationale will be unpopular, as it builds trust more than trying to make up a different reason.”
  • “Providing management teams with flexibility to achieve desired outcomes over time would be quite valuable. For example, if 60% is the maximum recommended occupancy, with no staff expectation of permanent, full-time remote work, allow teams to meet or exceed that benchmark over a two month period. This would allow managers to utilize discretion to create more positive base conditions, flexibility to accommodate the most fearful employees, and leverage the enthusiasm of those who are most ready to return to the office setting.”
  • “We need to have ability to manage staff’s individual needs and circumstances. Staff are dealing with diverse issues at home that need to be considered as they impact their work. The direct supervisor/manager is in the best position to manage individual circumstances. One size fits all rules demotivate and impact productivity.”

The next most common theme (29%) was about communication and implementation of policy changes. Respondents spoke to their responsibility for delivering and enforcing messages that they had not been involved in developing, and on the effect when messaging changed rapidly or came from multiple sources. Above all, they referred to the need for realistic timeframes for implementation.

  • “Clear guidelines that directly affect my workplace rather than a general response that contains areas that have no bearing on my workplace. Regular updates or communications asking for feedback or challenges we are facing, to this date we have not been asked what we need, it is a top down approach.”
  • “Overall I think as public servants we are pretty used to toeing the line and will do as directed. That said, it can be tough to message/swallow when there is no clear rationale, or worse when the messaging is out and out laughable. As an example, the “re-branding” of the previous work from home policies and options as responsive to return to work – what a joke. So as managers and leaders we’re expected to carry the message that govt is listening, responsive, etc., but also doing nothing differently and not even encouraging or incentivizing ministries to adopt the status quo policy. Honestly, if govt really wants to clue in to how employees are feeling they only need to follow a couple of relevant social media accounts and read the comments. The approach feels disconnected and disingenuous. And really, whether we like it or not I think it’s naive to think we can put the toothpaste back in the tube on work from home.”
  • “Put the focus on the work force and solutions that work; own decisions around vaccine mandate or any return to work plan; be willing to have difficult conversations. I feel the vaccine mandate was handled poorly. Instead of relying on research about health, safety and what we know about the virus we bent to employee fears around their co workers. In a work place that values diversity and inclusion if feels like we lost our attachments to our values. It was extremely disappointed to watch and to participate in.”
  • “Timely communications directed to all ministries with PSA taking the lead with better coordinated communications by PSA. Currently too many fingers in the pie with some ministries duplicating or doing their own COVID messaging which has been causing confusion.”

One in six responses focused on the many positives people had experienced during the period: good communications; flexible and innovative work practices; compassionate and supportive leadership.

  • “I respect that difficult decisions have to be made and implemented without much advanced notice…we are in a pandemic, this is new to all of us including government leadership. I support the messaging, and I make sure my staff understand it and can work within it and make accommodations when necessary.”
  • “My Ministry/Division has had a very solid and effective communication plan that provided current information and updates on next steps, including protocols, communicating difficult messages, supporting staff and self-care. They used a variety of communication streams (email/loop/virtual meetings) that have supported all of us as leaders (included/excluded) to lead our teams through this effectively – So would recommend that similar models be used across other Ministries.”
  • “PSA has allowed ministries to decide how often staff should come into the workplace when return to work is allowed which is a great example of scope of authority to an organization. I’m not sure I would support authority for significant decisions like this to be delegated below that. Different managerial authority could lead to divisions/branches/units being pitted against each other if one is more flexible or lenient. This could also lead to grievances for included staff”.

The final part of the survey invited respondents to make any additional comments. Thirty-five percent of people did so. Strikingly, 1/3 of all responses focused on respondents’ interest in retaining flexible approaches to work as “a new norm”, stressing that there had been positive impacts on productivity, on work/life balance, and on attracting and retaining employees.

  • “Different ministries have taken very different approaches to how many days staff can work from home. This appears to be impacting recruitment and retention. This will result in the best workers going to the most flexible ministries. Recommend preventing unnecessary job changes by introducing more flexibility for working from home for all ministries – and a more consistent approach across them.”
  • “Employees have been effectively working from home for almost two years now. I understand the desire to get people into the downtown core and back in the office, but lets take our time and allow for flexibility. We have had really good strong employees reduce their work hour and resign from their roles as they have their lives have changed over the past 2 years and working in the office no longer works for them, and there are so many employers offering remote work options now.”
  • “Executive needs to consider the objective of bringing people back to work and whether the work can be done in other ways. Even with protocols, the workplace will continue to present health risks and the old school mentality that I have to see you to know you’re working needs an update. We should take this opportunity of 2 years of successful work at home to recreate the workplace and allow flexibility for staff to improve morale, retain valuable staff and increase productivity,”
  • “Government has managed to continue running with people working from wherever they are comfortable – this shouldn’t be radically changed when COVID is less rampant. If you want happy workers. allow more flexibility and let office buildings go if they are no longer needed. It is 2022 after all.”
  • “I really think this is an opportunity for the BCPS to reduce the number of real estate leases, combine/share locations. Obviously, public access to some office and the safety of all is important but can be managed if thoughtfully considered. Thank you for this opportunity.”
  • “It is difficult to compete with other ministries and organizations that offer increased flexibility. The Future of Work needs to be considered in decision-making to support attraction and retention practices.”
  • “More virtual postings with travel will allow for career mobility, especially when retention and retirements are resulting in significant gaps in our work force. More focus on flexible requirements, mentoring, succession planning and on the job career development.”
  • “Not all staff have the flexibility to change where they will work in a day or two. Daycare, shared transportation and shared spaces may need to be arranged. Longer term planning allows staff to set up an effective support system around their work and is easier to adjust if they know ahead what may trigger a change (i.e. we have infections doubling .. we move into risk level 1 and you stay home). We also need to allow managers to identify what is best for their teams. Don’t micro-manage.”
  • “The challenge is largely that staff want to work from home full time or more than the guideline. I support staff in working from home part time and expect to continue to do so myself. I feel in person connection is important and the biggest issue is the number of days that are reasonable and the expectation that they should be able to do so full time. On the plus side, staff in functions that didn’t think WFH was possible now see it is.”
  • “The constant requirement for us to come back is starting to feel like we are not trusted to do our work remotely. The future of work is remote work. The PSA needs to support the development of performance measures. If staff are meeting those, and we can confirm safety of personal information, what’s the big deal with working from home?”
  • “Very disappointed in senior leadership – the obsession with being back in the office not only devalues how hard we’ve been working throughout, it also shows questionable judgement in their ability to lead in a way that respects employees.”

Four other themes were mentioned by up to one in six respondents: health concerns (with specific mention of air quality); exhaustion; the need for accountability; and communications.

Comments on health noted both general concerns with safety in the workplace and the toll that changes in directives have had on people’s own mental health and their working relationships.

  • “One further point. Offices that are set up as LWS as in open concept where people shared desks and keyboards and are not 6 feet apart with no partitions are no longer appropriate workspaces. Government needs to assess these workspaces as a priority.”
  • “Saying that the air filtration system is “up to code” is not reassuring. Is it adequate to reduce or prevent airborne transmission of COVID-19? Strategies such as opening windows for 10 minutes every hour have been proven to reduce virus in the air. Why are strategies like this not being considered or promoted? While certain decisions may keep the vaccinated workforce safe enough, they may not be sufficient to protect unvaccinated children under 5 at home.”

People tied the theme of exhaustion to health concerns and the impact of the pandemic on their work and personal lives.

  • “The Ministry has been working under unreasonable expectations from senior leadership and the Minister for many years. This has only been exacerbated by the requirements of COVID. There are many passionate, dedicated leaders within the Ministry who have become burned out, discouraged, and disillusioned by the expectations and treatment from senior leadership. We are starting to see significant talent loss as a result, with a number of leaders leaving to go to health authorities.”
  • “The pandemic has been really hard, and I think disproportionately so for younger staff and parents. There is a huge gulf between the realities of those of us trying to work from cramped quarters with children and other family members around us, versus maybe older executive with home offices and nothing but their work responsibilities to focus on during work hours. And this has led to a disconnect, because I don’t see our/my reality reflected in gov communications or planning.”
  • “I think a graduated return to the office might have been met with greater enthusiasm. We should start back one day per week for the first four months, then two days per week for a four more months. Let people make the transition gradually until they are in the office the number of days agreed to in their telework agreement. We’re all exhausted. This transition can be done in a gentler, more organic way.”

The theme of accountability included comments about how responsibility for implementing decisions is handled.

  • “Just wish to add – if there are issues with staff productivity, I feel that these issues existed prior to COVID19; have a situation like this in my unit”
  • “The PSA should take more responsibility/accountability for the measures that are implemented, e.g. vaccination policy, and not always push it down on middle management to implement/enforce the rules with little or no guidance.”

Comments on communication included points on timing, consistency and reach.

  • “Everyone is tiring of these challenges. Seems like hitting the ‘refresh button’ on the messaging style/format/content may be better received and complied with than just using more of the same.”
  • “Agreed had to implement some rules that are given with late notice; or rules that appear to be incomplete (rushed to implement before thinking through the impacts, which has caused issues).”

 

End of Document

 

Download the PDF report here: BC Excluded Employees Back-to-Work Survey Report