Canadians happier with pay than most: International study

Employees most satisfied with goals, diversity and conditions at work

Canadian employees are among the happiest in the world, according to a survey of workers in 16 countries by consulting firm Towers Perrin.

Canada ranks among the top two or three countries in employees’ perceptions of 30 work life categories, said Amy Johnson, director of research development for Towers Perrin in Chicago.

“We know that Canada in general is very open to new ideas and is an accepting kind of culture. Those kinds of things tend to really help employee satisfaction,” she said.

“When you compare cultures that are very open and accepting and empowering versus those that are a little more closed or hierarchical, employees in the former tend to feel more empowered, feel they have more control over their work life, they’re more creative and they’re more innovative.”

Towers Perrin, which surveyed more than 61,000 Canadians in 2006, found Canada ranks number one in terms of employees’ perceptions about pay and rewards and quality of work, even though only one-half of Canadians reported being happy with their pay (see table below).

Since Towers Perrin conducted a similar survey in 2002, there has been a marked increase in positive opinions about most work life aspects, including goals and objectives, performance evaluation, benefits and diversity.

“There’s a lot more change in Canada than in other countries that we looked at,” said Johnson.

Canada also ranked in the top three in employee perceptions of employee engagement, empowerment, career development, performance evaluation, communication, and stress, balance and workload.

The number of employees happy with work stress, balance and workload decreased in most countries, including Canada, said Johnson, who speculated that an increase in hours worked might have played a role. However, average hours worked in Canada declined slightly from 33.5 hours per week in 2002 to 33.4 hours in 2006, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

However, the OECD hours worked don’t show the whole picture, according to a phenomenon discovered in a recent study by the Canadian Policy Research Networks. 21st Century Job Quality: Achieving What Canadians Want found an increase in the number of people working part-time jobs as well as an increase in the number of full-time employees working 41- to 49-hour weeks. The shorter work weeks associated with part-time jobs counterbalance the longer hours full-time employees are working.

Good work-life balance is key to employee satisfaction at Surrey, B.C.-based Back in Motion Rehab, ranked number one on Canadian Business’s 2007 Best Workplaces in Canada list, said company president Debbie Samsom.

“We have lots of people who work from home or work part time if that suits them. We have flexible hours. We don’t have people punch clocks. As long as they get the work done, that’s fine,” she said. “Our preference is that people have a life outside of work. We try to model that at the director and manager level. We do not want our staff working 60- or 80-hour weeks, we just don’t think that’s healthy.”

Employers that want to increase profits should take a careful look at the results of the Towers Perrin survey to see where employees are and aren’t happy, said Johnson. Even though Towers Perrin had a separate measure for engagement, most of the 30 categories are drivers of employee engagement, she said.

“We know that when employee engagement is high, productivity is high and company profits are high,” she said.

Employers should pay particular attention to new programs or initiatives implemented in the past five years that might have contributed to the increase in employee satisfaction found in the survey and “sustain those programs or even further increase them,” she added.

Employers interested in making changes to improve employees’ perceptions and engagement should start by asking employees what they like and don’t like and then be prepared to make the necessary changes, said Samsom.

“The first step is always to find out what you’re doing well and where you can improve,” she said.

With only 75 employees, the chain of three rehabilitation clinics didn’t used to offer a benefits package but the company began providing one after employees indicated they wanted it in an employee survey, said Samson.

“You need to be prepared to act on the information,” she said. “That’s sometimes how employees get cynical about their employer, because they’ll do a survey but then nothing happens. The follow-through is just really important.”

The Towers Perrin survey also examined employees in the United States, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Singapore, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

Ups and downs

What Canadians are happy, and unhappy, about at work

Towers Perrin looked at the percentage of Canadian employees reporting favourable opinions toward various aspects of work life.

Work life aspectFavourable 2002 (%)Favourable 2006 (%)Change in percentage points
Goals and objectives74839
Work tools and conditions73785
Employee engagement76771
Customer focus7672-4
Working relationships6561-4
Career development54606
Performance evaluation476013
Strategy and directionn/a59n/a
Stress, balance and workload5655-1
Pay and rewards50500

Source: Towers Perrin 2002 and 2006

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