by Michelle Straka, CHRP
(Mar. 21, 2013) – Last month’s hottest workplace news story was Marissa Mayer’s, CEO of Yahoo, decision to ban telecommuting at the Silicon Valley Company. Arguments for and against the decision have been debated in news platforms and workplaces across North America.
The major question is will it really fuel the level of creativity, engagement and productivity needed to bring Yahoo back to its former glory days, or will it further demoralize a workforce that has survived 5 CEOs in 4 years? Regardless of its effectiveness in achieving Ms. Mayer’s mandate, it is certainly a move that goes against a trend that increasing numbers of employers across North America are following. Ms. Mayer has to cut costs at Yahoo and staff will certainly be cut.
Perhaps this is her first step in determining which employees should stay and who should go. However, with a dwindling North American workforce, she runs the risk of losing talented core employees who have no choice but to quit because of the impact on their personal lives once they can no longer work from home, especially those employees with young families.
The side issue this story raises is the impact that corporate decisions like this have on birth rates in North America. It is no secret that being able to work from home greatly eases the stress placed on working parents. Perceived costs of raising a child in daycare and after-care can be a deterrent to some couples considering whether or not to start a family. The United States, which has always enjoyed a healthy birth rate, has been moving closer to Canada’s rate of 1.5 children per family; a rate widely considered not high enough to sustain a viable economy. Some believe that this decline is due to the perceived difficulty in raising a child in a world designed for a double-income family.
Of course, Yahoo did not hire Marissa Mayer to boost the birth rate among Silicon Valley tech workers, but to raise the lagging profile of its products. However, if more CEOs decide to follow Ms. Mayer’s lead, the challenge to keep workers in the workforce may be even harder, as many more will have to make the difficult decision to quit their jobs in order to stay at home.
This story sits in stark contrast to a related news story that broke in Canada the previous month regarding Canada’s move to ensure that working parents get the support they need from their employers to keep working. The Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered an employer, the Canadian Border Services Agency, to accommodate one of their employees’ child-care needs with an alternate shift, saying that not doing so equated to discriminating against the woman based on family status.
Canada included family status as one of the areas within which an individual could not be discriminated against years ago to prevent employers from firing women once their marital status changed. However it appears that it is now being used to keep workers in their jobs when faced with child-care issues. Governments at all levels certainly seem to recognizing the impact that child-care issues has on keeping scarce labour in the workforce during a time when birthrates are dropping below levels necessary to maintain economic growth.
Combine the Commission’s decision with every Canadian province offering some version of full or partial-day kindergarten and it is clear that our governments are aware of the double whammy that declining birth rates and an aging workforce has on the Canadian economy. The goal is to encourage couples to have more babies and for mothers to return to work as soon as possible after maternity leave.
These news stories and the issues that they touch upon are extra relevant to the Canadian Insurance industry. According to research completed by the Insurance Institute of Canada (PDF), a large number of insurance workers in every province belong to the Boomer generation; a generation set to begin retiring in droves in the coming years. As these workers start leaving the insurance industry, insurance employers will be more vulnerable to a scarce labour market especially if they do not meet the needs of the young parents who are poised to be the next generation of insurance professionals and leaders.
The insurance industry in Canada has always been viewed as more traditional in nature, and may be inclined to keep employees in the office. However, many claims departments have always had adjusters who are on the road, or working from home, to some degree of success. Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology allows employees to login their employer’s network with a secure connection to work remotely. Logins and time spent in the network are measurable. These previous experiences tied together with new technology make a 100% remote workforce more possible for the insurance industry.
Of course the impact of remote workers on company productivity and creativity is always debated, with those thinking that employees at home will naturally slack, or that creativity is lost when employees are not chatting over lunch in the newsroom. Perhaps in some instances that is true. However, talk to anyone with a slacker team member and they will tell you that even in the office, there are ways to spend the workday without actually doing any work.
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