The Search for a Healthier, More Meaningful Way to Work

The Search for a Healthier, More Meaningful Way to Work

The pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues in Canada, and highlighted the growing imbalance between our professional and personal lives
Heather Russek
Collaborator, Innovation Design + Futures
Jessica Thornton
Collaborator
Darren Elias
Collaborator
February 10, 2021
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Mental health challenges have been on a steady rise among Canadians in recent years, a trend that has been exacerbated by COVID-19. While there are many causes of poor mental health, a primary cause is related to work stress, and the growing imbalance between our professional and personal lives. To manage our mental well-being, many Canadians are focusing on “self-care,” physical activity, meditation, and other wellness rituals, while some are choosing to live more minimally and work less.

In our new report, Yesterday’s Gone: Exploring possible futures of Canada’s labour market in a post-COVID world, produced in partnership with the Future Skills Centre, we’ve identified 34 meso-trends that could impact the future work in Canada. This report uses futures research and expert workshops to explore a broad range of trends—many of which have been accelerated, disrupted, or created by COVID-19—that have the potential to impact Canada’s labour market over the coming decade. This report is not meant to be a comprehensive overview, a prediction of the future, or a deep analysis of any one trend. It’s meant to explore and consider the potential for different trends to interact in ways that are not always obvious, as well as how these trends may impact populations and demographic groups differently. Here, we explore four meso-trends related to finding meaning and well-being that could shape Canada’s labour market in the decade ahead.

1. Back to Nature

The combination of remote working, physical distancing requirements, and less distractions has led to a newfound appreciation for nature among many in Canada. This has resulted in increased demand for recreational, professional, and educational outdoor activity across the country, with people seeking to incorporate more intentional nature time into their lives and routines. Canada Goose has implemented an hour of paid outdoor time per week for all its employees via a HumanNature pass, and BC Parks is providing up to 10,000 healthcare workers with free guided “forest bathing” sessions. Meanwhile, cottage prices have soared by 12% with increased demand. In the coming decade, this shift could significantly affect the location of our work and living spaces, and enhance environmental appreciation and protection.

However… people are also engaging more with immersive digital leisure.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There is the potential for an exacerbation of inequity and disparity as access to nature is increasingly a privilege.
  • People may be healthier physically and mentally, which could reduce strain on the healthcare system.
  • Outdoor classrooms and outdoor learning for adults might become more popular.
  • Roads designed for biking and walking—not driving—could become the norm.

Potential labour market implications:

  • There may be more jobs related to maintaining and monitoring public parks.
  • Outdoor recreation equipment (bikes, skis, etc.) may see continued demand increases.
  • Intra-Canada nature tourism may experience a boom, leading to an economic boost for rural towns near natural attractions (provincial and national parks, etc.).
  • People may grow more food at home, possibly reducing demand for store-bought items from grocery stores.

Signal Maturity: Emerging

2. Crisis Breeds Creativity

The forced constraints under COVID-19 are stimulating artist and entrepreneur creativity. San Francisco–area artists continue to create during the pandemic, and the Untitled festival was held in September 2020 to kick-off a decade of imagination, art, and creativity. Pandemic lockdowns have also motivated individuals to explore creative hobbies, and permanent remote work may also be stimulating creativity by providing the right conditions to enable workers to be more creative, including reduced interruptions. This period of health and economic crisis may stimulate even greater individual and societal imagination and creativity, well beyond the arts and culture community. 

However… there is a worry about survival of artists, arts organizations, and creative businesses given how COVID-19 has forced in-person public performances and cultural experiences to be cancelled. 

In 2030 this could mean:

  • There may be a general increase in the time Canadians spend on creative hobbies, but creative industries, artists, and creative businesses may struggle financially. 
  • Workers may seek out companies that make time for them to be creative.
  • Fine arts education and training may see an increase in enrollment.
  • DIY culture such as cooking, repairs, paintings, and haircuts may increase.

Potential labour market implications:

  • There could be an increased demand for labour in digital creative industries, such as video gaming and development of VRenvironments for work, play, and learning
  • Large corporations may monopolize creativity and innovation by investing in time for creativity and researching the right conditions to support creativity (e.g., collaboration and/or time and space for deep thinking).
  • The Canadian economy may not be able to support arts and culture activities, and this may result in the longer-term decline of this sector and reduce the desire for this career path moving forward.

Signal Maturity: Emerging

3. Workaholic Extinction

Based on an Angus Reid survey, 53% of Canadians said that a four-day work week would be a good idea. In addition, according to BetterUp’s Meaning and Purpose at Work report, 9 out of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work. In the wake of COVID-19, individuals are re-evaluating personal and economic priorities to focus on family, friends, and hobbies. New concepts are emerging, such as regular sabbatical years (after every three years) to enjoy life rather than waiting for retirement. Many people are also questioning their values and long-held assumptions, and may rethink their career paths. The value placed on professional aspirations and our relationship to work is shifting, and individuals may be happier with less hours of work, less income, and new work norms. 

However… small business owners across the country are fighting to stay afloat with COVID-19 restrictions in place, and there are many Canadians who have either temporarily or permanently lost their jobs due to the inability to work from home, or the general decline in business and economic conditions.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • The shift in values that may emerge might lead to new kinds of work, a three-day work week, more part-time positions, gig work, freelancing, and portfolio careers.
  • This trend may reinforce a rural boom, with migration patterns driven by life preferences rather than location of work.
  • There may be reduced emissions and improvements in the climate crisis due to a reduction in commuting.
  • It may become more common to have larger families, since parents have more time and energy available.

Potential labour market implications:

  • There may be growth in the wellness and self-care sector as individuals prioritize happiness.
  • Recruitment may be dictated by worker-driven career and life transitions.
  • New productivity measures may become mainstream with a shift from number of hours worked to outputs produced.
  • The retail and hospitality industries may decline as individuals consume less overall.
  • An increase in family time may lead to many positive societal outcomes, including higher graduation rates, which could mean a more educated workforce and more skilled labour.

Signal Maturity: Weak Signal

4. Fear of Pathogens… + People

The rampant contagion of the COVID-19 virus has led to the enforcement of strict physical distancing requirements in Canada and around the world, in some cases extending to full lockdown. This has led to severe impacts on people’s mental health, with psychotherapists in the UK reporting a 200% increase in individuals displaying agoraphobic tendencies, for example. In fact, a report from ADT states that fear of other people is the most–searched phobia of 2020. The instinctual association between the virus and being in close proximity to other people could lead to longer-term psychological impacts, including aversions to large crowds and public spaces along with increased social isolation and loneliness.

However… a rugby game in Australia was played in front of a sold-out crowd, signalling persistent demand for high-density events even in the wake of COVID-19.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • People might spend more time with family and friends and less time at work.
  • A decreased need for shared spaces could lead to changes in building codes and urban design.
  • There could be less sicknesses overall due to increased awareness and precautions regarding the spread of viruses.

Potential labour market implications:

  • There could be increased demand for cleaning services and infection control practices.
  • There may be larger demand for mental health services and professionals.
  • Decreased interactions between workers (even if back in offices) could necessitate innovations in work culture to facilitate knowledge transfer, collaboration and innovation.

Signal Maturity: Weak Signal

5. Vaccine Identity

On December 8, 2020, the UK became the first country to administer a COVID-19 vaccination, and the following day Health Canada announced that vaccinations for high-priority Canadians would commence that same month. While a vaccine is good news for many, a November poll found that 25% of Canadians are strongly against the use of a vaccine. This is in direct conflict with the 60% of Canadians who are in favour of making the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory, an idea that has been dismissed by some political leaders. While it may not be mandatory, government officials have suggested that restrictions (notably travel) will be placed on those who do not receive the vaccination, and experts suggest that 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.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • A potential increase in social tension between those who are vaccinated and those who are against vaccination.
  • Vaccination data might be more public than in the past, and used by unexpected parties such as insurance brokers and financial planners.
  • Some people may advocate for the right to not be vaccinated as a protected ground in the charter of rights, or the right to keep their vaccination status private.
  • It may become common practice for employers to conduct 24/7 health and wellness surveillance of employees (including temperature, stress, physical activity, etc.), driving new demand for data privacy policies.

Potential labour market implications:

  • If the COVID-19 vaccine is successful, there may be an increased interest for pharmaceutical jobs and scientific research related to vaccines among Canadians.
  • Employment may be stronger in regions with high vaccination rates.
  • Employment laws may need to change to clarify employee vaccination rights.

Signal Maturity: Emerging

6. Another Pandemic

The current devastation caused by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, including over 1.2 million deaths worldwide, has demonstrated how unprepared many countries are for a future pandemic. Recent scientific literature suggests an increase in the intensity and frequency of future pandemics due to increases in the human impacts of deforestation, climate change, and industrial agriculture. There are also ominous warnings from scientists regarding the threat of antimicrobial resistance, and a recent study from the University of North Carolina says that a strain of coronavirus that has devastated the pork industry has the potential to infect humans as well. The implications of another pandemic within the next decade—compounding the effects of the current health and economic crisis—would be severe and far reaching.

However… in Canada, the increase in public health R&D investments and rising societal trust in doctors and science may mitigate the impacts of future pandemic risk.

In 2030 this could mean:

  • More people may choose to live in alternative housing and family structures if we are forced to spend more time at home.
  • Substance abuse may increase as a consequence of the stress and anxiety caused by another pandemic.
  • There could be permanent systems and designs in place to support social distancing.

Potential labour market implications:

  • There may be growth in the field of pandemic response administration and demand for more emergency preparedness positions in companies.
  • It may become a struggle to attract talent to the hospitality, retail, and restaurant industries, possibly necessitating government incentives to participate in them.
  • There could be mass small business closures if owners see no hope for the future.

Signal Maturity: Weak Signal

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For media enquiries, please contact Lianne George, Director of Strategic Communications at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

Heather Russek
Collaborator, Innovation Design + Futures
Jessica Thornton
Collaborator
Darren Elias
Collaborator
February 10, 2021
Print Page

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