Canada’s Economy Bounced Back From Omicron in February, Growing at Fastest Pace in a Year

Canada’s economy expanded by 1.1% in February, its fastest pace in a year, as businesses bounced back from previous lockdowns and restrictions put in place to deal with the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Statistics Canada reported that almost three-quarters of the sectors it tracks saw output increase. Preliminary data for March suggests Canada’s gross domestic product grew by another 0.5%, the data agency said.

The service sector, which had been walloped by a series of lockdowns related to the emergence of Omicron in December and January, bounced back in February with an expansion of 0.9%. The accommodation and food services sector soared by 15.1%. The arts, entertainment and recreation sector added 8.4% for the month, while rail transport expanded by 9.1% and air transport grew by 7.7%.

Goods-producing industries also got in on the action, expanding by even more than the service sector, up 1.5% during the month. The mining, quarrying and oil and gas sector grew by 3.4%.

Beating expectations

Coming off the lows of January, economists were expecting the economy to grow by about 0.8%, but the GDP figure beat those expectations.

Tabulating the data for the three months of January, February and March together puts the economy on track to expand by 5.6% in the first quarter, almost twice the 3% expansion the Bank of Canada is expecting, Desjardins economist Royce Mendes said.

The numbers make a rate hike by the central bank to cool things down even more likely, he said. “The Bank of Canada has set the table for a 50-point hike in June, but data like this will have markets pricing in at least some chance that central bankers need to move more aggressively,” Mendes said.

Source: CBC

Employers Face Juggling Act With Return-to-Work Plans: ‘People Don’t Like Change’

As pandemic restrictions are lifted and case numbers ease, some companies want workers back in the office five days a week. On the other side of the spectrum, others are vacating pricey leases in prime downtown areas and asking employees to work remotely for good. Many others are adopting a hybrid model, varying from a flexible come-when-you-want approach to mandating specific days workers must report to the office for duty.

Yet after more than two years of Zoom calls and Slack chats from home, wearing comfy pants and having more time for kids or exercise or reading, employees may be resistant to returning to the office.

“Some employers just want to flip a switch and turn back time to how things were,” said Catherine Connelly, human resources and management professor at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business. “It’s wishful thinking,” she said. “If you look at any other past pandemic … behaviours just did not reset to how things were.”

A return to the office doesn’t affect all workers equally, said Connelly, also Canada Research Chair in organizational behaviour. Multiple factors can influence how employees respond to the revival of office life, from the comfort of their home working conditions and personality type to their workplace culture and office set up. “If you’ve got a nice big office with a door that closes and maybe a dedicated parking space, that’s very different than someone being asked to work from a noisy cubicle with a lot of interruptions,” she said.

The key to a successful return-to-office plan is flexibility and taking it slow, experts say. If workers feel like they are being coerced into returning to the office, they’ll push back.

“If people perceive it as control being taken away from them, you’re going to get resistance,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total well-being at LifeWorks.

“Two years is a long time for habits to become ingrained and people don’t like change,” she said. “It won’t change overnight.”

Some tech companies, previously known for workplace perks such as free office fitness classes and nap rooms, are again turning to incentives to help lure workers back to the office.

ServiceNow Canada, an enterprise software company with offices in Montreal and Toronto and plans to open a Calgary location soon, is hoping to entice employees with free meals and team-building events. “We want to get back to this mindset where human connection is valuable and healthy,”  Marc LeCuyer, vice-president and general manager of ServiceNow Canada. said. “We want to set the stage for a return to the office in a very positive way.”

According to Lecuyer, the company doesn’t plan to mandate a return to the office.“We’re providing people with choice,” Lecuyer said. “If you’re working for an employer who is forcing you to do something that you don’t want to do, there’s no path to positive experience.”

The desire to attract employees back to offices with perks such as free food has been a boon for startups like Hungerhub, a corporate catering tech platform that delivers lunches to workplaces from local restaurants. Sari Abdo, co-founder and CEO of the Toronto-based startup, said the corporate lunch program eases some of the burden of returning to an office. “I think we’re seeing a carrot-and-stick approach to getting employees back in the office and this is a carrot,” he said. 

While a free lunch is a nice gesture, companies do have the right to call workers back into the office – no incentive required, said employment lawyer Hermie Abraham. “This is the employer’s legal right and decision as to how they wish to implement return-to-work plans,” she said. “People may feel like they should have the right to continue working from home but unless there’s a human rights consideration, they don’t.”

Many workers going into the office for the first time in years are groaning about a lengthy commute, expensive parking and the soaring cost of lunch. But from a legal standpoint, Abraham said it’s largely “too bad, so sad.”

“You may have realized gains during COVID because you didn’t have to pay for those things, but that’s not your employer’s problem,” she said. “This is the job you signed up for when you originally were hired.”

Still, Abraham said a best practice would be to allow a gradual return to the office – particularly given the current red hot labour market. “There is going to be a war for talent in some positions and the more accommodating and flexible you are as an employer, the greater chances that you’ll win.”

Source: Global News