When Q&Q first conceived of its inaugural workplace survey, the world looked very different than it does today. Since we solicited responses to this questionnaire, the global pandemic of COVID-19 has taken a toll on workplaces across the country, closing many of them and forcing employees to adjust to new ways of working remotely. None of us yet knows what the full impact of this will be for the Canadian publishing industry.
This year’s survey was inspired by a similar initiative in May 2019, which looked at the prevalence of sexual harassment in the industry. Fifty-three per cent of respondents to that earlier survey reported having experienced various forms of harassment. Many of the personal stories shared by respondents fell outside that survey’s focus but illuminated other workplace issues that may have contributed to the results.
To gain a broader perspective of workplace culture in the Canadian industry, Q&Q ran an anonymous online survey in February 2020 asking people about the health of their workplace, with questions ranging from commute times to conflict resolution. In total, 172 people responded, providing a snapshot of their daily working lives. This is not a salary survey; rather it was intended to extend the focus to other aspects of job satisfaction such as the ability to work remotely, flexible office hours, and childcare subsidies — though it’s clear in the responses that many are struggling to get by financially. This factor may also contribute to the extremely high rate (75.6 per cent) of those who have experienced workplace burnout.
While it’s unlikely – especially in the wake of COVID-19 – that most publishers are in a position to offer significant salary bumps, are there other ways they can improve quality of life for their employees? This is a timely opportunity to look at hiring practices: do human-resources policies, or lack thereof, affect employee retention? Is traditional thinking about how a workplace should function stifling the diversity of the talent pool? Considering that 41.8 per cent of respondents said that they are intending to seek new employment this year, and only 65.7 per cent would recommend their company to others as a good place to work, this is a serious issue.
While the results of our survey speak to life before lockdown, the hope is that they provide an opportunity to reflect on established business practices and uncover ways to improve once the industry returns to some semblance of normalcy.
Attending after-hours events, festivals, and book launches without receiving compensation has always been considered a requirement of working in the business and a presumed way of guaranteeing career success. That expectation can be especially problematic for those at the bottom of the pay scale; it’s particularly challenging for many of those in assistant and other entry-level positions who already find it difficult to make a living without the financial support of a partner or family. One manager discussed not being able to retain talent because of low salary rates.
For the 41 per cent of respondents who need side gigs to make ends meet, the requirement to work outside traditional business hours really limits the types of jobs available outside of publishing. As one respondent said, “These expectations make it nearly impossible to hold down a second job if you need one, attend to any obligations you might have as a carer to children or loved ones, and while it may ‘look good,’ it rarely pans out into a promotion or raise.”
Where possible, managers should revisit expectations that all staff need to attend every event. Several respondents suggested that accumulated overtime should be compensated or that employees should receive time off in lieu. If, for instance, a publicist is required to work multiple launch events over a week, are there opportunities to take time off at a later date of their choice? Providing more time off may also recalibrate an employee’s work-life balance, an issue brought up frequently throughout the survey.
More financial numbers:
- 77.8 per cent of employers contractually allow freelance work
- 43.6 per cent offer a pension plan or RRSP support
- 56.8 per cent report receiving a raise in the last year
- 86.6 per cent of employers offer a benefits plan; 61.9 per cent of respondents are happy with their plan
Workplace safety and relationships
The good news is that the majority of respondents enjoy positive relationships with their immediate bosses and receive support for their health or ability issues. More than 65 per cent feel that they receive non-monetary recognition such as thank-yous and praise for their work. Several have taken part in anti-oppression training sessions.
But for those 37.5 per cent who have experienced abuse – such as verbal assault or bullying in the office – many do not know whom to turn to, and only 23 per cent felt management solved a problematic situation in a satisfactory way.
This may be tied directly to the fact that 50.6 per cent of respondents report that their company does not employ a human-resources representative. Many stated that they weren’t even sure who to turn to for HR-related matters and suggested that their jobs would be improved if their employers hired external consultants to develop and communicate policies around vacation, pay bands, professional development, and conflict resolution. Several respondents said they welcome the opportunity to collaborate in developing meaningful policies with their employers.
Overall, there was a call for more clearly defined HR policies and increased transparency regarding office rules. For instance, while 77.9 per cent of respondents enjoy the option of working from home, many were unclear to what extent that was available to them and some suggest that the rules are applied unevenly across their companies. Parental leave, mental-health programs, clarification of a job’s physical requirements, counselling, vacation, and sick-day policies were some of the other areas that remain unclear for many respondents.
“I’d like to see better accommodations for people with physical or mental disabilities,” wrote one respondent. “These should be clear to all employees, not only on request, since this discourages people from even asking.”
Health and well-being
More health and well-being highlights:
- 88.8 per cent report their employers are flexible in terms of parenting or elder care needs; only 0.3 per cent offer child care or elder care services or subsidies
- 75.6 per cent have flexible work hours; 77.9 per cent can work from home
- 26.5 per cent of respondents strongly agree that they typically feel tense or stressed during the workday
- 57.6 per cent of offices do not have a health and safety program
- 25.6 per cent of employers contribute to employee wellness programs (e.g. gym membership, yoga classes)
- 25 per cent of employers offer an employee assistance program or confidential counselling services, but only 13.5 per cent of respondents report taking advantage of the program
- 34 per cent of respondents strongly agree that they can speak their bosses if they have a personal issue that is affecting work performance
The majority of employees (43 per cent) commute by public transit on average 30 minutes to an hour a day; 61.5 per cent of those who cycle (11 per cent) or drive (21.5 per cent) are provided with access to free parking and safe bike lock-ups.
Most survey respondents are happy with their company’s ability to provide the up-to-date equipment required to be successful at their jobs. But as many comments from the survey attest, not everyone is a fan of open-concept offices and many find working from home more conducive to productivity. While open-concept is currently the most common layout for publishing companies, several respondents suggested that providing employees with decent noise-cancelling headphones might help promote focus in loud offices.
If there’s room in the budget, more private spaces for conversations and phone calls, and ergonomic desks and chairs also make the wish list. One respondent said that a decent coffee machine would do wonders for morale, while perhaps the most modest – and cheapest – request was for a good old-fashioned office cleaning.
Charts by Alex Sawatzky