women’s expectations in a post-pandemic workplace

There’s no denying that the pandemic disrupted workplaces across the country. Practically overnight, millions of workers were forced to shift to remote work. Others faced temporary layoffs, shutdowns, reduced hours or job loss. 

Essential workers, on the other hand, had to continue working throughout the duration of the pandemic, with many working overtime hours or under stressful conditions to meet production demands.

The personal lives of these workers were also affected, as many found themselves struggling with illnesses, quarantine concerns, homeschooling school-age children, finding alternative care for younger children and caring for aging parents. 

Given these conditions, the ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance became nearly impossible as the lines between home and work responsibilities became blurred.

It will take years before the total impact COVID-19 had on workers, especially female workers, comes to light. It's important, however, to reflect on how working conditions impacted women during the pandemic and what the future holds for women in a post-pandemic workforce.

employers’ response to the pandemic

The good news is that female workers believe their employers, for the most part, made a concerted effort to ensure they had a good experience during the pandemic. 

According to our recent study in partnership with Ipsos, more than half of these workers (54%) felt that their employers did everything possible to keep salaries and benefits the same during the pandemic, and 52% thought their employers did very well at trusting them to get their work done even when working remotely.

However, nearly two out of five Canadian working women felt that their employer did a poor, or fairly poor, job providing the necessary tools and equipment to work from home and offering the flexibility they needed to sustain a healthy work-life balance. One in four female workers thought their employers did not provide an acceptable level of empathy or personal encouragement.

While there certainly are some things employers could have done better, overall, employers took unprecedented steps to provide for their employees, especially considering most organizations were unprepared for an emergency the size of a global pandemic. 

Additionally, the pandemic itself may have caused some of the disconnect between employers and employees. For instance, the sense of lack of empathy or support could be partially due to the fact that face-to-face communications were not possible.

With the market starting to stabilize and workplaces beginning to re-open, employees are anxious to see if their employers are prepared to provide the same level of support now as they did during the pandemic.

women in the post-pandemic workplace

There is still a level of uncertainty when it comes to what a post-pandemic workplace will look like for working women. In fact, 18% of the women we surveyed state that they have no idea what their future work model will look like and that a definitive decision is yet to be made.

However, out of the women who do know what the company’s future expectations are:

  • 32% state that they are expected to return to the office full-time or almost full-time,
  • 28% are only going back to the office two to three times a week
  • 17% say that there is no expectation for them to return to the workplace on a permanent basis

Additional good news shows that employees’ personal expectations closely align with their employer’s expectations. According to our survey, one-third of working women expect to return to the office full-time, while another one-third anticipate returning to the office several days a week. On the other hand, 17% think that it’s not likely they will return to the office and 12% are still unsure. Fortunately, only 5% said that they would quit their job if they couldn’t continue to work remotely.

One of the most alarming aspects of our survey results is the general sense among the majority of working women that their employers don’t trust them to continue working from home. In fact, only half of the women we surveyed felt that their employers would trust them to remain productive while working from home on a permanent basis or by working flexible hours. Whereas, one in five working women in Canada believes that their employer would not trust them at all to work from home indefinitely.

This belief is even more prevalent among part-time workers, where 26% think that their employers wouldn’t trust them at all to continue working from home indefinitely, compared to just 18% of full-time workers having the same beliefs. Location also plays a role in women’s perception regarding trust. 

For instance, 26% of women working in British Columbia think their employer would not trust them to continue working from home permanently compared to half of the women living in Quebec believing that their employers would trust them.

developing a reopening plan

It’s clear that most working women in Canada expect to go back to the office at least on a part-time basis. Fortunately, only a small percentage (5%) are threatening to quit if they can’t continue to work remotely. 

The troublesome factor is that many of these women believe that lack of trust is at least one of the reasons employers want their workers back in the office.

These points can be a double-edged sword for employers. In one aspect, they want their employees back in the office for various reasons, including increased production levels, improved collaboration and team morale. 

On the other hand, they don’t want to lose trust between their workers, especially since a lack of trust can lead to increased turnover.

Employers must strengthen communications with their workers to develop an effective reopening plan. This step can give employers insight into what challenges women in the workforce are facing. 

For example, are some workers still struggling with school closings or finding adequate daycare, or are they helping to care for aging parents? Some employees may have health conditions, such as autoimmune disorders, that may put them at higher risk for COVID-19 complications.

Open communication and transparency between employers and employees can help establish trust and allow organizations to develop a reopening plan that meets the needs of all its workers despite gender. Removing any uncertainties through open communication can also help to alleviate some of the stress women in the workplace have regarding their return to work.

looking to learn more about gender differences in the workplace?

Find more resources pertaining to women in the workplace and the various challenges they face by checking out the Empowering Women section of our website.

women in the workplace