The surge of Omicron cases across Canada is putting employers in a double bind as they struggle to keep businesses afloat with staff away sick, while also keeping existing employees safe and happy amid the so-called great resignation trend.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of job vacancies across all sectors reached an all-time high in the third quarter of 2021, up over 62 per cent from a year earlier. And that’s leaving employers scrambling to fill critical jobs and giving job seekers the upper hand amid a war for talent.

“I’m making placements without resumes now,” said head hunter Steven Cardwell of Steven Cardwell Recruitment, a nation-wide search firm. He’s currently looking to fill over 30 job openings for his clients in the banking, construction, and engineering sectors.

Pre-COVID, a project manager role in construction would require the candidate to be a civil engineer with three to four years of experience, according to Cardwell. “Now you don’t need that,” he said in a phone interview. “Clients are taking people with no experience but have willpower. Anybody is trainable.”

Because Omicron recovery times are typically short, finding, hiring, and training a replacement for staff who are sick with the virus, is not worth the effort for most employers. As a result, remaining staff are being forced to pick up extra workloads leading to greater resentment of their current employers, according to Travis O’Rourke, president at Hays Specialist Recruitment.

“Many jobs are available and candidates are tightening up again with their desire to move companies,” O’Rourke said in a phone interview.

Based on Hays’ 2022 Canadian Salary Guide, 65 per cent of Canadians are looking to leave their current job (up from 49 per cent a year earlier), and 62 per cent want to leave their current role due to lack of career growth. The data, which was collected through an online survey in July and August 2021, are forcing employers to rethink their compensation strategies to attract and retain workers.

“It’s wild out there,” said O’Rourke. “It’s common for candidates to get two, three, or five offers. I’ve seen [employers give] $30,000 to $40,000 salary increases.”

Cardwell is seeing employers also enhance their non-monetary perks such as offering four weeks of vacation for entry-level jobs, ordering lunch for employees every day, and even building an in-house gym.


Businesses can’t afford resignations at a time when there is also no clear way to ensure that all absenteeism due to Omicron is valid, according to employment lawyer Daniel Lublin of Whitten & Lublin. “The surge means there’s a lack of available testing to substantiate employee claims that they are sick,” he said via email.

“Employers have to show more flexibility to workers than ever before or they will risk losing them. It’s that simple.”

This flexibility, however, can create grey areas that bring on new risks.

Kristi Searle, a human resources business strategist and owner of Peoplebiz Consulting Inc., is navigating tough conversations with her clients and advising them to consider adding important details to their workplace policies like how employees cannot move from their current place of residence without prior approval.

“You need to consider things like ‘who pays for the cost of attending conferences now that you’ve moved far away?,’” she said.

Namita Gupta, a principal at Mercer Canada who advises clients on compensation policy, says employers need to trust that quality work can be done from home and offer benefits tailored to individual needs.

“The employee value proposition has to be something personal. They need to know they’re not just a body coming into work,” she said in a phone interview. Whether it be through employee engagement surveys or focus groups, she says employers need to understand the demographic mix of staff and their growth aspirations.

That means perks like virtual happy hours, for example, may be losing their buzz.

“It’s funny because companies think it’s a nice thing, but employees are actually dreading it,” said O’Rourke. “The last thing they want now is to sit on another Zoom call with colleagues.”

As for filling job vacancies, Gupta points to wider issues at play like immigration and inflation. “Canada has not been able to fully explore the potential of an ethnic workforce,” she said. “There’s an expectation that candidates have Canadian work experience, to take entry-level jobs, and employees are shortchanged.”


High inflation is making the young workforce question small wage increases, according to Gupta. She says that while employers carry the risk of their businesses not being profitable due to paying higher wages, employees who jump ship for higher-paying gigs may later find out the new company’s culture is not the right fit.

“Think about sustainability in the role,” she said. “Right now, employers are just throwing money at the problem.”

Searle says the pandemic has been a litmus test for upper management to reconsider their messaging around company values and mandates. She recommends they spend time recruiting the right people and consider why they would want to stick around. She challenges employers to ask themselves, ‘are we really a good company?’ and ‘do we really treat our staff well?’

“People leave because of bad managers,” she said. “Often times, executives are the problem, not the employee.”