Energy layoffs and job insecurity still prevail. But new data show that Canada’s oil and gas workers are among the happiest in the country, especially in Alberta
BY TODD COYNE
It’s been two years since crude oil’s dramatic decline, and there’s still precious little in the energy industry to get excited about. But don’t bother telling that to Canada’s oil and gas workers. Downturn be damned, Canada’s energy sector employees are happier in their jobs than all other sectors of the labor force, according to recruitment firm Hays Canada. In a May report, Hays found that 28 percent of employees in the energy industry reported feeling “very happy” in their current role, while more than half—57 percent—reported feeling at least “somewhat happy.” That’s far more happiness than can be found in the runner-up mining sector, where just 21 percent of respondents counted themselves among those experiencing the highest level of workplace happiness; or the retail sector, where the “very happy” don’t even reach double-digits, at just eight percent. In fact, of the nine sectors covered in the report—including banking and finance, construction, IT and telecommunications, manufacturing, mining, property and facilities, retail and the public sector—oil and gas came out far ahead in the happiness quotient.
Of course, given the sheer volume of layoffs that have decimated Canada’s energy sector lately, the old adage that one should be happy just to have a job might ring true. But Jim Fearon, the vice-president of Western Canada for Hays, says there’s probably more than that at work here. “My personal opinion is that people get into oil and gas and mining for a very good reason,” Fearon says. “It’s a vocational choice that you make and typically it comes with elevated rates of pay, it comes with fairly unique employment conditions, like flying in and out of somewhere such as a relatively remote place.” High pay and travel have always been perks of the energy trade, certainly more so than in, say, construction, IT or much of the public sector. “There are certainly other industries where people are less happy because they’re in the job they can get rather than the job they want. And despite the fact that the resources sector goes through big economic cycles, most people recognize that there’s rough that goes with the smooth and obviously they don’t enjoy the downside—no one’s particularly happy with the situation at the moment, particularly people that have been let go—but they do understand that’s what comes with working in the resources sector.”
It’s fitting then, that among the country’s four largest provinces, it’s in the oil province of Alberta where the most workers report being “very happy” in their current job. Compared with 20 percent in British Columbia, 18 percent in Ontario and 15 percent in Quebec, a full 22 percent of working Albertans rated their happiness in the workplace as high as possible. That may be due in part to the energy sector’s learned flexibility in dealing with boom and bust economics and their effects on employee numbers and morale. “It’s an opportunity to expand skills and learn new areas of business—not because employees want to, but because they have to due to downsizing,” says Mary Oldcorn, a human resources director with oilfield company, Calfrac Well Services. “As we come out of the recession they’ll have a broader skills set than going into the recession. We’ve been big on the engagement side [to] make sure that HR doesn’t just show up when we’re downsizing.”
Still, keeping spirits high in the oil patch during a downturn takes work. Calgary has been hit especially hard on this front. But when times are tough, it’s not a good time to circle the wagons and keep workers at arm’s length from management decisions. “Getting everyone involved combats disengagement,” Oldcorn says. “Keep doors open; management meeting behind closed doors gets everyone edgy.” Hays Canada’s Fearon agrees, saying that even bad news in the workplace is often less destructive to morale than no news at all. “When companies make layoffs, it’s not a happy thing to do and it’s very difficult thing to do it in a manner that improves morale,” Fearon says. “But when companies handle layoffs in a less-than-good way, it has a negative impact on the people that remain and it undermines what they think of the organization.”
Ultimately, preserving morale in a time of mass layoffs and budget cuts doesn’t have to mean spending money on parties or teambuilding exercises. Quite the opposite. It’s professionalism and respect that earn a company high marks for morale, even when the industry overall is suffering. And, of course, limiting outside hires into jobs that internal candidates could otherwise be promoted to will also go a long way to shoring up the support of the workforce. Because, even when things are as bad as they have been in energy lately, it’s still a good job—if you can get it.
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