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Adapt or Be Left Behind: Insights on Employee Wellness and the Future of Work

Jamie Savage

Founder of The Leadership Agency

Many business leaders today believe that the “great resignation” was a sudden, unpredictable outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the impacts of this mass exodus have certainly been exasperated since 2020, with a recent study indicating that 24% of Canadians are new to their current role, these trends began far before COVID and will continue to persist long after. Companies that improve their employee wellbeing will thrive in the future of work amidst the new role of leadership, while those that don’t will be left behind in an even greater resignation.

In 2017, I founded The Leadership Agency with two core missions in mind: to help build the most impressive companies of our generation and, secondly, to build the most impressive company I had ever worked for. As a recruitment-focused venture, the pandemic put both of these goals at risk as we witnessed the needs of employers shift completely overnight – companies began executing termination strategies and founders across the country were left questioning their futures.

Myself and The Leadership Agency were not left out of this collective panic and trauma. After some emergency measures such as refinancing the company and raising fast capital, we pivoted and took this situation as an opportunity to become operationally strategic. Before we knew it, we found ourselves drinking from a fire hose – we were too busy to maintain demand sustainably, worked unforgiving overtime, and the entire team was treading water enroute to full burnout. After careful, thoughtful consideration our solution was a radical and untested exercise in people-first leadership. In October of 2020, we launched likely the first on record deployment of the four day work week in Canada in an effort to give back to our team in the form of time and freedom.

The new structure, which eliminated Fridays for all staff, included nuanced and holistic adjustments across the organisation such as revised employment contracts, shareholder agreements, client communication plans, and everything in between. With nobody to benchmark this new time structure off of, I’ll admit it was a nerve wracking decision in the early days. Fortunately, the results have been undeniable. Since its implementation team productivity is up by 200%, profits have grown 150%, we’ve expanded operations internationally, and have received national recognition not just for our service, but for our team and as being one of the best places to work in the country.

Aside from a happier, healthier, and more productive team, the four day work week has also been invaluable for myself as a leader. With my additional time, I’ve been able to extend myself and give back to Canada’s entrepreneurial ecosystem via board positions at organisations such as The Big Push, Sleeping Giant Brewery, and Startup Canada. Startup Canada and The Leadership Agency’s missions align perfectly – we both see entrepreneurship as a vital aspect of our national economy and strive to see Canada become the best place in the world to start and grow a business. To me, a great leader isn’t always in the weeds of their own business but instead splits their time effectively to engage with and give back to the ecosystem they operate within in the form of expertise and experience.   

Our wellness model is constantly evolving and adapting to the changing needs of our employees. This topic is something I am deeply and contagiously passionate about and, in the spirit of empowering fellow entrepreneurs to succeed in this space, here are some guiding pillars to consider for your own wellness model:

Team wellness is a continuous investment, not a one-off emergency measure.

  • Safety means consistency and commitment – don’t implement an initiative then pull the rug out from underneath it. Instead, focus on continuous improvement.
  • The onus of these initiatives cannot be placed on those they intend to benefit. Deep forethought and relentless care is needed by leadership to safeguard employee time and safety.

Wellness needs to be holistic, not a meaningless optics play.

  • The four day work week, like all wellness benefits, won’t solve burnout and resignation issues alone. Employee wellness should consider the macro and micro factors that need to be adjusted in conjunction with your new initiative.
    • For example, we implemented policies surrounding three new types of leave: bereavement (extended to three weeks), five “universal days” (eliminating sick days to reduce the stigma around mental health), as well as parental leave changes.

Leaders need to step into their new role, not shrink into yesterday’s standards.

  • Be the same leader internally and externally. Psychologically safety starts and ends with leadership. Your team needs to know you have their back no matter who is in the room. 
  • Be the example of wellness. Seeing you work on a Friday or burning yourself out isn’t safety.
  • Quitting has never been more affordable. Employees have more opportunities than ever with remote work. To attract and retain the best and brightest, leaders need to listen to their people and follow up with real action. 

While leaders may be frustrated by the ongoing hurdles involved with employee recruitment and retention, the only sustainable solution is simple – adapt or be left behind. The good news? Your employees have the solutions, you just need to listen.

About Jamie Savage

Jamie Savage is Founder of The Leadership Agency, the executive recruitment partner of choice for North America’s fastest-growing startups and nonprofits. The Leadership Agency gets to help build the most impressive companies of our generation.  She is an angel investor, board member, and an award-winning entrepreneur. Since founding The Leadership Agency in 2017, she expanded her business into the U.S in just 18 months, and earned multiple awards, such as;  Best Workplaces 2023 (Great Place to Work), Best Service Provider 2019 (HRD Canada), and Best Professional Services 2019 (CanadianSME Business Magazine). A disruptor in the HR and recruitment space, Jamie contributes her expertise to Forbes, Globe and Mail, CBC, Inc. Magazine, and HRD Magazine. She’s also been published in two books and was a contributing member to a textbook for the CPHR professional designation (Recruitment and Selection in Canada – Eighth Edition). The Leadership Agency is a leading force in the 4-Day Work Week model in Canada and has taken the public stage in both Canada and the U.S, talking about how a women-led bootstrapped startup was one of the first companies in Canada to go on record for making this change.  She has also taken part in an international study through Cambridge University in the UK, on the benefits of the 4-Day Work Week.

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