Think Energy

The Energy Sector’s Workplace and Workforce Future

Mar 28, 2022

According to a survey conducted by Electricity Human Resources Canada, 48% of employees believe they increased productivity when working remotely. With that in mind, it’s no surprise to see many industries adopting a hybrid model where employees have flexibility around where they work—and why prospective employees are looking beyond salary when determining what’s important to them in a job. Michelle Branigan, CEO of Electricity Human Resources Canada, joins us to discuss how remote working will affect the energy sector’s workplace and workforce future. 

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Dan Seguin  00:06

This is thinkenergy, the podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin, and my co-host, Rebecca Schwartz, as we explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Hey, everyone, welcome back, has COVID-19 forever changed the way we think, perform and show up for work? There's been a huge workplace culture shift with more employees working remotely. Commuting has been possible for many years. But I think it's fair to say that there was reluctance on the part of many employers to implement digital solutions, such as video conferencing, digital sharing tools, and expansion of cloud based computing to facilitate the shift away from the office. Rebecca, did you know that, according to McKinsey and Company, COVID-19 accelerated three trends that may well last after the pandemic is over?

Rebecca Schwartz  01:21

Yeah. So the first and probably the most talked about trend is the hybrid remote work. Now, there's about 20 to 25% of computer based workers who could foreseeably work from home something like two to three days a week. That's almost five times the number of workers who were doing remote work before the pandemic. Second, not only have we become accustomed to the comforts of work from home, but we've also become accustomed to the convenience of home delivery. And I say this only based on all those Amazon packages that arrive at my door. Myself and others like me have probably contributed significantly to the growth of E-commerce and the delivery economy during the pandemic. It's just become so easy. And finally, companies are enlisting automation and AI to cope with COVID-19, and any other future disruptions. This could mean putting robots in manufacturing plants and warehouses and adding self service customer kiosks and service robots in stores.

Dan Seguin  02:23

And we haven't even touched on the great resignation of 2021. According to NPR, 33 million Americans quit their jobs since the spring of 2021. Is it about better pay, treatment, flexibility or perks? Or is it about something more like reevaluating what success, happiness and work life balance means?

Rebecca Schwartz  02:53

One thing is for sure, Dan, the pandemic has ushered in a new era that's changing the workplace and the workforce for the future, and the electricity sector is not immune.

Dan Seguin  03:03

So, here's today's big question. Can the energy sector reimagine where and how work is done to increase rescaling efforts? And is the sector looking beyond the pandemic to reimagine how and where work is done?

Rebecca Schwartz  03:23

To answer these questions, we have Michelle Branigan, the CEO of Electricity Human Resources Canada joining us on the program, also known as EHRC. It is the leading source of HR information for Canada's electricity industry. Michelle, thank you for joining us again on the show.

Dan Seguin  03:41

Michelle, since the pandemic and this new hybrid world of work, what changes in the approach have you observed from energy HR leaders?

Michelle Branigan  03:53

Hi, Dan. Well, um, I would say that the work life balance discussion has been reignited, and research is showing us that many employees, current and or future will have expectations that they can work at home at least part of the week. So that has implications of course, not just on the business side; you know, think about real estate and office footprint, but on corporate culture, so employee engagement, productivity performance management. The HRC has actually conducted a number of pulse surveys over the last two years with both employers and employees. And we hold regional roundtables across the country on an ongoing basis. And I think the single biggest learning is the recognition that a hybrid work model can work without jeopardizing productivity, because that, of course, was a concern at the start of the pandemic. And that's a fair one, right? Safety is always going to be paramount for electricity; employers spread into the culture of the industry, but at the same time, the work actually has to get done. And so it's a balancing act for today's leaders. You need to make sure that you're achieving your organization's business objectives, while still taking care of employees physical and mental health. When we actually spoke to surveyed employees last year we heard that are over a little over 45% believe that they had the same level of productivity when working remotely; 48% actually said they had an increased level of productivity. And only 6% said they were less productive. But, employers who are concerned about productivity, need to make sure that their staff have the equipment, the processes, the supports, in place to do their job well, and then managers are going to need to take a more non traditional approach to understanding productivity and how you actually measure it. So that was probably the number one thing. And then I think secondly, the pandemic has really accelerated all discussion about the future of work right? Worldwide, and in our industry, of course. This is something that really is top of mind .Employees have been very vocal in expressing that they do not want to return to the same way of working as pre pandemic. It's actually the preference of many in the workforce to continue to work remotely. And that's going to pose challenges and opportunities for HR leaders over the coming years. And then just finally, very quickly, what I would say is that this is probably a little bit less about approach and more about recognition that human resources has become an essential voice, alongside, you know, operations, finance, and you know, the other core units and responding to the challenges of the pandemic and how we work as an organization going forward as a sector. All business units have had to adapt over the last couple of years. But the pandemic has shown that human resources, or HR really is a key function in every business. For years, HR professionals have reiterated the importance of managing and recognizing HR as a strategic business partner, not always with success. And I think that has drastically changed.

Dan Seguin  07:10

So true, Michelle. Now, has the pandemic, and remote working taught us anything about our workforce?

Michelle Branigan  07:20

Yes, just to pick up on that second point, people want more work life balance, it's incredibly important to them, right. Many have mentioned increased productivity as a positive result of working remotely, but even more spoke to having more time back in their life to do the things that they enjoy. They don't want to spend time in traffic that could be spent, you know, walking the dog or going to the gym, picking the kids up earlier from school is a huge thing. So even more than salary, time continues to be the most valued commodity if you want to think of it like that. But at the same time, not everyone wants to work from home all the time. So you know, there's a different side to that whole conversation. And there are other challenges. A number of people that we spoke to reported feelings of isolation, difficulty with communications with their colleagues; with their peers, and, or, an increased or extended workload. And I think a lot of us would recognize that, you know, it's very easy for a lot of people to continue working outside normal work hours, especially during those lockdowns that we had right? There wasn't much else to do. When your laptop was at the dining room table, there's a tendency to continue checking and responding to those emails. So those lines got blurred. And that's not necessarily a good thing. Now, that might change more as we come out of the pandemic, and people have, you know, get back to their lives and have different things to do. But a lot of people don't have the luxury of a separate office or a quiet space to work in. So, again, that isolation piece, people mentioned that to us and the mental health toll that comes with that. So, you know, as we move into this new world, this, I don't think there's going to be a one size fits all approach. I think collaboration, communication, productivity, they're all elements that are going to have to be considered by individual employees, as well as culture and employee morale. So, whatever work model you choose, as an employer, engaging all levels of employees and talking to them about why you're choosing one model over another- I think that's incredibly important because it will really help to increase buy in around that, you know, the opportunity to, you know, that could be things like the opportunity to collaborate knowledge sharing, mentorship, that type of thing, but just really make sure to communicate with your audience. And so they know why you're making that decision.

Rebecca Schwartz  10:03

Okay, so, you kind of touched on this, how my one sized approach does not work. So what are some of the challenges and opportunities that flexible working presents to the electricity sector?

Michelle Branigan  10:14

Well, many of our employers have committed to implementing a hybrid model for their office workforce in some shape, way or form, this is a huge change, because it's now becoming almost a de facto scenario, where many, many, not all, but many organizations are looking to do this on a go forward basis. And that was pretty unheard of pre pandemic. One of the more common scenarios I've heard today, this or that three days in the office, two days a whole model or two, three, but not everybody's going to find that that works for their business, there may be a challenge down the line from a recruitment and retention standpoint, as some individuals do not want to come back to the office at all. Again, there's no one size fits all, some companies want to go completely virtual. I've talked to a few, not very many who want everybody back in the office full time, I really think the sweet spot is in the model. It is the hybrid piece. Again, you know, we asked employees about the challenges when working remotely. Almost half of them 45% said there was no challenges at all to working remotely. But a quarter of our respondents said that their top challenge was the loss of collaboration with the colleagues, right? And then there was other challenges. Again, not having a defined workspace, not everybody has the office, IT challenges, internet, Wi Fi, those sorts of things, interruptions, and loneliness. I thought that was very, you know, that's very telling, when people are talking to you about some of those things that are on the list. Why do people like working remotely, why is a hybrid work model and that opportunity to be autonomous, important? 83% talks about commute, people do not like to spending time commuting. Better work life, balance, time flexibility, more time out of work. Some people actually even prefer working on their own right. So there's all these different things in the mix. And at the time, when this big experiment was actually going on, you have to remember that kids were doing school from home, people were trying to- everybody was in a house, either in a house with too many people or maybe isolated on their own. When people are actually working remotely without the pandemic, it's going to be a little bit different people may even prefer it a little bit more. And then one of the other things that I think is important in the electricity sector, and this gets lost sometimes is that a large percentage of our workforce doesn't work in an office. Right? They work in the field. So our PLT's, our arborists, excetera. So how do you work with that? Hybrid models can be possible for field staff, but it really depends on their specific work. And, you know, how you can accommodate that. During the pandemic, we did see some innovation; companies did make some changes. So for example, people who had their own individual work vehicles were allowed to take them home. So they didn't have to go to the office every day to pick up the work truck. They only had to come into the office now and again to pick up supplies instead of every day. New technologies allowed people to adjust field work. So they were doing safety rundowns over Zoom, for example, every morning. And they were doing remote installations directed by contractors or other team members over video who were connected to onsite staff. So that innovation there may continue once we emerge from the pandemic, depending on the circumstances. But there is a reality that it's not going to work the same way. And I think there could be perceived inequities between office and field staff, right? Regarding that continued flexibility. And I think that is a key concern for HR managers. You know, we could see resentment from those who cannot avail of those remote work benefits. So you think for an example, an office employee who's able to work from home, if they have cold or cough or they're sick, or maybe their child is sick, or there's child responsibilities, versus a field staff person who does not have that option, and is going through their sick days or their vacation days, etc. So I think there is a challenge there, and we're going to need to spend some time on that.

Dan Seguin  14:49

This is really interesting, Michelle. Let's continue the conversation on challenges. What are the potential challenges attached to leading remote teams? What skill sets do managers have dispersed workforce need to inspire innovation and drive engagement across remote teams?

Michelle Branigan  15:09

I actually think this is going to be a key area of learning for managers, and supervisors of remote teams, you know, when employees are dispersed, and sometimes it's not in the city, even in the same city, it might be even in a different province, now. That manager has less insight into what the employee is actually doing. This links back a little bit to the productivity piece, I have read about some bias existing with managers believing that those working in the office do more than those who work at home. So I think we need to guard against that, right? Especially when we have seen that productivity hasn't dropped in the Canadian electricity industry, from the employers that we've spoken with. But, there was a US survey just in the fall of 2020, Gartner survey, and they looked at and spoke to about 3000 managers and 64% of managers and executives believe that employees who are in office are higher performers than remote employees. And 76 believe that in office workers are more likely to be promoted. That's something that I want to pulse more with our industry and something to watch. I think there's a potential issue there. Obviously. Some employers are turning to software to monitor remote working employees so that the manager can verify if people are working productively from home or working at all. Now, I think that practice is pretty controversial as an employer response to remote working; it's not one that I would endorse. I think if you have to monitor your team, to that degree, you have an issue of culture and morale. And then what type of message does it send to your employees? Right? You're not trusting them from the outset, that's going to impact your ability to hire, certainly to retain. And that's not a good idea, in a tight labor market. So I think managers need to presume intent, right, presume that the majority of your teams want to go to work to do a good job to be productive, and then give them the tools to make sure that they understand and meet their deliverables. So that means that while they're doing that, there also needs to be very clear communications about an individual's role and expectations about what that role actually is, right? So that's what's really important that we don't lose that make it very clear as to what is critical. And what is important. At the end of the day, no matter what channel you're using, team communications is really important, it's too important to be an afterthought. And ensuring that you have the right tools in place for collaboration is going to make sure that your team meets the objectives, they're being productive, they're hitting their deliverables, and supporting the organization. And, from a skills perspective, very similar to what they needed to do before, you know, empathy, very strong communication skills, listening skills, I think there will be more training required on a few things. Because managers are not just going to be expected to make sure that the task gets done, but they're the main point of contact within the organization, right? Trying to make sure that the employee feels valued, feels listened to, is engaged, feels part of the company. You know, managers may need to be trained to learn to acknowledge and respond to what they hear, be that responding to topics such as work overload, illness, childcare. I do think they have a lot on their shoulders. And I would say that it's going to be really important that managers, supervisors, you know, anyone with that leadership commitment, they're all under more pressure now than ever to support their staff. And so we need to make sure that we're also looking after the managers, right? I think that is incredibly, incredibly important.

Rebecca Schwartz  19:15

Thanks, Michelle. So with the post COVID landscape coming into reality, what does it mean for office workers or field workers? Specifically with respect to maintaining that focus on employee happiness, health, and safety?

Michelle Branigan  19:29

Well, mental health was a growing concern among employers, even before the pandemic, right? So I would say, when you look at wellness, that really has become a core business priority as a result of this pandemic. You know, we've seen a major shift from an employer's responsibility for their employees physical and mental health while on the job, to looking out for their well being both on and off the clock. And I think that leaders who are mindful of employee well being really can go a long way in helping individuals balance, you know, the mental health needs by being productive at the same time, and able to contribute their best towards organizational goals. At the end of the day, most individuals want to be their best at work, right? And employers can support that through a range of different initiatives. Whether that is defining flexible work hours and flexible work, maybe focusing on effort and results rather than time spent. You know, you want to make sure managers are not micromanaging. Are you judging people's contributions to work by the fact that they are in their chair from nine to five? Or are you looking at deliverables? And I think encouraging teams to establish and respect boundaries. Because quite often, you know, a few small changes can make a really large impact in supporting employees, especially when it comes to mental health. You know, opening that discussion, and having those sort of open supportive environments where people feel comfortable communicating their needs, that's a great place to start. And really looking at your employee engagement strategy. And asking your employees, what they value most as an employee is absolutely critical. Don't presume that you know what they want or value from you as an employer, or in the workplace.

Dan Seguin  21:38

Now, Michelle, let's move from wellness to culture. How can utilities be intentional about creating a strong, positive, and inclusive company culture? What are some best practices?

Michelle Branigan  21:54

Well, I think you hit the nail on the head, Dan, in using the word intentional. There's really increasingly more pressure for organizations to be more diverse and more inclusive. And, of course, that is driven by societal forces, clear messaging from this next generation, that is values driven. They care deeply about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and they are paying attention to it. They are looking at your annual reports, they are looking at your board of directors, they're looking at how your organization is represented in the media. And I speak to a lot of young people, and it still amazes me how many of them are really taking this into account, when they're actually out looking for a job. So, cultural inclusion for me, anyone knows, that knows me well, knows that I say this all the time, it starts from the top down, right? It takes commitment, it takes intention, and it has to be genuine at the end of the day. I think some of the best practices include, again, engagement and communication, you'll hear these things, we echo these words, these themes a lot. Asking employees for feedback on how to improve your company's diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Quite often, there can be a disconnect between management or leadership, and everyone else in the organization, whereas, you know, whereby the presumption is that everything is fine, there's no bias in the organization, no one feels alienated or excluded because of their, you know, their race or their gender, whatever it may be. And that's a dangerous assumption that can be easily made, just because the problems are not visible. And not just by leaders, but by anybody working in the company, right? Who may not realize that, you know, their colleague is facing any sort of difficulty or challenge based on, you know, cultural background or identity or gender. So, communication is really key. For me, another big one, setting goals and measuring results, best practice. Absolutely. If we are going to affect that cultural change and we're going to implement good practices, we need to measure and report on the progress that we've achieved and the benefits to the company and to the individual. And I would say, sometimes, you know, it can be easy for organizations to capture these good news stories or the things that they've done and report it up, report to the board, report to the C suite. Feed the information to your employees, so that they can see that there's actual genuine commitment to change there, to creating that inclusive environment, and that their feedback or input is actually being heard. And don't be afraid of the mistakes that are learned along the way because, again, this goes to the genuine commitment piece. If a company is truly responsive to the needs of the people that are working there and are making these attempts in good faith, you will get there eventually, right? So really, really important to look at that. I am going to put in a shameless plug, Dan, for the EHRC's Leadership Accord on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. So that, of course, is a framework to help companies do this; it's an actual framework that will help leaders commit to real progress and change; identify where the gaps are in their own organizations, and then put in an action plan to actually address it over a couple of years. So, it's a really good tool. And please check that out if you want to get started. And then for others who want best practices, and maybe don't know where to get started, another place is our illuminate now toolkit that's on our website. And that has tips and tools and videos to support managers to develop or enhance their best practice DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), how to strategies, right? Because there's all sorts of things that an organization can do, from diversity on hiring panels, changing the language of maternity or paternity leave, to parental leave instead, in your policies. There are so many things to do to be inclusive, to make people feel like they belong to an inclusive workplace. More than we could cover, we could cover today, but there's lots of resources there on our website to help people on that journey.

Dan Seguin  26:25

Okay, you've touched on communications earlier, let's look at it through a digital workplace lens. What are organizations discovering about effective communication and collaboration?

Michelle Branigan  26:37

It's possible, you know, IT infrastructure really is the backbone of all modern workplace communications, right? When it goes wrong, we all notice very quickly now. And with the pandemic, we actually talked to organizations about this last year, about 30% of our employers told us they had to fast forward plans for better networking and connectivity. Over half had to increase their IT functionalities by setting up VPN or buying phones and that type of thing. Most organizations were very quickly able to ensure that video conferencing applications, like Zoom, were embedded as part of that day to day work environment. We've all seen instant messaging platforms like Slack, they've grown immensely in popularity, you know, it cuts down on emails when people are working remotely. And it also provides a forum for employees to engage. It's become sort of the equivalent of the watercooler right people telling jokes or sharing. So, it becomes an engagement tool, as well as a communication tool. But regardless of all the tools that are out there, you know, there's lots of things that you can use to bring your teams together and allow them to work efficiently. But I think the key to success is actually just utilizing those, they're a means to an end, right? To encourage active communication and maintain your company culture. And that really is no easy task in a digital environment. You know, you want to make sure that folks don't feel disconnected. I personally think it will be important to try and bring people together to meet in person, at some stage, be that twice a year at a company retreat, maybe it's once a week, or once a month, at an all hands on deck day. I've heard of people doing different things; it's going to depend, of course, on the size of your company, and how geographically spread you are. But one thing, you know, that does come to mind is when people work remotely, they're less likely to have social ties at the offices with colleagues who, over time, become friends, right? And that in itself erodes the connection that they have with the company. And it makes it easier for them to quit, as well. So you know, that can impact company culture, of course, and your retention, your retention strategies. And I think of how difficult it is for that next generation of new talent, young people who are just starting on their career, maybe in the first or second job, and they're not getting all of the benefits that exist by working in the office and having the opportunity to have a mentor, to have somebody that they can connect with and to listen to some of the conversations that take place in a professional setting and to the degree that they do in the office. So, I think IT is great, but it's how we actually use it that is going to make a difference.

Dan Seguin  29:39

Thanks, Michelle. But, now, this leads me to the follow up question. How can the energy sector ensure all employees across the organization, both office workers and frontline workers, have access to digital workplace technologies and feel engaged?

Michelle Branigan  29:59

Yes. Regardless of what you do right with your office first or hybrid remote first. Getting that technology to your teams to make sure that whatever way they're doing it as a group spread out, is really important. So make sure that they have access to those tools. I think you also need to be very transparent about expectations and performance. I know I mentioned that a little bit earlier. But, I think from an engagement perspective, there's a there's a few things that can be done. You know, we've all heard the expression death by PowerPoint. I think we're all turning into- I read this yesterday, and I thought it was great. Instead of zombies, we're all turning into "Zoombies", where we're all, you know, we're all worn out by the end of the day, because we all have so many of these Zoom meetings or video conference meetings that are absolutely exhausting. So, I think there is, you know, we need to look at how many Zoom meetings that we're having, are they really necessary, sometimes the telephone is an OK way to communicate. That old fashioned way of picking up the phone and talking to each other. Do you want to have cameras on? So, for some organizations, it's very important. Maybe for small meetings, you want to make sure that cameras have to be on and that's a requirement. But, maybe if it's a bigger meeting, and you have 100 or 200 people, you don't need everybody to have their camera on. And that's okay. So, the idea is you're trying to use these tools to make and make sure that everybody is engaged, and that they're not multitasking, that they're actually paying attention to what's going on on the screen. So, taking that into account and thinking about it carefully is really important. You know, when you do have meetings, and it's a meet, you know, you have people both in the room and virtually engaged, making sure that you're calling upon those who are not physically present in the room to speak. I think that's really important; not forgetting that there's people on the screen and just gravitating towards those who are who are actually around the conference room table, for example. Have a look and see, you know, are the people in the room, do they absolutely need to be in the meeting? Looking at how many video conference meetings are necessary. You know, we're all tired of the glitchy WiFi, telling people that they're muted, all those sorts of things, right? And they can be just exhausting. And they cannot replicate real life interaction. So, just looking at your policy of how you use the tools is very important. You know, I had a mixed meeting the other day where I had people from a couple of different provinces, on my own team, and the rest of us in the boardroom, where we had to share visuals. Nothing worked; the audio was terrible and so we went away with some lessons learned from the tools that we had and how we look to set that up so that it is a more engaging meeting for everybody concerned and productive at the end of the day.

Rebecca Schwartz  32:59

I'm wondering if you have words of wisdom or lessons learned from the past two years, dealing with the pandemic, and about communicating to, I guess, such a dispersed workforce?

Michelle Branigan  33:11

I would say, and you'll both like this, in the field that you're in, you cannot over communicate. Communication, communication, communication. I think no matter what kind of work situation we're in these days, whether it's working from home, the field, the office, a mix of all three of those, one thing hasn't changed. And that's that teamwork and collaboration are as important as ever. And that teams that communicate well are going to see better business results. They're going to be more innovative, they're going to be more productive. And, really, at the end of the day, when you have teamwork that's done right, it makes everyone feel that their contributions are valued. So, providing ways and means from people to be able to communicate with each other. And as a leader, communication is extremely critical to ensure that people feel engaged. And, again, it goes back, it goes back to culture.

Dan Seguin  34:19

Very interested in your thoughts on this next question, Michelle. There's a new phenomenon taking place. It's "The Great Resignation". Has the electricity and energy sector been affected? And have we surveyed the reasons why?

Michelle Branigan  34:35

So anecdotally, we are hearing that yes, it has affected, the industry. It seems like every other week I'm hearing about retirements all throughout the industry, Dan. I actually need to do and want to do, it's on my wish list, is to do some more labor market intelligence to see how that's actually reflected in the data because it's one thing to hear about it anecdotally. I like to see the data right. So what are companies reporting on? What are their attrition rates? Where are their pain points? And what are they seeing? And is it reflected in, you know, one set of occupations more than the other, for example, are more trades people leaving because they're in the field and they've had to, you know, experience and deal with COVID implications from a safety perspective, much more than somebody that is in that office environment. Again, it goes right back to what we spoke about at the beginning and some of those differences. So, I do want to do more data on that. I would say anecdotally, yes, we're dealing with issues. I don't know we're dealing with it to the same level that we're seeing in the USA? I don't know that Canada is seeing it there. We know that there's a tight labor market out there right now. The last Statistics Canada data, just in December, reported that the National Unemployment Rate had dropped to 6%. So that was approaching pre-pandemic levels. But, at the same time, I'm talking to everybody who is struggling to find employees right now, right? In all different types of occupation. But we have actually been talking about this for years in Canada, right? Many electricity employers are seeing that with that increased turnover on that demographic time bomb that I've been talking about, you know, all the baby boomers deciding to retire even earlier than planned. Anecdotally, due to the pandemic, a lot of times. And at the same time, younger employers have different expectations as to what they want from a career in a post COVID world and the type of company that they want to work for. And so losing talent in such a competitive labor market, it's really costly. It's quite time consuming. When you factor in the cost of recruitment, interviewing, onboarding. And then there's a problem there that those who are planning to leave may check out long before they actually give in their notice, right? So you do get a loss of productivity there that can impact others in the organization and contribute to reduced morale. So I think this is something that we will definitely be looking at over the coming months and years. What does the data tell us? Why are people leaving? And if they are going, is it because of some of the things I've mentioned earlier, such as the ability to work remotely, autonomy, flexibility? Or is it because they've decided that they want a completely different career path outside of the electricity industry? And this, there's one thing that I want to talk to employers about, is their plans on workplace models and hiring. Because if you remove the requirement to live near where you work, you do open up access to a wider pool of qualified workers right across the country, right? And that's going to be attractive to some companies in a tight labor market.

Rebecca Schwartz  37:59

So, given this "Great resignation", Michelle, how can the energy sector address the work life balance? And what about promoting a healthy work culture?

Michelle Branigan  38:08

Um, it's funny, we asked employees what their managers or employers could be doing to help during the pandemic. And I think a lot of this will transition over into this new way of working, the future of work, which is not really long in the future. It's here. Flexible work hours. These are the top five things that they mentioned to us: flexible work hours, better communication, making sure that people have the equipment, or the tools for work from home needs, mental health supports, and then socialization opportunities, right? All of those opportunities to engage with their colleagues. So, I think leaders and managers can start with a few strategies to do that. First of all, just remind your teams of the many mental health resources that are available to them. If you have an employee system program, talk about it. It's amazing how many employees forget that you have one of those because it's mentioned when you are onboard, and that's about it. Again, with many employees working from home, that average workday can easily bleed into additional hours at the dining room table. So, setting boundaries for your team to ensure that they are, you know, they don't continue to work well past their usual hours just because they can. Ontario, here in Ontario, the government has just enacted the right to disconnect policy. So, setting boundaries and ensuring that your team knows they don't have to respond to emails day and night. And recognizing that people may have different work schedules, depending on what it is that they do or their home circumstances. I think it's important to communicate that. When you're looking at, you know, retaining people- simple things, this is so simple, but recognizing your staff. Saying thank you can go an awful long way, even if it's for a regular task well done, right? Employee recognition, you know, can be a note of appreciation, or just even highlighting people in your internal newsletters. Leaders really need to set an example that will build a culture of recognition throughout the organization and making sure that employees, at the end of the day, feel appreciated for the work that they do. I think those are the sorts of things that promote a healthy work culture.

Dan Seguin  40:37

Now, Michelle, what can employers and leaders do to retain and attract employees in this challenging environment?

Michelle Branigan  40:48

So, um, I would say, there's a few things here, um, again, communicate. So, to keep good employers, you want to meet their needs and their expectations, and you want to understand what keeps them inspired, right? Senior managers have to understand the dynamics of their current employee base, the drivers of turnover. And remember that the things that initially draw people to a company, which may be pay and benefits, they're not necessarily the same things that keep them there. So, think work life balance, career development, performance management, company culture, that all becomes part of the equation, when an employee starts thinking "should I stay, or should I go"? So, looking at those sorts of things from a retention perspective is really important. And at the same time, you know, there does need to be recognition that the work needs to get done. Business is business, and, so, organizations, especially when it comes to remote working, will need coverage, not everybody may be able to come from home. In some instances, employees will leave no matter what you do. And in that case, it's better to have them gone than stay and be disengaged. I think it's really important, though- and it surprises me- sometimes many people, when companies don't do this, conduct an exit interview. To gauge why they left. And then use that data to reflect on any issues that may need to be addressed. So, I think that's something important that companies need to remember. When you're looking to retain employees or attract employees, not everything is about salary, but if you're at least in the ballpark, with the industry average, or if you're not in the ballpark, that could be a reason for losing somebody to the competition. So make sure that you're competitive, highlight the non monetary benefits to address competition from other industries. So do you provide opportunities for career development, or flexible hours, or the opportunity to be mentored? For example, does your benefit plan actually benefit your employees or only a portion of those? You know, it might be time to take a look at how flexible and useful at those plans are. And then who has access to flexible work? We've seen organizations where some managers allow their employees flexibility, while others don't. So I think the principle of fairness is going to apply here. Companies need to be consistent in whatever approach that they take. Another item, this is going to be incredibly controversial over the next year, Dan, and we're watching it closely, but it's the idea of reducing pay for those who work remotely. What happens when employees move to locations with a lower cost of living? Should employers lower their compensation, even though the impact of the employee's work hasn't changed? I think that is something that I'm reading about more and more, it's coming up more and more in conversations. And I think this is going to be very impactful from a recruitment and retention perspective. You know, think about an individual who has been working remotely and you know, they're now asked to come back into the office one day a week, they have a long commute, if there's only one day a week in the office or one day a month, they're more likely to be willing to put up with that. But if suddenly that changes to three day weeks, three days a week, well, then the question is, is the job and the commute worth it? Or is it more important to me, my home base, where I live, is that more important? So these are all the scenarios that, and the conversations that we're going to be having, with employees over the coming year. And I think one of the more innovative things that people need to do, as well, is really try and look at progressive HR practices to stay on top of what's actually motivating employees. So, you know, not just talking about exit interviews, but doing stay interviews. Asking people what will make them stay? What do they enjoy about working at your organization? And then developing retention plans based on workforce demographics, you know, because your your 22 year old may have a very different perspective to your 45 year old or your 55 year old. And so these are some of the things that I think are really important to think about, as we have multi-generations working in workplaces right now that have different values, not all different values, but some different values as they move through their careers.

Rebecca Schwartz  45:36

With all these changes in the workplace, such as values and expectations, can we future proof learning and development? And how can the sector better prepare the employees for this new future of work?

Michelle Branigan  45:48

I would say that it is critical to acknowledge that we're now in a state of continuous learning, it's not enough just to get your Engineering degree or to get your Journeyperson Ticket and think "that's it. I'm set for the rest of my career". Most people will have a number of different roles in their careers now. And so, as the technology advances and the industry evolves, the skills and competencies required to remain relevant in your job are going to increase. I see that right throughout all occupations. So, I think there's personal responsibility there on the part of the employee to understand the impacts and to evaluate their skill sets and see what they need to do. From the employer's perspective, oh my gosh, it makes absolute sense to support the professional development of your employees for so many reasons, right? Offering training and development opportunities. It's a great strategy to keep engagement high. But make sure it's relevant to employee goals, ask employees what they think would benefit them in their, in their, in their aspirations. Challenge workers by giving them more interesting work and stretch assignments. And really, you know, continuous learning and managing talent should be one of the key tactics that are discussed by your HR teams, to give opportunities to your employees, just to continuously develop. Whether that's through in house training, or support for them to do something, you know, external education, but show your employees that you're interested in developing a career path along with them. I think that's really, really critical.

Dan Seguin  47:25

Okay, Michelle, we always end our interviews with some rapid fire questions. Are you ready?

Michelle Branigan  47:33

I am.

Dan Seguin  47:34

Okay, let's go. What are you reading right now?

Michelle Branigan  47:38

Well, I'm hooked right now by a series of books called the enemy. It's a post-apocalyptic young adult horror series. It's written by Charlie Hickson. The books take place in London after a worldwide sickness has infected everyone 16 and older and has turned them into creatures similar to zombies. Basically, all the adults are eating the kids. It's extremely gory. And it makes the pandemic look like a walk in the park. And it's really noted for the fact that it kills off any possible character. So it really leaves you on edge all the time. So, that's what I am hooked into right now. And I run into my 13 year old's bedroom every now and again, very, very upset that they've killed off yet another one of my favorite characters.

Dan Seguin  48:32

Now, Michelle, what would you name your boat? If you had one?

Michelle Branigan  48:37

Oh, my gosh, "Let Me Off". I'm not one for boats, Dan, I'm too claustrophobic and I feel like I should be doing other things. So, I'm great for an hour. But then after that, yeah, get me out of here and onto dry land.

Dan Seguin  48:49

Now, who is someone that you admire?

Michelle Branigan  48:53

Oh, I don't know how anyone right now could say anything but Ukrainian people at this moment in time, right? The bravery and strength and staying there to fight for their country. The fear and the strength that those who must flee, that have children and babies in their arms; it's just heartbreaking to watch. And just the strength that we're seeing coming from everybody in that, from that country right now. I think that's top of mind. For all of us.

Dan Seguin  49:23

So true. Moving on to the next one. What is the closest thing to real magic that you've witnessed?

Michelle Branigan  49:31

Oh my gosh, Dan and Rebecca, I really struggled with this one. I think I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to magic. I cannot think of anything for this except maybe that I suspend all cynicism when I go to Disneyland. And just get right into it. I love it. I would go again and again and again. So that's, I think, the closest to magic that for me,

Dan Seguin  49:54

What has been the biggest challenge to you personally, since the pandemic?

Michelle Branigan  50:01

For me, not being able to travel home to my family in Ireland. And then more generally, travel. I love to travel. Reading and travel; film. Those are my things. I get itchy feet really quickly. And so, like many people, I just think it's that sense of frustration when you can't just get up and go. Italy is my favourite country in the world. I can't wait to get back there. But, other than that, over the last couple of years, you know, I have to say that I have counted myself very lucky. We have a comfortable house, we've got a nice garden, food on the table. And I really do think that there's a big difference between want and need. And I think as a society, we have to, I think, start maybe being a little bit more grateful for what we have.

Dan Seguin  50:43

Okay. We've all been watching a lot of Netflix and TV lately. What's your favorite movie or show?

Michelle Branigan  50:52

For me, "Ozarks". Great acting, great writing. Absolutely superb. Loving it. And I'm looking forward to diving into the last six or seven episodes of "The Walking Dead". You might have got that reference from my reading material.

Rebecca Schwartz  51:10

Lastly, Michelle, what is exciting you about your industry right now?

Michelle Branigan  51:15

Oh my gosh, I would say the change. Change. Everything that's going on. It fascinates me. It drives me. it's exciting. You know, we're all talking about net-zero. We're talking about electrification, low carbon, climate change, you know, what kind of world are we going to live leave for our kids and our grandkids? And everything that's going on right now, it's probably very easy to become pessimistic, when we see some of the things and some of the challenges. And you know, you look at all the fires and the floods and everything like that. But, I think our industry is really motivated to address some of these challenges. And so, the change is what excites me and how we get there.

Rebecca Schwartz  51:58

Well, Michelle, that's it. We've reached the end of another episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. If our listeners want to learn more about you and your organization, how can they connect?

Michelle Branigan  52:08

Go to our website,, a wealth of information there for folks. And, of course, I'm on LinkedIn, and always happy to hear from people. That's our, one of our jobs here and roles here is to talk to people about all these challenges and issues. And so, I love hearing from our industry folks as to the ideas that they may have to help us as we move this industry forward.

Dan Seguin  52:35

Again, Michelle, thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you had a lot of fun.

Michelle Branigan  52:40

I did have a lot of fun. Thank you both so much, Rebecca, Dan, always a pleasure to talk to you.

Dan Seguin  52:46

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. And don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit I hope you'll join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.