“Hope is fragile and needs to be tended and renewed.”

– Patrick Shade 


Three years. Sometimes it feels like far less, sometimes it feels like far more, but it’s been more than three years since the first COVID-19 lockdowns. While life feels like it’s slowly getting back to normal, the aftershocks of the pandemic continue to be felt in our communities, in our workplaces, and in our homes. 

YMCA WorkWell has been measuring employee well-being in our communities throughout the pandemic, collecting data on employees’ most pressing needs and how they have continued to evolve over the course of the pandemic. 

In the first year of the pandemic, our 2020 Insights to Impact Report identified the importance of clarity and flexibility. We saw employee well-being decline drastically as lockdowns changed how work looked for many people in our communities. Our homes became our workplaces, meetings became virtual, parents had to juggle work and their children, and dining tables and beds became desks. Amidst so much change, our data suggested that employees were crying out for more effective leadership communication, more connection to their now distant colleagues, and more flexibility to be able to juggle the changing demands of the new working world. 

In the second year of the pandemic, our 2021 Insights to Impact Report highlighted how employees’ primary well-being needs shifted from clarity and flexibility to more manageable workloads and appreciation. After months of recurring lockdowns, uncertainty, and staffing crises, employees began to feel the full brunt of the pandemic. Employee burnout reached record levels and staff were asked to do more with less. When we asked employees what they needed to feel healthier at work, they told us resoundingly that they needed respite and to feel like their efforts were valued in trying times. 
How have employee needs continued to evolve in the third year? Well, at the risk of spoiling what is about to come, we’ve seen our first glimmer of hope in our community data since the start of the pandemic. It is a tiny step, employee needs have continued to evolve, and there is still a lot of work to do to support employees in our communities, but this is the first sign of progress we’ve seen – signs that, finally, we might be building in the right direction. Let’s dig in. 

At YMCA WorkWell, we care about data.

Our Insights Assessment is a quick and validated pulse survey that allows leaders to gain valuable insights on employee well-being, culture, engagement, and performance. In that time, we’ve collected feedback from over 30,000 working adults and each set of results helps us identify an organization’s most pressing needs so that we can directly focus strategic action on the specific areas that will have the most meaningful impact on employee well-being. 
Since our inception in July 2020, we have delivered over 200 Insights Reports to a wide range of partners in our communities looking to support and improve employee well-being in their organization. 
However, our full mandate is to improve the state of workplace well-being in the communities we serve – and beyond. This means that every voice in our communities matters to us, not just those working for the organizations we partner with. 

As a way to capture these additional voices, we distribute our Insights Survey to members of our community annually to measure and report on workplace well-being more broadly in our communities.

We care about this community data for three main reasons:

1. It provides a voice for those that might not otherwise have one

We recognize that the organizations that choose to work with us are not the norm. We want to hear about the state of workplace well-being in industries, communities, and organizations that might not be prioritizing this work.

2. It can help inspire data-driven action in local organizations

We want to provide leaders with compelling data and trends that can highlight why taking action on employee well-being is so important and where they might want to start.

3. It can help inspire data-driven policy changes in our communities

We want to provide community leaders with compelling data that inspires policies that put employee well-being top of mind.

To collect data for this report, we distributed our survey to working adults in our communities in November 2022 through social media, YMCA newsletters, and our community partners. We received responses from over 1500 working adults, with responses coming from a wide range of backgrounds, industries, identities, ages, and socio-economic statuses. 

So, what have we heard so far? 

Employee Well-Being Through the Pandemic

Well-being at work has a long history.

Bernardini Ramazzini, an Italian physician, wrote about the emergence of occupational diseases as early as the 1600s. In 1810, during the Industrial Revolution, Robert Owen proposed an eight-hour workday to protect employee well-being. “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest”, he said - a pioneering proposal at a time when 12-16 hour days were commonplace. Even still, the eight-hour workday didn’t become standard for most Canadians until the 1960s, 150 years later, demonstrating the uphill battle that progress in employee well-being can be. 

Decades later, employee well-being remains a significant organizational challenge. In Deloitte’s 2020 Human Capital Trends Report, released just months before the start of the pandemic, 9,000 business and HR leaders across 119 countries ranked employee well-being as the most important priority for their organization’s success. Eighty percent of leaders saw employee well-being as an important priority, and yet, only 12% believed that they were ready to adequately address employee well-being in their organizations. 

If only they knew what was coming. 

The pandemic had a seismic and sustained impact on employee well-being in our communities. Our team at YMCA WorkWell have been asking working adults in our communities one simple question for years: “Thinking back on the last three months, how would you rate your overall well-being?” 
Just six months out from the start of the pandemic, the percentage of working adults in our communities reporting unhealthy scores had doubled and the percentage reporting healthy scores had been cut in half. Eighteen months out, the story remained the same.  

Let’s put those scores into context. 

In 2019, before COVID-19 hit, 1 in 4 working adults in our communities were reporting unhealthy well-being scores. If you were a leader of a 200-employee organization, that would represent 44 employees. Forty-four employees with teams, families, goals, responsibilities, and relationships. This is a stark reminder of why leaders saw well-being as such an important priority for their organizations, even before the pandemic. However, half of the respondents we surveyed in 2019 still reported healthy well-being scores; 1 in 2. This does not mean that they were not experiencing real stress and strain in their work, but the stress was not having a persistent detrimental effect on their well-being.

By 2021, 18 months into the pandemic, those numbers were flipped on their head. By clicking “2021” in Figure 2, you can see what a significant shift that was. In that same organization of 200 people, 44 unhealthy employees became 90 unhealthy employees, while 102 healthy employees became only 44. Almost a complete one-eighty. 

Looking back on it now, this will not surprise anyone. We all lived through that shift. If we didn’t experience that seismic shift from healthy to unhealthy ourselves, we know many people who did. So much changed in such a short period of time that these well-being challenges were bound to occur across our communities – if only we were ready.

What did surprise our team at YMCA WorkWell, however, was how these declines were sustained so markedly over such an extended period of time. Eighteen months into the pandemic, we hadn’t even started to see a glimmer of hope and employee well-being in our communities remained virtually unchanged from the early days of the pandemic. 

Until now. 

Finally, the First Glimmer of Hope

We have waited a long time to get to say this, but we have finally seen the first glimmer of hope that employee well-being might be slowly starting to turn back around in our communities. Figure 3 illustrates the start of this year’s story.

It is modest and just the first of many steps, but we have seen a statistically significant increase in the number of healthy working adults and a decrease in the number of unhealthy working adults for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

This data suggests that 1 in 3 employees in our communities are demonstrating healthy well-being scores. While this is a marked improvement from the almost 1 in 5 that we saw in Fall 2021, it’s still falling well short of the 1 in 2 that we saw in our communities pre-pandemic. That’s why it still feels like a
glimmer of hope. It’s a promising start, with a ways more to go. 

Perhaps the best illustration of how far we still have to go is a growing challenge we have started to see in our data: A marked polarization of employees into two conflicting camps.

A Tale of Two Camps

Qualitative data (i.e., employee written comments instead of scores) is an important part of our Employee Insights process at YMCA WorkWell. Collecting feedback from employees in their own words provides a richness to their experiences that you cannot capture in scores alone. 

Working with our partners throughout 2022, we collected feedback from thousands of employees and noticed a growing trend in employee comments that we wanted to explore further in this community survey. Specifically, we noticed a growing dichotomy between two camps: (1) one camp that felt ready to move on from the pandemic; they were feeling engaged, ready to look long-term, and ready to take on more to push their organization forward, and (2) one camp that felt burnt out from the pandemic; they were feeling depleted, hesitant to take on more, and focused more on recovery than growth. 

Naturally, we wanted to dig in. Normally, we care about nuance in our data, but this was one instance where we wanted to focus more on this specific dichotomy. We asked respondents: “If you have to put yourself in just one of the following groups, which one would it be? Tired and hesitant to take on more, or energized and looking to do more?” Figure 4 illustrates the results. 

Sixty-eight percent of respondents identified themselves as “
tired and hesitant to take on more”, and 32% identified as “energized and looking to do more”. What is particularly interesting is how this data maps onto the overall well-being data we presented in Figure 1; the percentage of energized respondents maps perfectly onto the percentage of healthy respondents, and the percentage of hesitant respondents maps onto the percentage of unhealthy and adequate respondents.

Importantly, what this suggests is that even respondents reporting “Adequate” well-being scores are still feeling tired and hesitant to take on more. In other words, even those that are now feeling “okay” still need some time to recover from the depletion of the last few years before they can feel ready to think long-term and dream big. 

How might this look from a leader’s perspective? Take another look at Figure 4. Imagine you’re a leader on stage at a townhall looking out onto those 200 employees sitting together. The tired and hesitant camp is still the dominant camp, but the energized camp also makes up a sizeable portion of your organization.


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The most significant challenge as a leader is that these two camps still need to work together to achieve organizational objectives, while carrying very different personal goals. Leaders need to support those that are still feeling exhausted in their recovery, while finding new ways to challenge and develop those ready to charge forward. This is where understanding your employees and creating personalized development plans can be so important to employee satisfaction and retention as we look to take the next step out of the pandemic. 

Moving forward, this is a challenge that requires some empathy from all parties. Empathy from the energized in understanding that the hesitant are still in recovery, and empathy from the hesitant in understanding that the energized are on the hunt for some renewed inspiration. If teams want to support employee well-being in the coming year, ensuring that both camps feel supported will be important.

Burnout: Is It Finally on the Decline?

Burnout has been one of the biggest buzzwords in the employee well-being space throughout the pandemic and for good reason. Burnout has been such a challenge during Covid-19 that its rapid rise has been called the Burnout Epidemic, and it was such a clear trend in our 2021 Insights to Impact Report data that it became the central theme of our 2022 Special Interest Report, highlighting how burnout was driving much of the Great Resignation.

This survey provided another opportunity to get a pulse on burnout in our communities

Figure 5 illustrates a second glimmer of hope: The percentage of respondents experiencing burnout “Often” or “Extremely Often” is now at its lowest point since Fall 2021, dropping 10 points from 43% in Spring 2022 to 33% in Fall 2022. Like overall well-being scores, this is the first time that we’ve seen a decline in burnout since the start of the pandemic. 

Naturally, we want to know why. One simple reason is that the pandemic has started to subside. Our communities have started to return to some semblance of “normal”, with the challenges of lockdowns, bubbles, and pandemic anxieties starting to lessen, which has lightened the mental load on our communities and our community organizations.

Another reason might be clearly linked to The Great Resignation – the very thing that burnout has contributed to. The Great Resignation was a significant macro-trend in the workforce in 2022, with employees leaving their jobs in record numbers. The warning signs were there to see in 2021 – in our 2021 Insights to Impact Report, the data suggested that a desire for healthier work was the primary reason that many employees were looking to leave their jobs. Six months later, the data from our 2022 Special Issue Report told a similar story: employees who were considering leaving their jobs experienced burnout twice as often and had cynicism scores nearly double those of employees that were happy with their current roles.

Now at the end of 2022, it is possible that community-level burnout has started to decline simply because many burnt out employees left their roles to start something new. New roles have long been a source of renewed energy and inspiration, but this effect might have been magnified further as a record number of employees were leaving jobs where exhaustion and cynicism had grown to unbearable levels.

6 illustrates these effects. Specifically, when we asked respondents to put themselves into the energized or hesitant camps, the differences by tenure were telling. Sixty-one percent of new employees who had started their role in the last six months felt energized compared to only 26% of employees who had been in their role since before the pandemic. More than double. New roles often bring new energy and considering the turnover we saw throughout our communities during The Great Resignation, this renewed inspiration and energy might be one of the drivers behind burnout scores declining. 


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It's important to stress, however, that we are not out of the woods yet. While burnout levels appear to be slowly declining, a significant percentage of employees continue to experience regular burnout in our communities.

To revisit this as your organization of 200 employees, 33% still represents 66 employees experiencing burnout “
Often” or “Extremely Often” - 1 in 3. Equally as worrying, only 58 employees would be reporting burnout “Rarely” or “Not At All”. 

This is the balancing act that this data represents. This does represent meaningful progress; as we compare these scores to Spring 2022 in Figure 7, we can see that we have taken a step in the right direction: the number of burnt out employees is declining and the number of healthy employees is increasing. But we need to acknowledge and call out the reality that 1 in 3 employees experiencing regular burnout in our communities means that we still have much work to do to support employee well-being.

So where do we start? What are employees asking for? Let’s break it down.

What Are Employees Asking For Today?

We highlighted in the introduction how employee well-being needs in our communities have evolved throughout the last three years of the pandemic. This year is no different and there is a new contender in this year’s needs hierarchy.

Figure 8 illustrates the top three needs identified by respondents this year and how they stack up compared to the top three needs identified in 2021 and 2020. 

Cost of Living Adjustments

Responding to the question “What do you feel you need more of to feel like you are able to be at your best at work?”, respondents not only identified cost of living adjustments as the top need for the first time, but it was also the first time it made the top three.

Pay has always been a notable concern across many industries – this is not new. What is new, however, is how widespread these challenges now are. A higher rate of pay emerged as the top need in nearly every industry we surveyed – even in industries like finance, insurance, and technology, where salaries tend to be well above community averages. In fact, government, public administration, and real estate were the only industries where other needs took top billing. 

The reason behind this need will be no surprise to Canadian families: The Consumer Price Index rose 6.8% during 2022, and its emergence is particularly understandable when you compare inflation over the course of the pandemic. For example, in July 2020, the inflation rate in Canada was sitting steady at 0.1%, but by June 2022, it had jumped substantially to 8.1%. The cost of every-day staples like food (+8.9%), shelter (+6.9%) and transportation (+10.6%) rose markedly during 2022 and wages rarely kept pace with this level of inflation.

The implications of this inflation has been significant. The latest MNP Consumer Debt Index reported that 52% of Canadians are less than $200 away from not being able to meet all of their monthly financial obligations and 35% already don't make enough to cover their bills and debt payments - the highest number ever recorded by MNP. 

In the face of these challenges, many employees were simply asking for their salaries to be kept in line with inflation to be able to maintain their spending power – nothing more.

It’s important to acknowledge, however, that this is no small feat for many organizations. For medium to large-sized organizations, a 6.8% cost of living adjustment across the board can represent tens of millions of dollars – these sums are particularly prohibitive for many industries such as not-for-profits and health care, and this is the bind that many leaders currently find themselves in.

While there is no simple solution to this challenge, leaders do need to be acutely aware of these needs and how they are impacting their organizations. For example, respondents who identified pay as a clear need were more than twice as likely to be considering leaving their job in the next six months (Figure 9), and their average employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) was -35, significantly lower than the score of -3 of respondents who did not identify pay as a clear need.

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It is worth noting that the cost of turnover can also be debilitating for an organization. When you account for the substantial investment of time and energy that is required to replace a staff member, along with the often higher wages required to attract new employees in a competitive job market, replacing just one employee can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Crucially, this amount can often run far more than the cost of a 6.8% salary adjustment for a critical employee.

Overall, it is unfortunate that organizations and their employees have been at the mercy of macro-economic trends that are largely outside of their control, and we know how many leaders in our communities are struggling with these challenges – wishing that paying their employees more was easier than it is.

While many may unfortunately feel like their hands are tied on these issues, it’s important for leaders to be aware that the rising cost of living continues to be a significant concern for employees. If employees’ income and spending power does not keep up with inflation, they are at a higher risk of leaving – and, importantly, this is particularly true for their top talent that is most likely to have external opportunities.

Workload and Work-Life Balance

While pay was a new contender on the list this year, workload and work-life balance continue to be mainstays. Both our 2021 Insights to Action Report and our 2022 Special Issue Report focused extensively on workload and balance, but our data suggests that they remain significant challenges to employee well-being.

Figure 10 highlights just how pervasive workload challenges continue to be today: 

Thirty-three percent of respondents identified a need for a more manageable workload to feel like they are able to be at their best at work, basically unchanged from our Fall 2021 results. This number rose drastically, however, for some critical groups. For example, workload was identified as a key challenge by 44% of respondents in education, 47% of respondents in health care, 48% of respondents looking to leave their job, and 63% of respondents experiencing persistent burnout.

This is the upstream issue that is at the core of burnout. Three years into the pandemic and on the heels of The Great Resignation, many employees are still being asked to do more with less and Figure 11 demonstrates how it is having an ongoing impact on well-being in our communities, with those respondents identifying that they are struggling to manage their workload reporting significantly lower scores on both mental health and overall well-being.

We have said it before, but we will say it again: If leaders want to address workload challenges, they need to
address workload. Too often we see organizations focus on providing downstream solutions to help employees manage their workload instead of addressing the workload itself. Lunchtime yoga, meditation app subscriptions and mental health webinars are short-term band-aid solutions to substantial challenges – and we say this as a team that offers employee mental health webinars.

Effectively tackling workload long-term can only be done in one of two ways: Adding resources or reducing demands. Adding resources is often the first thing that leaders consider – by adding new staff, existing demands can be spread across a larger number of employees. However, in a competitive job market, many leaders are struggling to add staff at a rate that outpaces turnover. This has led many teams to feel perennially understaffed and struggling to meet the demands placed on them by their leaders.

Reducing demands is the second, often less considered, option. This can take on many forms such as lightening caseloads and taking on less client engagements. Leaders often shy away from this approach, as it leaves revenue and impact on the table. Another option is streamlining processes and hitting pause on demands that do not add immediate value to an organization’s objectives. By adding more efficiency to bloated processes, organizations can strip away demands that take employees away from their most important work.

Whatever approach is most appropriate in a given organization, our data suggests that workload continues to plague many employees and these challenges will not be addressed in a meaningful way without upstream solutions. That’s where we can help. 

How We Can Help

People data is a critical tool to educate and inspire leaders to act towards positive change. Our free workplace well-being reports are just the beginning.

We use this community data to track historical trends and provide strategic foresight into the challenges and needs leaders will face in the future.

If your organization is facing some of the challenges reflected in this report, you're not alone, and we can help.

We love community data because it provides insights across a wide range of organizations, industries, and demographics – but your own organization is unique, with its own strengths, challenges, and opportunities. Using this data to inform your employee well-being strategies is a great place to start, but the best way to understand the needs of your unique employees is to ask them. Our YMCA WorkWell Insights Assessment takes employees less than five minutes to complete and provides valuable metrics on Well-Being, Culture, Engagement, Performance, and employee Net Promoter Score. Our burnout add-on also provides a detailed assessment of burnout in your organization along with its root causes. 

Our reports are designed to help leaders clearly identify the most pressing employee needs in their organization and the teams that require the most urgent support. Every report includes tailored consultations with our team, along with targeted recommendations. If you are concerned about well-being in your organization, collecting strong employee insights is a critical place to start.

Unmanageable workloads have been a key theme in our last three community reports. To respond to these needs, addressing workload has been a significant focus in the services we’ve offered over the last year. 

First, for leaders who are unsure of where to start, we offer our Tackling the Workload Challenge workshop. This workshop is designed to dig into workload in your organization, identify the opportunities and constraints around addressing it, and explore key strategies for making workload more manageable for your teams. In a similar vein, we also offer our Dousing the Flames: Preventing and Addressing Burnout workshop, where we discuss the root causes of burnout, how to address it once it emerges, and – most importantly – how to prevent it in your organization in the first place.

For leaders who are already acutely aware of workload challenges in their organization, we offer tailored projects to support cross-functional teams in developing actionable recommendations. We work with your teams to identify the most significant sources of workload and stress to identify the clearest upstream solutions to help your teams identify the most efficient and effective processes. These recommendations are developed through a focused data collection on workload concerns and root cause analysis to help your team build their capacity to tackle complex problems like this in the process.  

Leaders want to be creative, resourceful, resilient, and committed - some just need a guiding hand to help them be their best. Coaching is a powerful tool to expand your awareness, harness your own strengths, and set yourself on the path towards achieving your personal mission.

Rooted in evidence-based approach to coaching and workplace well-being, our coaches support you through action-oriented conversations to unlock your potential to be well yourself and to foster healthy, thriving teams that excel.

We provide services in three main areas:

Leadership Development Coaching: Helping you grow your leadership capabilities, gain insight into your leadership superpowers, and understand what gets in your way and how to overcome your biggest barriers.

Team Coaching: Accelerating team cohesion, enhancing team impact and performance, setting clear goals, and helping teams identify their biggest roadblocks and how to get unstuck.

Advisory Services: Add a workplace well-being expert to your bench. We offer a variety of advisory packages to provide guidance and insight to support executive strategy and decision-making.

If you would like to learn more about these services or how we help in general, please contact us any time. We’re ready when you are to help you start improving employee well-being in your organization. 

Where We Go From Here

For the first time in a long time, there is a glimmer of hope in what we are hearing from working adults in our communities. While we still have a long way to go to return to pre-pandemic levels of employee well-being, we’re seeing meaningful improvements in this data and that deserves to be appreciated and celebrated.

This type of change only happens at the community level because people are trying – leaders have started to take employee well-being more seriously, employees have rightfully been calling out for more support, and in many cases, they have seen some improvements in their work experiences – even if the changes have been incremental to start.

Our WorkWell challenge to our communities, however, is to not rest on our laurels. Hope is a beautiful thing, but it can be a dangerous thing as well. To revisit the quote that opened this report: 

"Hope is fragile and needs to be tended and renewed.” 

For the first time in a long time, it feels like the employee well-being space has momentum. While it is unfortunate that it took a pandemic to get us here, it feels as though many leaders are starting to understand the importance of happy and healthy employees and teams. But it’s important that we don’t let this hope hold back our progress. 

As things start to return to “normal”, it might be compelling to take our foot off the gas and divert attention elsewhere, but employee well-being is still well short of where we were before the pandemic hit – a time when employee well-being already felt under pressure.

So, let’s keep pushing on. Let’s keep appreciating that healthy workplaces should be a right for all employees, not a privilege. And if we do that, when we collect our next round of community data this glimmer of hope will have taken another big step towards the healthy workplaces we all deserve. 

We're Here for Good

For more than 150 years, the YMCA has been devoted to building healthy and connected communities across our Three Rivers communities (Guelph, Stratford-Perth, and Waterloo Region). As a charitable organization, our aim is to create a positive and lasting impact on the communities we serve.

Throughout our history, we’ve worked to ensure that our programming and services meet our communities where they’re at. Now, more than ever, your community, your Y, needs you. Without you, there is no Y.

This data underscores why we’re here. This is our commitment: To be here for good. To build stronger, more vibrant, healthier communities – one connection at a time. But, we can only do it with your support.We need you to keep showing up with us. To continue meeting our communities’ needs. To continue building safe, welcoming spaces to learn, grow, thrive, and connect. Not just today. But every day.

Think of all the good we’ve done. Now, imagine all the good we can do, together. Learn more about how to support our YMCA.

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