Most Canadian workers are stressed about their pay, study suggests

Despite record job creation and low unemployment, 83 per cent of Canadian workers polled for a recent survey said they experience stress related to pay and money problems.

The majority said their employers aren't transparent enough about how staff are compensated

Less than two-thirds of female respondents said they feel they're paid as much as men for doing the same work. (Mind and I/Shutterstock)

Despite record job creation and low unemployment in recent months, 83 per cent of Canadian workers polled for a recent survey said they regularly experience stress related to pay and money problems.

In an online survey conducted in March by Hanover Research, 909 Canadians and 982 Americans were asked questions about their pay experience.

The research was commissioned by Ceridian, a company that produces human-resources software.

Lisa Sterling, Ceridian's head of human resources for the U.S. and Canada, said the high degree of financial stress among workers is alarming.

"If people are still feeling this level of stress, it means that we haven't moved the needle enough."

Only 28 per cent of Canadian respondents said they were "completely satisfied" with how transparent their employer is about how staff are compensated.

Lisa Sterling, chief people and culture officer for software company Ceridian, the company that commissioned the survey, said companies need to see their employees not as a cost on their balance sheet, but as one of their most significant assets. (Ceridian)

Ceridian undertook the survey after finding through earlier research that pay is a key factor in how engaged employees feel at work, said Sterling, who is based in Minneapolis.

Employees become disengaged "when they believe they're being paid unfairly, that there's bias in their compensation, or that they're not being paid competitively," Sterling said. 

That disengagement is bad news for business, because it affects "discretionary effort" — defined as effort that's above and beyond the minimum required.

'Employers hire very differently now'

On the other hand, workers who feel they're paid fairly are also more likely to report finding their work meaningful, and to feel they're making a significant contribution to the organization, Sterling said.

They're also "more likely to build strong, healthy relationships with their peers and colleagues," which makes them more motivated employees, she said.

But Eddy Ng, a professor of economics and business at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said a shortage of "quality employment" — permanent, full-time jobs — caused by "a structural shift in the economy" is stressing out employees who worry they'll lose the precarious jobs they do have.

Eddy Ng, an economics and business professor at Dalhousie University's Rowe School of Business in Halifax, says the high level of stress isn't surprising, given the shift toward more precarious employment. (Dalhousie University)

Although Canada's economy has been creating record job growth, those are "not the quality jobs that we have been accustomed to over the last two to three decades," said Ng.

"Businesses are booming and employers are hiring, but they hire very differently now."

Of course, a company's ability to raise wages varies widely based on the industry and region of the country, said economist Tony Bonen, director of research for the Labour Market Information Council in Ottawa.

Not everyone works for a big, profitable organization. In fact, 40 per cent of Canadians work for small firms that employ fewer than 100 people, he said, and they often pay less.

Still, he said the slow wage growth in Canada is "a little unusual" in light of the low unemployment rate.

"Typically, [the low unemployment rate] indicates a very tight labour market, meaning there's a shortage of workers, or shortage of specific skills, and prices — in this case, wages — should respond to that and increase."

There is some good news, though, Bonen said.

After hovering around the rate of inflation all through a winter of low unemployment rates and stellar job creation, the most recent wage data shows an increase of 2.8 per cent, said Bonen.

"That's a bit faster than inflation, but still not quite as high as we would expect, given how low unemployment is."

Economists expect to see wage growth between three and four per cent in a tight labour market where inflation is running around two per cent. At that point, workers can begin to reap the benefits of economic growth.

Women more likely to report poor pay

The survey also found that wage satisfaction is lower for women. Less than two-thirds of female respondents said they feel they're paid as much as men for doing the same work.

Additionally, of those survey respondents who said they were not satisfied with their jobs, 56 per cent of women said the reason was pay, compared to 42 per cent of men.

Jennifer Hargreaves, founder of Tellent, an organization that helps women find flexible work, attributes this in part to the "motherhood penalty": the demands of family that often compel women to prioritize "flexibility over compensation and career progression."

I'm disheartened and somewhat frustrated that we're still having to have this conversation about inequality in compensation between genders.- Lisa Sterling, head of human resources, Ceridian


"Women are taking lower-value, lower-paid jobs where their skills are often under-utilized, and that's what causes financial stress," Hargreaves said.

Sterling said there's still a lot of room to improve pay equity.

"Quite frankly, I'm disheartened and somewhat frustrated that we're still having to have this conversation about inequality in compensation between genders," said Sterling, who has three daughters.

"I want them to go into the workforce and not have to worry if they're being paid competitively and equitably for the work that they're doing."

One reason for the slow wage growth is how companies perceive their employees, said Sterling.

"The majority still look at people as a cost, when they should be looking at people as an investment and one of their most significant assets in the company."