Eight days a week: Labor shortage and overworked small business owners

4 min read

Amanda Mayhew often finds herself checking work emails between sets at the gym or while cooking dinner and she’s on her phone from 6:30 in the morning until 9 at night.

She’s the general manager at Stallion Movers, a small moving company in Kitchener, and although she runs the office, she frequently pitches in by going out on jobs too.

According to a new report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the average small business owner is working what amounts to an eight-day workweek. And more than a third of that time is spent making up for staffing challenges, rather than working on business planning and development.

Mayhew can relate. “That eight-day workweek seems pretty accurate,” she told the Star on Monday.

Stallion has struggled to hire qualified drivers and that means that instead of expanding, the company has dropped from two moving trucks to just one. (Mayhew says new insurance rules introduced last year mean Stallion has to employ drivers with several years of commercial driving experience or see their annual premiums per truck more than double to about $25,000.)

“You’re never shutting your brain off. I’m always thinking about Stallion and what’s going on,” Mayhew said, adding that if he had more time, he’d be able to focus on growing the business. “We’d be getting bigger, not smaller. … Lately, it’s just keeping things afloat.”

The CFIB report, which used data from a September, 2022 survey of almost 3,500 businesses, found that 59 per cent of Canadian small and medium sized businesses were affected by labor shortages. In Ontario, 57 per cent of companies surveyed said the struggle to hire workers was having an impact on their businesses.

To deal with this challenge, 73 per cent of owners worked longer hours while 54 per cent of employees (such as Mayhew, who works closely with Stallion’s owner) did the same.

The national average number of hours worked a week by business owners was 54. Assuming a seven-hour workday, this amounts to working almost eight days a week.

“They are diverted from developing and implementing strategies to improve, grow and increase their business,” said Laure-Anna Bomal, CFIB economist and co-author of the report. “This can affect their mental health and well-being as well.”

The CFIB put forth several proposals to address the underlying causes of staffing shortages. Bomal said this could include simplifying the immigration process and offering tax credits or incentives to help business owners hire younger and older workers as well as invest in training and productivity improvements.

The CFIB has also been called for a more general reduction in red tape to give business owners more time to focus on actual work.

“The challenges caused by the labor shortage are gigantic for small businesses,” said Priya Pandey, executive director of the SME Institute at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Pandey argues that businesses need to get more creative about not just hiring but retaining and training existing workers.

Some strategies to improve retention, he said, could include a focus on pay equity, work-life balance and flexibility, and provide opportunities for employees to take on leadership roles.

At Stallion Movers, Mayhew said he’d like to see more encouragement for young people to go into the trades. (Ontario has recently announced a number of initiatives to boost the number of apprenticeships for skilled trades as the province faces the challenge of filling 72,000 positions over the next five years).

Mayhew has also tried a number of tactics to improve retention, including pay raises for longer term employees, paid lunches and taking a lenient approach to workers who need time off.

“We’d love to be able to pay more but then we’d have to charge customers more too,” she said, adding that the company often loses potential customers to other, larger moving companies over a price difference of about $100.


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