Hopes and Fears 2023—Canadian insights

How engaging your people in the future of work, adopting a skills-based workforce strategy and embracing transformative leadership can help you reinvent your business for uncertain times

At a glance

  • Both Canadian employees and their employers are struggling with accelerated change and disruptive forces that are creating high levels of uncertainty about the future.

  • As leaders look to stay ahead of emerging trends like generative artificial intelligence, they need a workforce that’s ready to support their plans to reinvent the business.

  • Now is the time to help employees prepare for the future of work, adopt new approaches to acquiring key skills and invest in developing leaders who can foster change and innovation.

As the world undergoes high levels of change, uncertainty and disruption, Canadian workers are feeling the pressure on many fronts. They’re struggling financially, are having troubling managing heavy workloads and are unsure about the skills they need for a changing world. Many of these issues have been ongoing for some time, but an additional force of disruption emerged this year with the very rapid rise of generative artificial intelligence.

These are among the many issues we probed in our annual Hopes and Fears survey, which took the pulse of 2,000 workers in Canada as well as almost 54,000 employees globally on the evolving future of work. The findings highlight important issues for Canadian organizations’ workforce strategies. With organizations themselves facing similar uncertainty, challenges around labour and talent and pressures to enhance productivity and outcomes in the face of a new wave of digital disruption, they need the full support and energy of a workforce that’s ready for change and is equipped with the skills of the future.

There’s significant urgency for leaders to act given the questions many executives have around the future. According to our 26th Global CEO Survey, almost 40% of top executives believe their organizations may not exist in 10 years. Reinventing the business will be critical to remaining viable in the long term, but you can’t transform for the future without figuring out how your people fit into your reinvention plans. Read on to learn more about how your people are feeling today and what you can do to help them prepare for what’s coming tomorrow.

This year’s key findings

Explore the most notable findings from this year’s survey by clicking the arrow at the right.

Talent is restless: 23% of Canadian employees say they’re very or extremely likely to change employers in the next 12 months, up from 16% last year. Even so, job satisfaction was up slightly, with 72% saying they’re very or moderately satisfied, compared to 69% last year.

Financial and workload stresses rising: 42% of Canadian employees say that while their household can pay its bills, they have nothing left over for savings. Another 14% say their household struggles to pay its bills. Work pressures are also acute, with just 22% saying their workload was often or usually manageable in the last 12 months.

Need for reskilling underestimated: At a time when technologies like AI will shift the capabilities needed to remain relevant in the workforce, only about a quarter (27%) of Canadian employees strongly or moderately agree that the skills required for their jobs will change significantly over the next five years. A closer look at the data reveals an even deeper issue related to equity between workers with and without specialized skills. According to our survey, workers whose jobs don’t require specialized training appear the least likely to see change coming, which could limit their future employment prospects and negatively impact workplace productivity and innovation.

Awareness of AI impacts low: Many workers also appear to be underestimating the implications of AI for their roles, with Canadian employees (31%) more likely than global respondents (22%) to say it won’t impact their job at all. This is yet more evidence that Canadian workers have yet to acknowledge the level of disruption that’s underway.

Trust in leadership lacking: We surveyed employees about key aspects of building a reinvention-ready workplace culture, including whether their leaders empower their people to try new ideas without fear of failure. Just 44% say their manager usually or often tolerates small-scale failures. We also found gaps in employee trust in their leaders. For example, only half (54%) of Canadian employees say their manager acts with honesty and integrity in interactions with the team.

Building a reinvention-ready workforce

Of significant concern in this year’s findings are some of the gaps in perceptions we’ve seen between employers and employees that suggest many workers aren’t yet ready for the widespread changes their leaders believe are coming. While our survey found only about a quarter of Canadian employees believe skill requirements for their jobs will change significantly in the coming years, other studies have shown that employers are keenly aware of the disruption of work and skills. According to a report from the World Economic Forum, for example, employers estimate that 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted in the next five years.[1]

And while our Hopes and Fears study found 22% of Canadian employees believe their organizations may not be in business in 10 years, this was significantly lower than the 40% of top executives who said so in our Global CEO Survey.

These incongruencies are important because, if organizations are going to be making major changes to their business models to remain relevant well beyond 10 years, key elements of their workforce strategies—including the mix of skills they require—will need to evolve as well. So where should employers start? While there are many aspects of building a reinvention-ready workforce, our survey highlights three key areas of focus for Canadian organizations:

1. Understanding the wide-ranging impacts of generative AI

While many Canadian organizations are still assessing the opportunities technologies like generative AI will create and what they’ll mean for their businesses, it’s clear there will be significant impacts on their people and the future of work. Generative AI will benefit many employees, for example, by freeing up their time and capacity to focus on higher-value tasks, while others will see their jobs displaced by the acceleration of digital disruption.

But as our survey showed, many Canadian respondents appear unaware of the scale of the change that’s coming. Less than half, for example, have a good sense of how the skills their jobs require will change in the next few years. And as the chart below shows, many employees are still coming to terms with how AI will impact their jobs.

Question: What impact, if any, do you expect AI to have on your career in the next five years?
AI will replace my role
AI will require me to learn new skills that I’m not confident I have the capacity to learn
AI will change the nature of my work in a negative way
AI will help me increase my productivity or efficiency at work
AI will create opportunities for me to learn valuable new skills
AI will create new job opportunities for me
AI will impact my job in other ways not listed
I don't think AI will impact my job
Don’t know

Note: Figures add up to more than 100% as survey participants could select more than one response.

The responses suggest Canadian employees aren’t overly pessimistic about AI’s impacts, but they also may be underestimating the implications for themselves and their role in the future of work. This presents challenges for both employees and the organizations they work for. On the one hand, employees have a responsibility to be curious about AI, understand both the positive and negative impacts on their roles, jobs and careers, embrace opportunities to use it and make sure they have the skills necessary to grow and contribute to the workforce.

At the same time, as human skills become increasingly important in successfully adopting AI, employers also play a significant role in supporting employees through this period of accelerated technological change. To help employees understand and prepare for what’s coming, employers first need to invest the time and resources in assessing which AI use cases deliver the most attractive opportunities and how adoption will affect the mix of roles and skills they need. Once they’ve completed that assessment, leaders need to do their part by engaging with their people in conversations about AI, instilling a growth mindset around it and creating excitement about how employees can support their vision for the future of the organization.

Planning for the broader impacts on workforce strategies

Employers will also need to account for the broader and more profound impacts of AI on their workforce strategies. For example, in cases where generative AI takes on only certain tasks or aspects of an employee’s role, organizations need to plan for the other productive activities they’ll want their people to focus on during the time that technology has freed up.

Generative AI also has major implications for training, education, apprenticeship and development. As technology gradually takes over knowledge-based tasks traditionally handled by junior-level employees, organizations will need to think about how they train and develop the skills of new workers who typically learn many of the fundamentals of their roles on the job. 

While there will still be an important place for employees to review the outputs produced by generative AI tools, they need to understand those fundamentals to perform that quality assurance function effectively. Finding new ways to equip employees with those baseline skills and capabilities will be key.

2. Adopting a skills-based approach to workforce strategies

Helping employees understand changing skills requirements and creating opportunities for them to develop those capabilities isn’t just in workers’ interest but also benefits employers. As our survey showed, talent pressures that became particularly apparent at the height of the Great Resignation continue to reverberate, with 23% of Canadian employees saying they plan to change employers this year. And business leaders remain concerned: according to our CEO Survey, 62% of Canadian respondents believe shortages of labour and skills will have a significant impact on profitability in the next 10 years.

While upskilling employees will be important to address these talent pressures, the good news is our Hopes and Fears Survey also revealed opportunities for some employers to discover and harness key skills they already have in their workforce. Among Canadian workers, 42% said their employers focus too much on their job histories and not enough on their skills. And as the chart below reveals, more than half of Canadian employees said they have skills that aren’t clear from their qualifications, work history or job.

Question: Based on your experience, to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? I have skills that are not clear from my qualifications, work history or job.
Strongly disagree
Moderately disagree
Slightly disagree
Neither agree nor disagree
Slightly agree
Moderately agree
Strongly agree
Don’t know

Findings like these highlight the importance of shifting away from a focus on roles and jobs to take a skills-based approach to career paths and workforce strategies. Moving beyond a traditional qualifications-led approach by, for example, relaxing degree requirements and recognizing micro-credentials and online learning has many benefits. Companies can make better use of their existing talent, while workers benefit from new opportunities to contribute their skills to support emerging priorities like generative AI.

Spotlight: How can technology help you spot talent that’s hiding in plain sight?

While technology is one of the key forces requiring employers to reassess their workforce strategies, it can also be a powerful tool in helping them meet their skills and talent needs. A number of organizations are using AI-enabled solutions to help both employers and employees understand the skills they have now and those they need in the future.

One example of these solutions is Talent Builder, which combines labour market information with a company’s data to identify which capabilities an organization requires, the gaps they need to fill and how they can develop or acquire key skills. It helps employers improve workforce planning and uncover opportunities to tap existing talent pools and create learning plans for employees looking to adapt their skills to their organization’s changing needs.

3. Embracing transformative leadership as a catalyst for change

In our research on workforce trends in recent years, the importance of workplace culture as a key enabler of change, innovation and achieving strategic business outcomes has become increasingly clear. A company’s employees are its best source of energy, insights and innovation, but for them to do their part in supporting change and transformation, they need to feel empowered to bring their ideas forward. And that requires a workplace culture that allows for dissent and debate and in which people feel comfortable and confident speaking up to their managers and taking small-scale risks.

What can Canadian organizations do to instill these cultural attributes? A good place to start is with their leaders, who play a critical role in setting the tone for ideas and innovation to flourish. As part of our survey, we asked Canadian workers for their thoughts on leaders, particularly when it comes to their impacts on key aspects of workplace culture:


say their manager usually or often tolerates small-scale failures


say their manager usually or often encourages dissent and debate

The findings suggest a majority of workers don’t feel safe experimenting, debating ideas or disagreeing with the status quo. This is why organizations need to invest in developing leaders with the right leadership styles to guide their teams through change and transformation, connect more deeply with their people and provide them with meaning and purpose. And that investment in transformative leadership should encompass leaders throughout the organization, including middle management, given that many managers find themselves promoted based on their technical competency rather than their ability to inspire their people and foster innovation.

Many of the cultural attributes we explored in our survey also relate to employees’ trust in their organizations and their leaders. Bringing innovative ideas forward and trying them out requires employees to believe that they can do so without negative consequences. Trust also involves fundamental questions of fairness and transparency, and on these issues, our survey also found some issues for Canadian organizations and their leaders to address:


of Canadian employees strongly or moderately agree that their manager acts with honesty and integrity in interactions with the team


strongly or moderately agree that their manager is open and transparent about the decisions they make


strongly or moderately agree that their manager treats them and their coworkers fairly and equitably

Engaging the workforce in reinventing the business

These issues related to trust, fairness and transparency are also important because they’re key to building a workforce that’s ready to embrace the reinvention their leaders are planning. We saw proof of this in our survey, which found strong associations between greater employee trust in their leaders and a positive outlook and higher engagement by workers. Those who trust their managers, for example, are more likely to view the impacts of AI on their careers more positively, be satisfied with their jobs and report greater clarity on how the skills their role requires will change.

These are all desirable workforce characteristics employers will need to encourage as they look to reinforce the long-term resilience of their business. At a time when Canadian workers are feeling stressed by financial and workload pressures and almost a quarter of them are looking to change employers, organizations need to invest in understanding and addressing their employees’ views, needs and concerns so they not only attract and retain key people but also harness their full range of skills, energy and attention to help the business thrive. By showing their commitment to helping employees prepare for what’s next and creating the right conditions for them to influence and contribute to the future of the business, organizations can start to make both themselves and their people ready for reinvention.

1. The Future of Jobs Report 2023, World Economic Forum, https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2023.pdf

Contact us

Jean McClellan

Jean McClellan

National Workforce Platform and Consulting Strategy Leader, PwC Canada

Tel: (403) 629 8330

Kathy Parker

Kathy Parker

Partner, National Workforce of the Future Consulting Leader, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 416 419 9731

Carolyn Rush

Carolyn Rush

Partner, Consulting, Workforce of the Future, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 604 806 7162

Harriet Cole

Harriet Cole

Director, Workforce Transformed, Transformative Leadership, PwC Canada