Company-wide Fridays off no longer affordable for some oil and gas firms

CALGARY – Getting paid time off is a great perk. Getting one or two paid Fridays off every month of the year is a Calgary oilpatch-style perk.

Or at least it used to be.

As oil prices plunged over the past two years, so too have the storied perks, including the much-envied “Golden Fridays” that some large oil and gas companies offered their office workers to ensure a healthy work-life balance.

In October, oilsands giant Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE) announced employees would no longer automatically receive the first and third Fridays of each month off.

Instead, they are now encouraged to take earned Fridays off in July and August, when the industry typically slows down, and around long weekends throughout the year. Cenovus also plans to close its offices for about five days over Christmas to give employees a break, said spokesman Reg Curren.

Louise Wilson, human capital partner for consultancy firm Deloitte, says the energy and resources companies she works with in Calgary are eliminating everything from stock options to free high-end snacks and cappuccino. The popular once-a-week catered office breakfast buffet is becoming a thing of the past, too.

Paid time off is being reduced or eliminated “almost across the board,” she said.

“Some have reduced (Golden Fridays), so maybe they were twice a month and now they’re once a month,” said Wilson. “Some organizations have stopped allowing employees to bank them if they don’t use them.”

In theory, the employees work an extra half-hour each day to make up for the Fridays off, she said, but the reality is that they became part of an “entitlement mentality” that is not affordable in a new world of low prices and cost-cutting.

Dr. Robbie Babins-Wagner, CEO of the non-profit Calgary Counselling Centre, says she’s seeing an increase in the level of distress exhibited by her ex-oil worker patients, linking it to a “second wave” of anxiety as workers who were laid off in the past 18 months approach the end of their severance money without finding a comparable job.

“I think that’s probably the biggest shock for people — there are jobs but they may not pay as well as the oilpatch did,” she said. “Work conditions may be different. This is a huge reset.”

She said losing benefits can be upsetting even if the perks were far above what most non-oilpatch employees would expect.

On the other hand, she said, keeping your job is important, too. People want to work.

Today’s Cenovus office workers, for example, may have lost their Golden Fridays but they still have their jobs, unlike about 1,600 employees the company has let go since the end of 2014.


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