Searching for a work-life balance

On a typical weekday, working Canadians spend 10 and a half hours doing their job or commuting to work.

They also spend four hours doing housework and caring for children and other dependents, according to the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute in Ottawa.

Fold in hours of sleep, and there’s not much time left for personal pursuits.

Report feeling stress
Almost half of Canadians report a moderate to high level of stress as a result of trying to balance their work and home lives, says the Conference Board of Canada in a survey of Canadian workers  about balance work and life.

The causes of stress:

  • Home duties
  • More responsibility
  • Pressure at work

These all contribute to an overwhelming feeling of being busier than ever.

Instead of freeing up our time, technology has simple compressed our work. So there’s now more time to do other work.

Companies’ role
It’s no surprise that many baby boomers (and others) are looking for ways to embrace the spiritual and personal sides of their lives more often. Former Royal Bank chairman John Cleghorn is onexample. Along with other business and political leaders, he took early retirement “for a chance to work on my other side” he said in a newspaper interview.

At the same time, an increasing number of companies are also focusing on work-life balance. About 17.5 per cent of (414 medium to large sized) companies surveyed in the cross-country  survey reported offering a comprehensive workplace wellness program.

Another 64 per cent offered some kind of wellness activity such as smoking cessation, stress management and ergonomic clinics.

Next page: What is balance?

What is balance?
But what exactly is work-life balance?

The workplace has to be a flexible and supportive environment. That means offering programs and resources designed to promote good health and help employees balance the different aspects of their lives.

Research shows there are real returns on investment, says Ed Buffett, chairman and CEO of Buffett Taylor & Associates Ltd., a provider of employee benefits and workplace wellness programs in Canada.

The theory is healthy, happy employees cost less in employee benefits and absenteeism. They’re more productive.

“There’s also better employee retention and that’s key in today’s knowledge based economy,” says Buffett.

When an employee with a broad skill-set walks out the door for illness, or stress, or morale issues within an organization, there is a significant cost to the company, he says.

Wide ranging programs
Comprehensive work-life balance programs spotlight stress and stress management, as well as lifestyle behaviors such as exercise, diet, tobacco and substance and alcohol abuse.

They offer employees flexibility in hours of work, leaves of absence and childcare

There is also a sense of understanding, compassion and sensitivity at every management level of the organization. Buffett says at the heart of any successful program, there must be buy-in at the boardroom level. That buy-in is reflected in behavior and attitude within the company.

“It’s a top-down initiative and must involve all of the stakeholder groups. For example, you can’t have a wellness program and then expect employees to work 65 and 70 hours a week all the time.

Small business policy
Small business is supporting work-life balance too. But it isn’t a policy as much as a posture and attitude especially on the part of the owner/manager, says Kerry Daly, a sociologist and professor of family studies at the University of Guelph.

He headed up a study of family-friendly practices in over 300 small businesses in Canada and found that the informal flexible work arrangements required an atmosphere of trust, communication and teamwork.

Next page: Change takes time

Change takes time
If there’s a downside to work-life balance programs, it’s the lagtime.

It takes about a year before behavioral changes are seen, says Buffett. And it takes three to five years before a company begins to experience economic benefits associated with healthier lifestyles.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle of all is the overall shift in attitude that is required. Accepting that an employer has a role to play in health and lifestyle counseling, says Dr. Don Morrow, professor of health sciences at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

“It’s a touchy area for everyone,” says Morrow. “What do you owe your employer and what does
the employer have the right to suggest?”

Work-Life balance website resources: