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Editorials Companies need to do more to balance employees’ work-life obligations

Canadian workers are more overworked than ever, a new survey says.

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While leading-edge, successful companies in the United States are offering their workers napping pods, housecleaning and life philosophy courses, a new survey of 25,000 full-time Canadian workers toiling mostly in the knowledge sector reveals that many employers here are moving in the other direction and making it harder for their staff to balance life and work. The survey by two business school professors makes it amply clear that Canadians are working more hours and are more stressed by the competing demands of employment and family than ever. This is not a good sign for our economy.

The study collected data for a year from people across the country, with two-thirds of them making $60,000 annually and 38 per cent of them in possession of a university degree. Similar surveys were carried out in 1991 and 2001, providing comparative data. The results are slightly skewed by the surprising fact that 54 per cent of the respondents were public servants and 34 per cent worked in the non-profit sector, while only 10 per cent were in the private sector. This is not a mirror image of Canada's work force, but the findings nonetheless reflect a growing trend of poor life-work balance that is having serious consequences.

More Canadians are working more hours than ever, with two-thirds putting in at least 45 hours per week. One third of employees feel they have more work than time permits, and half of them take it home with them in the evening and on weekends. Most people surveyed said they were more likely to cut back on family time than on work in their efforts to get everything done. The dual demands of family and office are causing employees to sacrifice sleep and health. Close to 60 per cent of Canadians reported suffering from high levels of stress, and three-quarters reported high to moderate levels of depressed moods. Three-quarters reported missing work during the last six months of the survey period because they were sick or mentally exhausted. One in four said the stress of balancing work and life is hurting their performance at work.

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Lowered productivity and absenteeism alone are good reasons for employers to take a second look at what they are asking, and offering, their workers. But there is another, equally important lesson here. If Canada hopes to compete in the global knowledge-based economy and not lose good people to wiser competitors, companies are going to have to realize that employees can only give their best when job and home are mixed in a healthy balance.

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