Work-life balance: What’s the current situation?

Finally, it’s vacation time!  Swimsuits, sunglasses, sun screen …
and your Blackberry. So, what’s the situation with work-life balance?
A survey conducted last year showed that no less than 81% of Canadians are still desperately trying to balance their job and their personal life.* Not very reassuring … and there’s more. Now, being able to find that balance is even more important than salary in choosing a new job.

Have we made any progress?

Finding a balance between professional responsibilities and family duties has been a major issue since the early ‘80s. In large part, three factors are responsible: the increase in the number of women in the work force, the dissolution of the traditional family, and fathers wanting to be more involved in their children’s upbringing – so much so that now 54% of Canadians of all ages consider family to be their main priority, while work is first for only 10%…

Unfortunately, even 25 years after all this started, it seems that very few people are satisfied with what the employment market has to offer in this regard. Only 27% of Canadians are convinced that a proper balance between their job and their personal life is possible. And barely 29% believe that their employer is really concerned about this issue!*

And yet…

Yet – let’s look at a few figures again  – a Watson Wyatt survey undertaken three years ago showed that work-life balance was a main concern for nearly half (42%) of Canadian companies. 

So, why are so many employees still dissatisfied?
A complicated reality

Part of the problem is that laws and job design are changing more slowly than attitudes and
ways of thinking. It is often assumed, for example, that “someone other than the employee” will take care of the family, do the chores, help with the homework… But, of course, when both spouses are working, how to manage these responsibilities is not easy to figure out.
To make matters worse, competition and the need make investments profitable force many companies to extend their business hours or their production schedules. In short, although
everyone would like a little slack, things only seem to get tighter.

Finding a more harmonious lifestyle  

Right now, the efforts made by companies are three-fold:

  • More flexible working hours: flex time, part-time work, working from home, shorter work weeks, vacation banks, sabbaticals, and others.
  • Services to help employees:  housekeeping help, specialized services in the workplace
    (catering services on the premises, winter tire installation, dry cleaning, help in finding
    new housing, in making appointments with a doctor…), and others.
  • Easier access to day care, including day care facilities on the premises

Act now

We have to hope that such efforts will eventually bear fruit. If not, businesses could easily
find themselves with less focused, less motivated employees, resulting in decreased productivity
and a greater employee turnover. The situation isn’t much better for individuals. If someone
is unable to balance both worlds, negative effects can be expected, for example, fatigue, stress, depression, spousal relationship breakdown ...
Ultimately, this issue directly affects the family’s financial security. Sure, employers and governments have some responsibility, but it’s also up to each of us to protect ourselves
from the consequences of an improperly balanced life. Many people will have to make important choices, like shortening their work week or becoming an independent worker. This creates a whole new situation, but one that, with the help of a savings and financial security advisor, can be properly controlled.

* According to a study undertaken for Desjardins Financial Security in March 2007.

Find out more
The Government of Canada provides a Web site entirely devoted to work-life balance.  []. There you will find advice, real-life experiences, innovative practices, and much more. 

Inspiring stories …
Setting up a global indicator of work-life balance progress is almost impossible since, in many countries, the issue can be quite different. But, here’s some inspiration…  

  • In Sweden, parents have the most generous parental leave in the world: 16 months, with two of these reserved specifically for each parent.
  • In England, flex time is available to workers who have children under 6 or a handicapped child under 18.
  • In France, the legal work week has been reduced from 39 hours to 35.
  • In Ireland, the government has adopted the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to make employers aware of policies that promote the family.
  • In Denmark, families receive free housekeeping help when the child caregiver is sick.