Queen's University IRC

Money buys presence. Money doesn’t buy passion.

Linda Duxbury on work-life balance
Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre

December 1, 2004

If you are observing a growing number of colleagues working one-and-a half jobs, complaining of chronic headaches, turning down promotions, and suffering strains on the home front, Linda Duxbury has this to say: It’s not your imagination.

As one of Canada’s leading researchers in the area of work-life balance, Dr. Duxbury, a professor in Carleton University’s School of Business, has the statistics to back up her view that organizational cultures undermining employee well-being are simply no longer sustainable. She was at Queen’s November 17 to deliver the 2004 Don Wood Lecture, an annual event co-sponsored by the Industrial Relations Centre and the Masters of Industrial Relations program.

As a self-described advocate for stressed-out employees, Dr. Duxbury used research from her database of 33,000 Canadians to show that organizations have not kept pace with dramatic changes in the workforce and generally do not support a healthy balance between work and home. “Employers can no longer afford to ignore the issue,” she said. “We have to see the link between how people are treated and the outcomes your organization needs… Money buys presence but it doesn’t buy passion.”

Dr. Duxbury’s conclusions are based on data collected from 1991 to 2001. Some findings:

  • In 2001, 58 percent of Canadians complained of “role overload” compared with 37 percent in 1991. Similarly, those reporting job stress jumped to 33 percent in 2001 from 20 percent a decade earlier.
  • In 2001, 26 percent of Canadians said they worked more than 50 hours a week; in 1991 only 11 percent said they did. Managers and professionals have seen the biggest workload increase, with huge jumps in unpaid overtime.
  • In 2001, only 43 percent of Canadians said they were committed to their organizations and an equal number reported job satisfaction. By contrast, in 1991 66 percent were committed to their organizations and 61 percent reported job satisfaction. “Life satisfaction” dropped to 41 percent from 54 percent over the decade studied.

Dr. Duxbury said the increase in work-life conflict is mainly due to five factors: the “myth of separate worlds”; changing work force demographics such as the demise of the traditional family and the increase in the number of knowledge workers; the rise in dependent care issues, such as child care and elder care; organizational cultures maladapted to knowledge workers; and rampant downsizing and restructuring. As well, technology such as email has increased expectations and made it possible to work “anytime anywhere.”

The cost of not instituting more human-friendly culture and policies is increased absenteeism and “mental health” days, higher benefit costs, lower levels of commitment and job satisfaction, and severe recruitment and retention issues.

“Our calculations indicate that employers could reduce absenteeismin their organization by 23 percent if they eliminated high levels of role overload, 6.3 percent if they eliminated high levels of work interferences with family, and 8.6 percent if they could eliminate high levels of caregiver strain,” Dr. Duxbury said.

With Canada entering the tightest labour market since the 1950s and the pool of “new” workers shrinking, the issue of recruitment and retention looms large. The shrewdest organizations, Dr. Duxbury said, will understand key generational differences, in terms of what employees want from the organization and from their bosses. They will create and support a culture that encourages autonomy, challenge and innovation, and work-life balance, and will institute “cafeteria-style” benefits that allow employees to pick and choose depending on their life situation.

Until that culture arrives, Dr. Duxbury suggests individuals be organized and set goals, recognize that balance takes work, use exercise to cope with stress, and “use faith to put things into perspective.”

As for maintaining her own work-life balance, Dr. Duxbury said she practises yoga with her husband, does no work from Friday evening until Sunday after dinner, and takes a one-month vacation out of the country each year. Before an extended absence, she sets a bounce-back email message that asks people to contact her after her vacation. And upon returning, she erases all the emails she received during her absence. A brave and balanced soul, indeed.

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