Canadians having a tough time with balancing act

In order to find time to spend with his kids while keeping up with the demands of his job, Yogi Schulz generally does some work at night after his kids have gone to bed.

The Calgary-based independent consultant works 60-hour weeks, and his experience isn’t unique. A recent study on work-life balance, Voices of Canadians: Seeking Work-Life Balance conducted by Linda Duxbury and Christopher Higgins, found that Canadians are having a tough time keeping their work and personal lives in separate domains.

The study gathered and examined comments by over 5,000 Canadians on their struggles to find a work-life balance. The vast majority of comments – 64 per cent – dealt with the challenges employees face juggling jobs and families. Only about 10 per cent of the comments had a positive tone to them.

Many Canadians are having difficulties because organizations aren’t taking these types of concerns seriously – they aren’t treating it as a business issue. However, the lack of balance comes at a cost, said Duxbury, a business professor at Ottawa-based Carleton University.

This could result in increased absenteeism and the use of drugs such as Prozac, she said. Creativity also suffers, as it’s a myth that working against a time crunch gets the creative juices flowing. And the cost of replacing employees who quit in search of a better work-life balance is steep.

Employers tend not to track the cost of mismanaging their workforce, she said. And employees have a tough time saying no to over-demanding workloads.

“Saying no is a career-limiting move,” Duxbury said.

Schulz agrees. “Saying no is a sophisticated skill and art form most employees have not mastered,” he said. “Most say ‘yes,’ work hard and then label the incomplete work as complete on the date management expects completion.”

David Jeschke, president of development firm Codevox in Seattle also agrees that it’s tough for employees to say no, but adds they share a responsibility for the difficulty many have in finding a work-life balance.

Programmers, especially those just starting out also push themselves in order to make a good impression and because they are excited about the project they’re working on.

“In a sense, [employers] give them enough rope to hang themselves. They let them set their own ambitious deadlines, and a lot of them, being young and fresh out of school, don’t know any better,” Jeschke said. Quality sometimes suffers as a result, he added.

Though he doesn’t do it anymore, Jeschke says he has put in a lot of late-night sessions in the past and even slept under his desk in order to meet deadlines. Sometimes, after working the night, he would go home, get some sleep and then come back and throw out everything he’d done after 3 a.m.

“There’s definitely a point of diminishing returns,” he said.

Jeschke says that by leaving his full-time job and working as an independent contractor at home, he has been able to find a healthy work-life balance. He takes jobs that allow him to work from home and no longer leaves for and comes back from work in the dark.