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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

October 18, 2001

New report sheds light on demands on family, work, well-being

Canada’s ever-changing labour force is being asked to be more productive and innovative than ever, increasing work-life stress. But it’s not just workers with young families who are feeling the squeeze. A new report from the University of Guelph and the Women’s Bureau of Human Resources Development Canada says work-life stress is on the rise for men and women of all ages and across the job spectrum.

“Although change has always been with us, seldom has it come at us from so many directions and at such a pace,” said Donna Lero, a professor in Guelph’s Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition and one of the authors of The Work-Life Compendium 2001, published recently by the University’s Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being. Some of the changes fuelling tensions, stress and work-life conflict include family caregiving and relationship maintenance, more irregular work schedules, population aging, and the drive to be increasingly more competitive, productive and innovative, Lero said..

Statistics relating to these tension-fuelling changes and how individuals, employers and public policies influence work-life issues in Canada are addressed in the compendium, which is a compilation of the most recent national-level statistics, data and research findings. Awareness of the findings is particularly relevant to the observance of National Family Week being recognized this week across North America. The report addresses 10 main areas: the labour force, changing family roles and relationships, income trends, organizational change, work structure and work time, child care and caregiving, work-life issues for the employee, work-life issues for the employer, labour legislation, and attitudes and public opinion.

One of the greatest changes has been the number of Canadian women in the workforce, the compendium reports. The number of female workers increased by more than 100 per cent between 1976 and 2000, from 3.6 million to 7.4 million. The greatest increase has been among mothers of young children. In 1999, 61 per cent of mothers with a child under age three were in the labour force, up from 28 per cent in 1976, and about 70 per cent of employed mothers of young children were working full time. Overall, about half of Canada’s labour force has children at home, and about 15 per cent are caring for aging parents as well as children.

Both men and women are delaying retirement as well, with about 41 per cent of men working beyond age 65, the report says. And the challenges of keeping up with technological changes and increasing workloads, especially while caring for family members leaves many feeling time-crunched on a regular basis.

The report notes that ultimately, work-family conflict also affects employers in the form of higher absence rates, lower productivity, and recruitment and retention problems. The authors stress that, given predicted labour shortages, Canadian organizations can ill afford to ignore employees’ need for better balance. “Employers who can offer workers flexibility, balance and opportunities for continual learning and development will have a strategic advantage in a tight labour market and will maintain loyalty and commitment from valuable employees,” Lero said. “They will also make an important contribution to the well-being of those employees, their families and communities.”

Lero developed the compendium with Jennifer Rooney, a doctoral student in psychology and research associate with the Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being, and Karen Johnson of Human Resources Development Canada. “This is an important way of sharing our growing understanding and appreciation of work-life issues and trends,” said Linda Hawkins, executive director of the centre. “Work-life balance is a cross-cutting issue with significant implications for employers and for the economic and social well-being of individuals and families.”

Among the compendium’s highlights:

  • Dual-earner families remain the dominant family form among two-parent families. Although they accounted for only 36 per cent of two-parent families in 1976, they make up 62 per cent of two-parent families today. On average, women in dual-earner families contribute about 32 per cent of total family income.

  • Women and men are delaying marriage and child-bearing, and rates of marriage, birth and divorce fell in the 1990s. In 1997, 31 per cent of first-time mothers were over 30.

  • Women are more than twice as likely as men to feel stress trying to blend work and family, although the number of men reporting being severely time-stressed increased by eight per cent between 1992 and 1998.

  • Some 55 per cent of workers in a recent national survey described themselves as time-stressed; 46 per cent found “simply keeping up to date” their biggest challenge.

  • Long work hours are associated with potential negative health consequences. Health effects of long work hours include twice the odds of experiencing an unhealthy weight gain and of increasing daily smoking and alcohol consumption. Among women, those who increased their work hours to more than 40 hours a week were twice as likely to experience a major depressive episode. Among men, those in high-strain jobs (characterized by high demands and little control) are 3.3 times more likely to experience significant depression.

  • Employees who have difficulty balancing work and home life miss more than twice as many workdays as those who report low to moderate difficulty. Some 32 per cent of them have turned down promotions because of work-life conflicts. Absences due to personal and family responsibilities are two to three times greater among employees with children.

  • Some 83 per cent of medium- and large-sized Canadian companies are reporting shortages of skilled labour, with 93 per cent reporting difficulty finding experienced tradespeople, scientists, engineers and technicians.

  • Employers appear to be increasingly more aware of the potential cost of work-life conflict to businesses. A 1999 study of 1,500 employees found that workers whose supervisor supported their desire to have a better work-life balance missed half as many workdays and were more satisfied with their jobs overall.

Prof. Donna Lero
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 3914

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