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Employers have a crucial role in addressing the modern work/life balance problem in light of a 2011-2012 study of 25,000 full-time Canadian workers (Duxbury & Higgins 2012).

Carleton University Sprott School of Business professor Linda Duxbury and Christopher Higgins, University of Western Ontario Ivey School of business professor, provide a very refreshing examination of the task saturation and time poverty difficulties experienced by Post-Modern workers. Refreshing because they actually address the implications of their findings and recommend appropriate ameliorative action.

Adding to its importance, this research published in October 2012 provides a longitudinal view based on comparable studies carried out in 1991 and 2001.  Sadly for example, Duxbury & Higgins (2012: 12-13) report that work demands have increased dramatically over time since the first study, while the use of alternative work arrangements actually has decreased.  Emotional distress has increased by 12% and ill health by 17%.  Reports of high levels of stress and depression have increased as well, while life satisfaction has declined (Duxbury & Higgins (2012: 9, 14).  The authors conclude that, to increase efficiency and effectiveness, Canadian employers must attend to the health–both physical and mental–of their workforce (Duxbury & Higgins (2012: 10).

Parallel to this work, but even more distressing, Faba (2012) points to the recent and rather troubling Sun Life Canadian Health Index based on an Ipsos Reid survey.  The Index informs us that “90% of 18- to 24-year-olds reported excessive or uncomfortable levels of stress. This is higher than the national average of 72% who said they felt similarly high levels of stress.”  See the previous blog posting Overloading of Entry Level Workers.   Kevin Press, Assistant VP of Sun Life, stresses the need for employer-designed wellness initiatives (Faba 2012).

Duxbury & Higgins (2012: 4-5) indicate long hours become an issue when Canada’s average employee works 50.2 hours a week and 54% take work home to complete outside normal work hours in the evening and on weekends.  In this light, the authors recommend that employers need to look at work overload issues, examine work processes, and address the pressures of home and work balance.

Beyond this, the authors note that workers often have other role commitments (half of respondents occupy between 4 and 6 roles other than caregiver–between 2 and 4 of which have “high energy” requirements outside work and family).  Duxbury & Higgins (2012:6) therefore maintain that employers have a responsibility to consider expanding the definition of “balance” to include the additional non-work and home burdens that many of their employees carry.

This “role overload” is defined as “a type of role conflict that results from excessive demands on the time and energy supply of an individual such that satisfactory performance is improbable.”  The authors conclude that “Organizations who are interested in addressing issues with respect to employee well being and workloads should begin by identifying the key sources of work role overload within their workforce”(Duxbury & Higgins 2012: 7).

In summary, for Duxbury & Higgins (2012: 11-12), employers cannot make progress with respect to employee well-being and work/life balance unless they attend to changing their organisational cultures.  A focus on policy (rather than daily practice, behaviour norms, and expectations) will not solve the problem. The immediate supervisors, who themselves require the training and the time to manage this successfully, play the key role.

The findings of Duxbury and Higgins demonstrate that we desperately need more humane workplaces for employees, both young and old.  In the museum context, Elaine Heuman Gurian (1995: 20-21) in her book Institutional Trauma: Major Change in Museums and its Effect on Staff makes a clear statement of corporate responsibility for addressing the problem.  Above and beyond the fact that attending to worker satisfaction and improving the quality of working lives benefits the workers themselves, this approach also is more efficient for the institution in question (cf. Lambert and Kossek 2005: 521).

Even if impaired work performance were not the outcome of unabated staff stress, I would proffer another, and perhaps better reason to pay attention to staff needs. If our work in museums is evidence of our collective commitment to enhancing the quality of life for society, then we must be attentive to maintaining a high quality of life for our work community (cf. Brumgardt 1995: 70).

Although Duxbury & Higgins focus on the responsibilities of employers in their study, they make little or no mention of either collective or individual roles of workers.  The Sun Life Canadian Health Index argues that employers have a crucial role (Faba 2012).

Indeed, all stakeholders must cooperate if we are to solve the worsening problem of time poverty, task saturation, and stress in our world of work.

References Cited:

Brumgardt, John R. (1995) Mitigating Staff Stress in a Natural Disaster, Charleston, SC: The Charleston Museum.

Duxbury, Linda & Higgins, Christopher (2012) Revisiting Work-Life Issues in Canada: The 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada, Ottawa: Carleton University & the University of Western Ontario http://newsroom.carleton.ca/wp-content/files/2012-National-Work-Long-Summary.pdf (accessed 10 November 2012).

Faba, Neil (2012) How stressed are your employees? Benefits Canada 5 November, Toronto: Rogers Publishing Ltd, http://www.benefitscanada.com/benefits/health-wellness/how-stressed-are-your-employees-33831 (accessed 7 November).

Gurian, Elaine Heuman ed. (1995) Institutional Trauma: Major Change in Museums and Its Effect on Staff, Washington: American Association of Museums.

Lambert, Susan J. & Kossek, Ellen Ernst (2005) Future Frontiers: Enduring Challenges and Establishing Assumptions in the Work-Life Field. In Work and Life Integration: Organizational, Cultural, and Individual Perspectives, ed. Ellen Ernst Kossek and Susan J. Lambert. Mohawk, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Further Reading:

Duxbury, Linda & Higgins, Christopher (2012) Key Findings. Revisiting Work-Life Issues in Canada: The 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada, Ottawa: Carleton University & the University of Western Ontario http://newsroom.carleton.ca/wp-content/files/2012-National-Work-Key-Findings.pdf (accessed 10 Nov. 2012).

________ (2012) Impact of Gender and Life-cycle Stage on the Findings: The 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada , Ottawa: Carleton University & the University of Western Ontario http://newsroom.carleton.ca/wp-content/files/2012-National-Work-Key-Findings-Gender-and-Lifecycle.pdf  (accessed 10 Nov. 2012).