Toronto Star

Thursday, September 2, 1999

Canadians want balance at work, new survey finds

Loyalty shown to rise if families respected

by Vanessa Lu
Toronto Star, Workplace Issues Reporter

Canadian workers want their managers to recognize they have a life and responsibilities outside the office, a new survey finds.

Acknowledging people's needs outside of work is the key factor in ensuring employee commitment, coming ahead of the opportunity for personal growth and competitive pay, says the Canada@Work survey. The report is to be released today by Aon Consulting, in partnership with the Royal Bank of Canada.

"Organizations can no longer ignore or overlook the bottom line of not helping their employees when it comes to dealing with work and family issues," says Marilynne Madigan, Aon Consulting senior vice-president.

Simple policies such as flexible work schedules, compressed work weeks, job sharing and work from home go a long way toward building employee loyalty, she said.

Researchers set out to find out how employees are juggling jobs and families through interviews with 2,000 workers across Canada over a three week period in March and April. The final statistics used the results of 1,328 respondents.

Employers are finding it harder to attract and retain workers in many industries including finance and information technology, but flexible policies are one way to keep employees happy.

"Pay is not everything any more. People are looking for quality of life within the work environment, where they are spending the majority of their time," Madigan said.

'It's up to you to try and balance it out. I've come in on weekends, just to catch up on something. That erodes or erases some of the guilt.'


Systems analyst Cliff Johnson, 43, says his boss at the Royal Bank has been incredibly flexible.

Separated from his wife, Johnson has joint custody of his 3-year-old daughter Siobhan, who suffers from asthma, making her more prone to colds and flus.

"Some mornings, I can't make it. Or sometimes I have to rush to the doctor or to the day care to pick her up." An arrangement with his manager, means he can work noon to 8 p.m. some days, or take a family or vacation day on short notice.

But Johnson admits he still battles feelings of guilt. "It's up to you to try and balance it out. I've come in on weekends, just to catch up on something. That erodes or erases some of the guilt."

Lauren Bates, a writer for CCH Canadian Ltd., a publisher and information provider company, can't imagine returning to a job without flexibility.

In the editorial department, employees can opt to work an extra half-hour Monday through Thursday, so that they only work five hours on Fridays.

Bates starts her day at 7 a.m., so she can spend each afternoon with her son Sean, 1. As well, she works from home one day a week.

"It's a benefit you can't even measure in financial terms," she said. "I also know that if the company needs something, that I would go the extra mile for them," she said.

At SoftChoice, a software sales firm, vice-president Nick Foster says the company realizes employees don't leave their problems at home.

"It doesn't mean, take off whenever you want. It means, you're able to say, 'I have a problem I've got to take care of.' And your manager should be understanding," Foster said.

Experts say job sharing and compressed work weeks are possible in most workplaces, including manufacturing and production.

Survey respondents, by and large, said their employer understands their needs, but they reported suffering high stress levels, said Elisabetta Bigsby, executive vice-president of human resources at the Royal Bank.

Nearly 60 per cent of respondents agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement, "my job is often so stressful that I feel burned out," while 36 per cent disagreed or somewhat disagreed. Another 24 per cent said their job's balance with other parts of their life was below their expectations.

"I think we need to improve policies as a society, but we also need to communicate them better," Bigsby said.

Companies are often reluctant to implement flexible policies over fears of lost productivity, but Bigsby said studies at the bank show productivity actually increases, and people who work at home produce more because they don't have to commute, or drop everything at night to catch a train.

"Each one of us has had the experience, I'm sure, of worrying that my parents are not well or the plumber is demolishing my kitchen and I'm not there," she said, adding that this is when focus is lost at work.

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