Work-life balance a struggle for both men and women

Less than one-half of women feel they’ve achieved balance: Study
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/20/2015

It’s not shocking but it is disconcerting: More than one-half of Canadian women are struggling to achieve work-life balance.

Just 47 per cent feel they’ve achieved that balance, according to a Bank of Montreal study of 1,002 people. 

“What I found really interesting is the difference between these women, and their feelings around being supported by their family versus being supported by their workplace,” said Betsey Chung, chief marketing officer of personal and commercial banking Canada and global wealth management at BMO, speaking at an International Women’s Day event in Toronto.

“And it probably was the converse of what I would have thought: Of those women, one-third of them felt that they were supported by their family in terms of work-life balance and on the homefront, whereas two-thirds of those women felt that they were supported by their employer.

“Interestingly, these women felt that they were more supported by their employer than their families.”

Thirty-one per cent of women feel their families provide enough support on the homefront, while 68 per cent feel their employer provides support for work-life balance, found the study. 

But women still tend to shoulder a lot of the burden at home because they place high expectations on themselves, said Julie Barker-Merz, president of BMO InvestorLine. 

“We are the CEOs of our household, to a large extent… one of the stats in the study that I found really fascinating was that 24 per cent of women feel that they need more support at home, compared to 14 per cent of men.”

Not just a women’s issue

Even so, there are plenty of men who struggle to balance career and family responsibilities, said Connie Stefankiewicz, head of North American channel strategy and solutions, BMO Financial Group. 

“Forty-nine per cent of men said they’ve achieved work-life balance. So that’s the same. We’re not just talking about a women’s issue here — we’re talking about a broader issue in terms of work-life balance,” she said. 

“We sometimes lose sight of the fact that it’s actually difficult for men as well. And if we think about the fact that we’ve got predominantly two-income families now, the demands on everybody… the demands all of our employers have on us just continue to grow. 

“So I actually think that this is something that is not just a women’s issue, I think that this is a societal issue.”

Increasingly, employers are recognizing work-life balance is a significant issue and there is a strong business case behind it, said Stefankiewicz. “It is more of an issue for everybody.”

Employer’s role

Some employers have made great progress in terms of promoting and enabling work-life balance for employees. Others, however, are still challenged by the issue. 

Twenty-seven per cent of survey respondents cited better benefits as something they’d like from their employers, while 24 per cent cited flexible time, 21 per cent wanted sick or family emergency days and 18 per cent wanted more vacation time.

It’s also a challenge because, societally, there are still some vestiges of the double standard that women have to “do it all,” said Colleen Campbell, vice-chair of BMO Capital Markets. 

“Outside the company, regardless of what the company does, there’s still those broader elements that are lagging.” 

But employers can certainly make a big difference, said Joanna Rotenberg, chief marketing officer and head of strategy, BMO Financial Group. 

“From an employer perspective, you really need two things to happen. One is more policy-based, which really sets the institution up. We all know that that’s only part of the equation, and the critical one is the second one, which is on-the-margin little comments, little looks that a manager might make,” she said. 

“It really does come down to, when somebody needs their Fridays and they really are working four days, don’t pay them four days and have them work five days… It’s really about a manager’s responsibility to be really thoughtful in those moments, to be not emailing and not sending out that 15-minute call that turns into half the day.”

Technology has been a crucial factor in enabling more flexibility for employees, said Barker-Merz. 

“Technology has been a big factor and when I think about being able to work remotely and to be able to go to your kid’s play… staying connected to the workplace has been really, really helpful. And it’s allowed us as managers to enable that flexibility in others as well.”

But technology can also be a threat to work-life balance if it’s not used thoughtfully, said Rotenberg. 

“Technology as we know it can be a double-edged sword. It’s great at the four o’clock play, but at nine o’clock when it’s also beckoning you… we sometimes abuse the technology because it may be convenient for me to work at 9 p.m. at night, but it’s not convenient for my team.”

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