Clear link between work hours, work-life balance (Analysis)

Seniority and CHRP status linked to longer workweeks
By Claude Balthazard
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/13/2009

As one respondent to the latest Pulse Survey put it: “HR as a group are big proponents of work-life balance but seldom practise it.”

Before jumping into the data here, let me explain how some of the analysis of the results was done. To simplify the survey, the number of hours worked was collapsed into ranges (fewer than 35 hours, between 35 and 40, more than 40 but fewer than 44, more than 44 but fewer than 50, more than 50 but fewer than 60, and more than 60).

This is convenient, but there is a loss of information. To work around this, we used the midpoint of the range as the value for all respondents in the range (for example, all respondents indicating they worked between 44 and 50 hours a week were assigned a value of 47). This works quite well in aggregate.

Overall, we found 52.1 per cent of respondents are putting in more than 44 hours in a typical week, with an average of 45.5 hours, and 20.9 per cent of respondents are working more than 50 hours per week. About one in four respondents (25.8 per cent) reported the number of hours in a typical week has increased by more than five hours in the last year — reflecting, no doubt, the impact of the economic downturn.

Overall, 39.5 per cent of respondents described their work-life balance as good or great, but 25.6 per cent described it as not so good or not good at all. One-half of respondents (50.7 per cent) felt they were working somewhat harder than their non-HR colleagues.

The number of hours worked increases with seniority: Entry-level HR professionals put in an average of 41.6 hours in a typical week, senior individual contributors average 43.1 hours, those in supervisory positions put in 44.5 hours, those in middle management positions 46.4 hours and those in executive positions 49.9 hours.

HR professionals with the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation put in 46.4 hours on average, as compared to 44.8 hours for those who do not have the designation.

It is not surprising to find a relation between the average number of hours worked in a week and perceptions of work-life balance. What is surprising is how robust and linear this relation is.

The work-life balance scale went from one (great balance) to five (not good at all). For those working fewer than 35 hours a week, the mean work-life rating was 1.83. For those working between 35 and 40 hours a week, it was 2.15. For those working between 40 and 44 hours a week, it was 2.62. For those working between 44 and 50 hours a week, it was 2.98. For those working between 50 and 60 hours a week, it was 3.49. And for those working more than 60 hours a week, the rating topped out at 3.97. If these numbers are plotted using the midpoint of the intervals, they fall neatly along a straight line. The correlation between the numbers of hours worked in a typical week and the work-life rating was 0.49. (This correlation is attenuated somewhat by the fact the number of hours worked was reported as a range rather than a specific number.)

The correlation isn’t perfect, however, which means, regardless of the number of hours worked, some respondents feel their work-life balance is great whereas others feel it is not good at all.

Of concern, however, is the 29.3 per cent of respondents who said they are often or constantly in danger of burnout. Not surprisingly, the threat of burnout increases with the number of hours worked. Only 8.7 per cent of those working fewer than 35 hours said they are in danger of burnout. This increases steadily and reaches 58.9 per cent for those working 60 hours or more. As a counterpoint, a number of respondents noted the number of hours is not necessarily the most important driver of burnout. Many respondents indicated the work climate, the level of responsibility or seeming to be on duty 24/7 were even greater contributors to burnout.

Claude Balthazard is director of HR excellence and acting registrar of the Human Resources Professionals Association in Toronto. He can be reached at cbalthazard@hrpa.ca.

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