Long workweeks reality for HR: Survey

77 per cent worried about burnout, 25 per cent have poor work-life balance
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/14/2009

Only one in five HR professionals are working a typical 35- to 40-hour workweek and the majority of them believe they are working harder than their non-HR colleagues, according to the latest Pulse Survey.

The survey of 1,927 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Human Resources Professionals Association found 20.8 per cent of respondents work between 35 and 40 hours. Another 24.7 per cent work between 40 and 44 hours, 31.2 per cent work between 44 and 50 hours and 20.9 per cent work more than 50 hours. Just 2.4 per cent work fewer than 35 hours.

Ian Trew, a human resources manager in Kingston, Ont., works anywhere from 45 to 60 hours a week. Trew’s work hours have increased over the past year because he has taken on extra responsibilities. He also takes work home and is often available after hours by phone or e-mail.

“At the end of the day, if it doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done. And that’s not really an option,” he said.

The survey also found 50.7 per cent of respondents believe they are working somewhat or much harder than their colleagues in non-HR roles, while 43 per cent believe they are working about the same. Only 6.2 per cent of respondents believe they are working less hard compared to non-HR counterparts.

For one-half of respondents (49.6 per cent), the amount of time they work during a typical week has stayed the same over the past year, while it has increased for 41.6 per cent and decreased for 8.5 per cent.

Deborah Patrick, chief financial officer and co-owner of Bowmanville Foundry in Bowmanville, Ont., has seen her work hours increase over the past year and she works anywhere from 44 hours to 80 hours a week.

“There’s more to do and less people to do it with. As an owner, we have to pick up the slack if we don’t have enough people to do it,” she said. “A lot of it is the nature of the business. Sometimes it’s busy and sometimes it’s not busy.”

As co-owner of the company, Patrick wears many hats and has several HR responsibilities. She also works hard to ensure employees have a good work-life balance so they stay healthy and productive.

“All work and no play is not healthy,” she said. “I work a lot but I think I do have a good work-life balance.”

While she might put in a 12-hour day, Patrick can run out for appointments in the middle of the day or be there for her kids if they need her, she said. Her five-minute commute also makes it easier if she has to drop in at work in the evenings or on weekends.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty good,” she said.

Only 9.7 per cent of respondents described their work-life balance as “great,” while 29.8 per cent said it’s “good,” 34.9 per cent said it’s “OK,” 20.2 per cent said it’s “not so good” and 5.4 per cent said it’s “not good at all.”

Having recently taken on new responsibilities, Trew is finding work-life balance a struggle.

“I’m pretty new to this so it’s going to take a little while to get used to it,” he said. “You have to learn to push back and say, ‘Enough’s enough.’”

Until he can find a way to do that, he worries about the potential for burnout, a concern shared by the majority of respondents. Nearly one-third (29.3 per cent) constantly or often worry they are in danger of burning out while 47.8 per cent sometimes worry about it. Only 22.9 per cent never or rarely worry about it.

Joanna Katz, an HR supervisor in Toronto, has actually seen her hours decrease in the past year because she took on a new job and no longer takes work home with her.

“I’m trying to have a family-work-life balance. As a mom with two kids, I’m moving towards that and I find that makes me more productive,” she said. “I have a laptop. If I take it home then I’m working at home, but that’s my decision. If I don’t, that enables me to have a balance.”

Her company’s employee assistance program and its support of flexible work hours also help her find that balance, said Katz.

Even working 37.5 hours and not working at home in the evenings, Katz still worries about burnout.

“Employee relations issues can cause burnout even if you’re not working more than a 40-hour week,” she said.

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