Time crunch puts safety, productivity at risk: Romanow

Number of employees struggling with work-life balance growing, and we’re paying a ‘steep price’

Workers are struggling to strike a balance between workplace demands and family needs, and that time crunch could be taking a toll on workplace safety and productivity, according to Roy Romanow, the former Saskatchewan premier who is chair of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing’s (CIW) advisory board.

The reality of work-life balance for many employees is “starkly different than yesterday’s dream,” says Romanow.
“Canadians are struggling to meet the competing demands of a workplace that can reach out to them 24/7… and their own needs to refresh body and mind through family time, leisure and culture activities,” he says.

CIW, which describes itself as a non-profit, non-partisan group that reports on the quality of life of Canadians, released Caught in the Time Crunch: Time Use, Leisure and Culture in Canada, a report that examined data from Statistics Canada and found the number of Canadians who experienced high levels of time crunch grew 20 per cent from 1992 to 2005.

“As individuals and as a society, we are paying a steep price for this time crunch. We’re less healthy, both physically and mentally. We have less time for personal pleasures. And we’re more dissatisfied with the quality of our lives,” says Romanow.

The report also found that, although fewer Canadians are working longer hours, 29 per cent worked non-standard hours in 2009 — weekends, nights and rotating shifts — an increase of 23 per cent from 1992.

Down time hijacked by technology

Romanow pins a lot of the blame on technology. Society has been hijacked by the prevalence of email, laptops and mobile devices such as Blackberrys and iPhones that make it easier for workers to be perpetually on call, eliminating traditional boundaries between work and home.

While technology was once viewed as a panacea that would lift the burdens of workplace pressures, the reliance on technology has put the notion of a leisure society out of reach for many, he says.

“I think it’s a combination of factors that have brought us to this state. Our ever increasing reliance and faith in technology and the capacity of technology to be of assistance to workplace activity and to increase productivity have created a tendency to take work home,” says Romanow. “I think that there has been a mistaken belief that we can… do more with less time.”

There is also a common belief that, to be more productive, employees have to work harder and longer. But people only have so many hours they can devote to work and being productive, he says.

“Depending on the nature of the job, if you’re overworked you may be tired or injuries can result, or you may make mistakes on computers or other capacities,” says Romanow.

Overworked employees are a real issue in workplaces, says Romanow, and working harder doesn’t mean they’re working better.

“I think employers have to first understand that good productivity is the result of a number of factors. One of which is making sure the worker comes to work properly refreshed and ready to work,” says Romanow. “There’s a balance involved respecting their activities on the job and their activities at home. And if at home there is just no time because work is spilled over into that time, then the only conclusion that can be drawn is that this is going to affect productivity.”

There needs to be a balance to ensure employers get sustainable “good profits” — and that balance could mean lower returns and perhaps even more down time for employers, says Romanow.

Women under more pressure

The report also points out that women are feeling greater time crunch pressures — nearly 20 per cent more than men.
“Employed women with children experience greater time pressure, reduced work-life balance and a decreased sense of emotional wellbeing,” says Romanow. “They take on the lion’s share of raising children and providing care to seniors.”

Romanow suggests employers be more sensitive to time pressures by implementing family-friendly work policies supportive of employee needs.

“If there is an employee who is looking after an elderly person at home and has no time or money to be able to take care of this person properly, it stands only to logic and to reason that they will come to work tired and stressed out,” says Romanow. “This makes for a dangerous employee, depending on the nature of employment, and if not dangerous certainly a less productive employee.”

Steps employers can take to ease workers’ time crunch

Employers should consider benefits such as flex time, job sharing, better parental and eldercare leave benefits, more vacation time and even a shorter work week.

“I think a sensitive employer will understand that they may need to make concessions that will permit a little more rest and a little more balance to the pressures at home,” says Romanow. “An employer needs to know when parental leave is required, and needs to know what the start of the day should be like for most people who have to commute for an hour or an hour-and-a-half to get to work.”

At the same time, Romanow believes that to reinforce this need for more family-friendly work policies, HR professionals have an important role to play by acting as a beacon for change within their own company.

“HR should at least begin to say, ‘Hey, this report gives me some pause for thought and we better take a look at what we are doing to our workers,’” says Romanow. “I think each employer would be well advised, if I may be so bold as to say, that examination of their workplace conduct and demands of workers would be in order.”

Romanow also feels that if employers ignore the warning signs highlighted in the report then they will do so at the risk of their own company.

“Employers will not be able to maintain their productivity and their economic viability without the productivity and efficiency of their employees,” says Romanow.

Romanow hopes the report will be a clarion call for employers and government leaders to spark a national dialogue on employment standards.

“You have to have a sharp, intelligent, well educated, happy workforce, which comes to a workplace environment wanting to contribute,” says Romanow. “But if they are stressed out because of other pressures, then this will only impact negatively on the employer and the company. Nobody wants that, the worker doesn’t want that and for sure the employers don’t want that, so let’s start making the changes now while they can be made.”

Yaseen Hemeda is an HR compliance product writer for Consult Carswell. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.

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