I was very interested to read last week the summary of The 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada (the “Study”), published by Carleton University professor, Linda Duxbury, and University of Western Ontario professor, Christopher Higgins. This is the 3rd such study, conducted once a decade since 1991, and there are some disturbing results in terms of the stress and work-life imbalance from which many workers continue to suffer.  As the Globe and Mail reported last week, “the results have huge implications for the workers – and the companies that employ them.”

The results of the Study can be reviewed here, but what really struck me were the myriad of ways in which we have been seeing these issues manifest themselves in our clients’ workplaces for years.  Specifically, we have seen the following, all of which I can now see tied to findings in the Study:

  • Increased issues with absenteeism.  77% of employees surveyed missed work in the six months prior to the Study, and on average they were missing between 7-10 days a year because of health issues, emotional or mental fatigue, childcare or eldercare issues.
  • Increased issues with lateness and disability management.  Our clients are also struggling with these issues and for all of the same reasons as outlined above.  When we add to the mix the obligation under human rights law for an employer to accommodate employees with disabilities and family status issues, these issues become all the more challenging.
  • Increased presentation of behaviour in the workplace which is suspected of being tied to some form of mental health issue.  57% of employees surveyed reported high levels of stress and 36% reported high levels of depressed mood.  This seems consistent with our clients reporting more occasions where employees are demonstrating strange and unpredictable behaviour in the workplace.
  • Increased complaints of bullying and personal harassment in the workplace.  Again, reports in the Study of increased levels of stress and mental health issues on the part of employees could certainly explain why complaints about such behaviour are on the rise.
  • Increased claims for unpaid overtime.  The Study finds that that the “typical employee spends 50.2 hours in work-related activities per week”. Given the skew towards managerial employees in the Study and the corresponding lack of recognition that simply holding a managerial title does not deprive an employee of an entitlement to overtime, it is not surprising that claims for unpaid overtime are showing up on an increasing number of demand letters that we see.

The Study also found that alternative work arrangements are on the decline (think Yahoo’s recent decision to terminate remote work arrangements), but this seems to be at odds with what contributes to an employee’s work-life balance. The Study concludes with the finding that organizations that do not pay attention to culture and offers of increased flexibility do so at their peril, as they will not be able to effectively compete by recruiting and retaining knowledge workers.