By most contemporary measures, at 38, Darryl Peck had it all. After 10 years in the environmental field,
Peck had a job that he believed in—vice-president of a Toronto fund-raising firm for nonprofit organizations—and that paid him a comfortable salary of $47,000. He had also married and celebrated the birth of a daughter. But he and his family were beginning to pay a hidden price.
Peck says he found that he was pushing himself to work between 50 and 70 hours a week to keep up. The job also required that at least half of that time be spent out of town, away from his wife, Catherine Stewart, 40, an education consultant, and their three-yearold daughter, Amelia. As a result, Peck found that his family was suffering. Said Peck: “There was a lot of stress, a lot of disagreements
and a lot of arguments.” Determined to put an end to the conflict, Peck quit his job in August and went into business for himself as a fundraising consultant. He said that the loss of job security has been well worth the emotional payoff—more time at home with his family.
Stress: Peck’s experience is becoming a familiar one, as more and more middle-class Canadians find themselves working more but enjoying it less. A study released by the Conference Board of Canada in September said that two-thirds of employees face increasing stress as they try, and often fail, to balance work and family responsibilities. According to the study, the trend towards longer workweeks, as well as two-income households, has stretched many families to the limits of their ability to cope. And more than 10 per cent of those surveyed said that they had “left a job because of a workfamily conflict.”
As well, the study found that slightly above 17 per cent had turned down promotions and almost 25 per cent had refused tranfers for the same region.
At the same time, the number of companies that are trying to ease the family strain by providing benefits, such as day care or flexible hours, is still small. As a result, a growing number of employees are beginning to rebel— increasingly, they are choosing jobs with more
flexibility while many more are going into business for themselves. Said Peck: “These days, my daughter gets to wake up and both her parents are there. Everybody is much happier.”
But for those who choose to remain in jobs where hours are long and stress is high— about one in every seven fulltime workers—the pressure continues to build. John Myles, a professor of sociology at Ottawa’s Carleton University, says that the number of hours a family must work to maintain a middle-class lifestyle has increased by 50 per cent since the 1950s, with most of the additional time being put in by working wives.
In many cases, the result has been growing tension and family conflict. Lucille Peszat, director of the Torontobased Canadian Centre for Stress and Well-Being, says that more and more of her clients tell her that they can no longer deal with work pressures. She added, “Especially if individuals are having to deal with intense job situa-
tions as well as relationships
and families, the stress can be enormous.”
Pressure: Many employees claim that their employers are either unaware of or unresponsive to their personal problems. Jan Mears, 40, is a mother of three who says that she left a demanding position in a medium-sized Toronto management consultancy firm two years ago because of intolerable stress. Now an administrator of staff relations at a large publicsector union, she says that the pressures of work and family have become a “crisis.” She added: “In the firm I worked for, all that counted was the hours you were billing. There was no thought or feeling or caring for the person as a human being. Most people who worked there were either single or on their second marriage. If you had a family, they didn’t want to know.”
So-called personal time has also evaporated at an alarming rate. According to a study compiled by Priority Management Systems Inc., a Vancouver-based consulting firm, work is spilling into the time that has traditionally belonged to the individual.
And of the 1,100 middleand upper-management executives surveyed, more than 90 per cent said that they regularly took work home with them and 65 per cent said that they worked at least one weekend a month.
Inspired by the lean-and-mean business phi-
SOME COMPANIES ARE TRYING TO HELP THEIR EMPLOYEES COPE
losophy of the 1980s, as well as the need to be globally competitive, many companies are now demanding more effort, productivity and, especially, time from their employees. Said James Boehmer, director of the Centre for Career Management at Price Waterhouse, an accounting firm in Toronto: “Companies view everything today in terms of the bottom line— including employees. In 1989, the worker is a commodity to be used up and spat out when he’s no longer useful.”
The longer workweek is also exacerbated by many employees themselves. According to Bruce Gillespie, managing partner of Mastel, Gillespie and Associates, a management consulting firm in Vancouver, many employees work extremely long hours out of an urge to succeed. For them, said Gillespie, success means climbing the corporate ladder and attaining a high income. But he added that the era of rapid advancement is over. He claimed that there are now two middle managers for every available position, and getting ahead means an evergrowing commitment of time and energy. Said Gillespie: “If that’s what you want, you have little choice but to put in the long hours. It’s expected and accepted.”
Cog: Some employees are looking for an escape. David Johnson, a 50year-old credit manager who worked for Pacific Western Airlines from 1974 to 1986, survived his company’s merger with CP Air two years ago. But Johnson recently left his job in Vancouver to form his own consulting company. “For the past two years with the airline, I felt like I was a cog in a wheel. There was a succession of long, stress-filled days but no recognition for putting that time in. Nobody noticed a job well done, but, my, someone was there quickly if something went wrong.” As soon as he had enough years to qualify for early retirement, Johnson, who has four grown children, decided to change. Said Johnson: “Today, I still put in 60-hour weeks—but with a difference. These days, I wake up and think, Tm off to work, but it’s my work and it’s great.’ ”
Still, some employees who are unable or unwilling to leave their positions may soon begin receiving more help from their employers. Judith MacBride-King, a co-ordinator for research projects at the Conference Board of Canada, a private, nonprofit research organization with affiliates in the United States and Europe, says that most companies have yet to introduce programs aimed at helping overworked employees.
But she adds that the situation is
improving and that employees should feel encouraged. According to MacBride-King, the number of employers who offer support for child care centres is 4.8 per cent, a fourfold increase over the past decade. She pointed out, “A small but growing percentage of companies are recognizing that employee wellbeing is crucial to the bottom line and are taking initiatives.”
As well, the Conference Board study found that absenteeism .which amounted to about onethird of the full days missed over a six-month period, was for family reasons. Respondents reported that they missed an average three full days in the preceding sue months. The study suggests a strong link between the level of an employee’s difficulties, stress and absenteeism.
Conflicts: Of those responding, the majority said that work-and-family conflicts were primarily an individual responsibility and fully 44 per cent said their companies were “doing enough” in this area. But almost a third indicated that they would like to see their employers more involved and a considerable number said they would welcome more government input.
Karen Liberman, head of Families That Work, a Toronto-based firm that specializes in counselling corporations on the need to
accommodate workers who have families, says that some firms are becoming more practical in their dealings with employees who work long hours. She added: “From the number of companies that are beginning to implement day care, elder care and employeeassistance programs, it's clear to me that bosses are finally waking up to the fact that the well-being of their employees has everything to do with the bottom line. The change has begun.”
Employs: The Manufacturers Life Insurance Co. in Toronto, for one, has already begun to change substantially. A corporation that employs 1,800 people in Toronto, Manufacturers offers a wide range of services to its staff,
ranging from an on-line day care referral service to credit counselling and an on-site fitness centre. In addition, it employs a full-time staff counsellor who is available, on a confidential basis, to provide assistance to employees who are having either work or personal difficulties. Said counsellor Brina Ludwig-Prout: “Whether the issue is long hours—a number of our people are working 50-hour weeks—single parents with young children, or workers caught in the financial bind created by caring for elderly parents, there’s no doubt that circumstances can be tough today. Any company that thinks its workers leave their personal lives in the reception area is simply wrong.” Clearly, a growing number of firms are becoming aware of those needs.
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