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Part 6: Want work-life balance? 'Join a union' Add to ...

The Globe asked Canadian leaders what one thing they would do to improve work-life balance. Here are their answers.


I would hope that we realize doing things faster or working longer isn't productive. We need to start having a conversation around smart ways to work. In the past, people have said work-life balance is just about giving women more time to be with their families. That's not what it's about. It's the recognition that we're only human and we can only be stretched to certain lengths. You're seeing it at the top levels: CEOs who normally would do a seven- to 10-year run are just working three or four years because you can only keep the pace up for a short period of time. It's a fast burn now. I read once that you get your best ideas in the shower because you don't have anything else to do in there. So sometimes instead of commuting to Ottawa by plane I'll actually drive, because it's five hours of time that I have nothing to do but be alone with my thoughts. It's a mini vacation and I actually find it extremely helpful: it takes the edge off. People need little things like that.


My suggestion is that we give people back control over their time. You say to your work force: "This is what I expect you to do, here is your deadline, go do it. We will set you free." But people have to do it. They've got to stand up and be counted. The boss can't slink out the back if he's leaving at 3, he's got to walk right out the front door. We're talking about a cultural revolution in the workplace: we're not judging you by the minutes we see your rear-end welded to the ergonomic chair. But you can't just snap your fingers or send around a memo and hope that people start behaving differently, it takes a lot of courageous and imaginative leadership from the top. A big part of the problem is ego: A lot of bosses enjoy controlling people, or want their employees to sacrifice the way they sacrificed. Some of those people, we will never turn them. We'll just have to wait until they die of a heart attack or go out to pasture. And then that generational shift will wash up through the hierarchy.


Giving new mothers additional time off has been huge. I have daughters with their own children and when they were born, the fact that they were able to take up to a year off eased their stress. But there are still pressures around poverty, pressures around underemployment. It's easy to say work-life balance but there's a slightly elitist concept to it. There are single parents and for these people, work-life balance depends on networks of support, enlightened workplaces, and we need to raise the level of understanding among employers. I think a big challenge is daycare. That's the biggest pressure for young parents. Community programs, after-school programs are very helpful. There are countries that have full-time daycare. That would ease the pressure. But right now we're dealing with governments that are in deficit, so to be realistic, I don't think there's going to be a major national program introduced.


Life is crazy for us. My wife is a lawyer downtown. I teach university. I travel a lot. We have two kids who are 2 and 5. We both work full time. So, it's actually something we think about quite a bit. For us, it's particularly about aging parents. I lost my father last year and he was quite ill in 2009. We've been very fortunate that we've had flexible employers; they've been very understanding and humane. There are things that come at you that aren't planned and you have duties and responsibilities to fulfill. So it would be nice if people were able to take leave to take care of family members. I'd like to see some kind of legal framework to make that possible for people. I think as Canada gets older, a lot of us are going to be facing this issue. Everyone's job is different, so it's got to be workplace specific but there's got to be some baseline entitlements in law to taking medical leave for care-giving, with maybe some EI benefits.


Join a union. I'm not being facetious. To me it comes down to protecting flexibility. and most of our collective agreements have those provisions. There are no provision at all in the Canada Labour Relations Code for family responsibility. We've done well bargaining in response to the demands and needs of our members in terms of limiting overtime, getting family leave and more control over scheduling. European jurisdictions have more statutory provisions and they have better productivity. Look at Quebec: They've got statutory provisions for child-care programs and eldercare. That's what workers are looking for. It's just the timidity of politicians and the philosophy of our current federal government. But it's a reality and the shrinking work force is going to make it more acute. My three children are always saying that: We don't want to work the way you did.


I think the most critical part of this is actually a cultural change and you can't really compel that. We have made busyness a virtue and so at the individual level, I think people need to admit that they need some downtime. It shouldn't just be when there's an urgent event, it should be leaving early to go to your child's hockey game. Legislating employers to create this culture could lead to adverse outcomes: You'd be trying to force people to do certain things instead of really bringing about cultural change. We did with discrimination and equity, but I'm not sure our legislative efforts there have necessarily worked that well. But I certainly agree with the notion that it needs that same kind of societal, multisector response that we have used on major issues like tobacco. It takes a real combined societal approach to bring about large-scale cultural change. People have to model it in their own lives.

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