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THE QUESTION

I work at a job I really like, but it is beginning to overrun my life. It's supposed to be a 40-hour work week, but there's no way the work can be done in that time. It's not for lack of competence, because I am experienced and efficient at the job. But there have been layoffs in the past few years. I am now working a minimum of 50 hours a week. The company does not pay overtime, and my boss just says the work has to be done.

I don't care about the extra money, I just want some of my life back so I can deal with family commitments. I have tried to broach the subject with my boss, but he has insinuated that if someone can't handle the job, they will find someone who can. I don't want to make a fuss because I don't want to lose my job, but I don't want things to keep going on like this either. It's a small company, so there's no dedicated HR staff, just my bosses and a general manager. What can I do?

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THE FIRST ANSWER

Julie Labrie

President of BlueSky Personnel Solutions, Toronto

Being busy or overworked is often socially glorified, and some companies load more work onto their existing employees because it's good for the bottom line.

According to Natalie MacDonald, founding partner of Toronto-based employment law firm Rudner MacDonald, if you are a non-manager, the Employment Standards Act says you must receive overtime pay if you work more than 44 hours a week.

Additionally, she notes, if you require accommodation based on your family status, such as for child care or elder care, you may be entitled to that accommodation if it is a reasonable request. That applies whether you are a manager or non-manager.

If you have attempted to resolve this matter with your boss to no avail, consider approaching the general manager. If open communication is welcome in your workplace, it may be worth having a friendly conversation asking for assistance in reducing your workload.

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If there are repercussions, consider how much you wish to stay with the company, Ms. MacDonald says. "Sometimes, fighting for what you are entitled to requires a hardline stance – and for some people the stress is not worth it."

Be loyal to yourself first. If the lack of work-life balance is outweighing the benefits of a rewarding job, it may be time to move to another job that gives you what you need.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Bill Howatt

President of Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

If you are convinced that an honest and open conversation will not result in any change, there are two things you should do.

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The first is to learn your rights. You can read about them online or call your provincial labour department and talk to a representative who can answer your questions. There are clearly defined maximum hours per day and per week and rules around overtime. Labour departments do not take kindly to employers who intimidate employees with threats of firing, pay cuts or other forms of punishment. Of course, you can also talk to a lawyer if there are undue hardships after you take this action.

The second is to take stock of what you really want in life. You can benefit from evaluating whether you could ever be really happy in your current role. If not, you may want to consider looking for other options that may be more flexible and supportive of your life-balance needs.

Both paths require action. The good news is that you have options. Employers are always looking for competent employees. It will take courage to get off your current merry-go-round. But the ball is in your court.

Take The Globe and Mail Quality of Life Survey to help you evaluate your overall work-life balance.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Your confidentiality is ensured.

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