As you look ahead to 2016 and beyond – and whether work-life balance will improve or deteriorate further – expect the worst. In particular, expect elder care.
Work-life balance, of course, is extremely personal – our life is what matters – and for many people, balance might improve in future. But for Canadians as whole, it is likely to worsen, as the largest generation in history, the baby boomers, start needing more and more care, and their children, the so-called sandwich generation who often delayed having their own kids, try to balance the demands of both. It won't be easy.
Graham Lowe, a Kelowna, B.C.-based wellness consultant and emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Alberta, who has been collaborating on a book with Ekos pollster Frank Graves, says work-life balance has been steadily declining and job stress increasing since 2004. Also going down: Job satisfaction and work motivation. "There is no question that people feel work-life balance is harder and their jobs more stressful," he said in an interview.
Linda Duxbury, a professor at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business, says the perfect storm colliding in 2016 and beyond comes from a combination of the baby boomers aging, longevity increasing and seniors living on their own with just family support, and many people having their first children when they are in their 30s.
The recent election talked about child care. But the bigger issue – undiscussed – is that perfect storm of elder care. "We are not very good at supporting child care but we're way better at supporting child care than elder care," she warns.
So stress will increase, for the generation at the epicentre. Expect increased absenteeism and employees quitting jobs to provide the care their parents need. Individuals caught up in this drama may feel we can just apply child care solutions to this situation. But she says there's a big difference. As children get older, they require less attention and there is joy in seeing them blossom. But with elder care, the longer you provide it the more attention will be required, and as the parent's faculties diminish, joy can dissipate. "I have never seen stress scores like we see with elder care," she said of her research.
A compressed work week could help – longer hours each workday in order to free up a day each week for the inevitable visits with parents to medical appointments, which don't happen on weekends and gobble up large chunks of time. So perhaps four, 10-hour days. "But organizations don't like 10-hour days as they already get 10 hours from people while paying them for less," she said.
Government's big concern is in holding the line on health care costs. Three days after a hip replacement, the patient might be released from hospital. But with community support services patchy and often inadequate, the family is expected to be the caregivers. "They want to do that but they need help," she said.
Enlightened organizations need to recognize the issue as serious. "Elder care is the new child care. You need to proactively manage it or you will lose a lot of men and women in your organization. It will screw up your succession planning," she advises.
Prof. Lowe said an interesting finding from Ekos surveys is that the self-employed are the most satisfied with their work and the least stressed. "I think it comes as they made a choice to be their own boss. They are shielded from the turmoil of large organizations," he said.
The most stressed are folks in full-time work. They have experienced the brunt of downsizing in the recession and face always-intensifying pressure in organizations that aren't fully staffed. Knowledge workers, in particular, are putting in longer hours, and the ubiquity of mobile technology reduces their time away from work.
In the 1990s, there was concern about the polarization between good jobs and bad jobs – the former being full-time and the others part-time, spotty, and low-paid, without benefits. These days, the polarization is over quality of life. "You can no longer say that a good job is a permanent job with a big employer and a part-time job isn't good. That is no longer true," he observed. People are less concerned with the job security a major employer supposedly offers, preferring financial security that can often be gained apart from major companies.
As well, Canadians increasingly feel the next generation won't fare as well as their parents, a marked difference from 15 years ago. Prof. Duxbury's research finds that while 60 per cent of Canadians were happy with their lives in 1991, these days such satisfaction is down to 25 per cent. "They say, 'I am not leading the life I want to live.' They mention that the employer believes it owns all their time and if they don't do it, they will lose job security or not be seen as a team player," she said.
The message is clear for workplaces: They need to improve the quality of jobs, giving people more control over how and when they work to help them with work-life balance. Is this likely to happen, however, given these trends or will 2016 mark a continued deterioration?
"I'm an optimist," Prof. Lowe said. "I have a book coming out in 2016 arguing that this a really good time to have these conversations by all interested parties." And that conversation on balance clearly must include elder care, a problem that will deepen in coming years.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter