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It's a familiar rant: I have no life because I'm working all the time.

Well, take the time back and get a life, admonishes Chris Higgins, a professor at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business and co-author of a ground-breaking series of reports on work-life balance.

"I don't think organizations are the problem any more. It's us … we just can't say no," says Prof. Higgins, who, along with fellow researcher Linda Duxbury, a business professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, has chronicled the problems associated with work-life conflict for more than a decade.

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Ironically, some of the most common strategies employees use to try to balance their work and personal lives are to prioritize - usually at the expense of families - and "to work harder, and try to do it all."

Instead of negotiating more manageable workloads, many working Canadians toil through lunch in order to leave at a decent time, take work home with them, or stay in touch with the office from the sidelines of their children's sporting events.

Even those who have to take time out to care for a sick child or elderly relative frequently engage in what Prof. Higgins and Prof. Duxbury call "guerrilla telework" - working from home rather than booking a day off to properly attend to family needs.

Or they try to "buy balance" by laying on extra child care or other services, which mostly just frees them up to do even more work.

But all of these strategies merely serve to raise expectations about how much employees are willing and able to do, Prof. Higgins said in an interview this week after the most recent report he co-authored with Prof. Duxbury was released by the federal government's Ministry of Health, a sponsor of their research.

"It just increases the expectations. You have established a certain amount of work that you do. That's what's expected by yourself and by your employer - and when you don't live up to that, all hell breaks loose," he says.

Prof. Higgins's advice?

"We have got ourselves into a cycle of just doing more and more, so just saying no is the thing. If you want to solve the problem, just say no."

There is a cost to saying no, Prof. Higgins acknowledges. "That's the thing. When you say no, you're saying no to the $200,000-a-year lifestyle." But "if you want balance, you have to be willing to give a little bit."

Consultant Nora Spinks, president of Toronto-based Work-Life Harmony Enterprises Inc., says more Canadians are valuing their time.

"We're seeing these [class-action]lawsuits related to unpaid overtime, and we're going to see more of them," Ms. Spinks said, referring to recent actions launched against Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the accounting firm KPMG LLP.

Recent college and university graduates, in particular, place a higher premium on work-life balance than their parents did when they entered the work force, and this will put pressure on employers, she says.

"The [new employee]attitude is: You can have a reasonable amount of my time and energy, but you can't have my health, my life, my relationships," Ms. Spinks says.

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Even with the round-the-clock accessibility enabled by new technology, Ms. Spinks says working Canadians, especially younger ones, are learning to "turn it off."

She says the work-life seesaw will tip more in favour of lifestyle considerations over the course of the next decade, as a tighter labour market forces employers to be more accommodating to employee demands.

Prof. Higgins says employers have introduced all sorts of policies already to accommodate work-life balance, such as flexible work schedules, the opportunity to telework from home, child care assistance, elder care assistance and emergency family leave.

But such corporate policies are not worth the paper they are written on if employees cannot take advantage of them because of unsupportive managers who lay guilt trips on anyone who asks for time or accommodation to take care of personal matters, Prof. Higgins says.

Just as employees need to do more to advocate for themselves, employers can help by "reducing [the number]of non-supportive managers," Prof. Higgins and Prof. Duxbury say in their report.

Meantime, they found that 12 per cent of working Canadians cope by drinking after every workday, and 11 per cent consume prescription or illegal drugs on a daily basis.

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But getting blasted - along with the less self-destructive strategies of trying to work harder, reducing the quality of work, or taking the BlackBerry to the kids' concerts and athletic events - do not ultimately help, they write.

"These strategies, while perhaps able to make employees feel temporarily better, are not sustainable in the long term."

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