Why are Canadians less happy balancing work and life in the digital age?
New Statscan findings suggests that, while Canadians feel technology has made them more connected to each other, they're less fulfilled at juggling their work and home lives, Eric Andrew-Gee reports
A smaller share of Canadians are satisfied with their work-life balance than eight years ago, a period in which smartphones and the internet have become deeply embedded in the everyday life of people under 75, a new Statistics Canada report notes.
The findings, drawn from 2016's General Social Survey, suggest that although Canadians are broadly happy with the way technology has changed their lives, they may feel that some aspects of digital tech have penetrated too far into the domestic sphere.
Fully three-quarters of Canadians owned a smartphone in 2016, almost a decade since the launch of the iPhone made the pocket computers broadly popular, StatsCan found, surveying more than 19,000 Canadians 15 and over.
Meanwhile, 68 per cent of Canadians described themselves as satisfied or very satisfied with their work-life balance, down 10 points from 2008.
StatsCan did not ask respondents why they were less satisfied with their work-life balance, but the decline comes amidst widespread concern about smartphones smuggling work e-mail and other distractions into the home.
Daniel Levitin, an emeritus professor of neuroscience at McGill University and author The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, said he was not surprised by the drop in a sense of balance. "As I was doing interviews for my book," he wrote in an e-mail, "with highly successful people (and highly organized people), that's what people were complaining of. Computers were supposed to save us time but it's become the opposite.
"Add to that the pressure in our over-caffeinated society to get more and more done, and you've got a situation where no one feels they can slow down for even five minutes. This is obviously going affect family life, leisure time, and ironically it affects productivity – people who take regular breaks throughout the day and … slow down to smell the Tim Hortons coffee get more done because [their] brains are functioning more efficiently."
Canadians' satisfaction with their work-life balance did not vary much between men and women (70 per cent against 66 per cent) or between those with children and those without (67 per cent against 69 per cent).
Fourteen per cent of Canadians, meanwhile, felt that technology "often interfered with other things in life," the StatsCan analysis found, rising to 20 per cent for people between 15 and 24.
Family time is often a casualty of that interference, according to Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. She cites research from the University of Southern California Annenberg's Center for the Digital Future indicating that the percentage of Americans who reported spending less time with family because of their internet use shot from 11 per cent in 2006 to 28 per cent in 2011.
In an interview, Dr. Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist, said her research has shown that children suffer as much as anyone from a breakdown of the barriers between work and home life. For her book, she interviewed 1,000 children between 4 and 18 and found that they often felt abandoned by parents consumed with work tasks on their phones. Children particularly disliked the excuse that their parents were "just checking" a device that often in fact pulled the parent into a digital rabbit hole.
Dr. Steiner-Adair said that families should establish phone-free zones in the house, like the livingroom and dining-room table, along with phone-free times of day.
Despite its apparent disruption of work-life balance, many Canadians find a lot to like about new digital technologies, StatsCan found. Fifty-nine per cent of those surveyed said life was better because of technology, with 66 per cent saying it saved time and 36 per cent saying it aided creativity.
SNAPSHOTS OF CANADA: WHAT WE'VE LEARNED FROM THE 2016 CENSUS