"We are a nation in pain," say Bruce Weinstein in BusinessWeek . According to a recent Gallup Poll, the number of people classified as "suffering" has increased significantly, with managers and business owners experiencing the greatest loss of well-being.

Our economic recession has created many workplace pressures, including long-term job security. Given the difficult economic times, many people are feeling the pressure to work harder than ever. In this climate, it may seem frivolous to talk about work-life balance. Yet, whatever the climate, don't employers and executives have to demonstrate fairness? The greatest application of fairness is the allocation of time in our lives and what to do with that time. And we hear more and more people saying they are under pressure from employers, themselves and their families to keep up, often at the cost of life balance.

In an article by Linda Duxbury of Carleton University in the Ottawa Citizen, she argues that a country cannot pull out of an economic slump unless governments and employers deal with the crushing workloads that are forcing a number of Canadians to delay or have fewer children. She argues that heavy workloads and their interference on family life are key reasons for Canada's declining birth rate and labor force. Her previous 2001 study showed that Canadians were already overworked because of the massive downsizing of the l990s. As they enter the new recession, the burden will only get worse.

A 2008 study by the Families and Work Institute reports that the share of dual-earner family income contributed by women has risen to 44% and 26% of women now earn 10% more than their husbands. At the same time, men have increased the amount of time they spend with young children and are experiencing more work-family conflict than women. This study is the only one of its kind to provide 30 plus year comparisons of life on and off the job.

The gradual increase of women in the labor force over the past century, combined with various work life trends and economic pressures, has resulted in a shrinking gap between how men and women view their careers, family roles, and the fit between their lives on and off the job. The study reports that there are no significant differences between men and women in their views of appropriate gender roles. Among the findings of the report that have significant implications for our views of work-life balance are:

  • Among Generation Y (Millenials), women are just as likely as men to want jobs with greater responsibility;
  • Both men and women are now less likely to embrace traditional gender roles;
  • Employed fathers, especially Millenials, are spending more time with children today than their age counterparts did three decades ago, whereas employed mothers' time has not changed significantly;
  • Men are taking more overall responsibility for the care of their children
  • Fathers in dual-earner couples experience more work life conflict than mothers

And perhaps the most significant finding of the report was that changing gender roles appear to have increased the level of work life conflict experienced by men.

In the current environment, work-life balance still is one of the most important issue, second only to compensation, according to the Corporate Executive Board. Their study concludes that employees who feel they have better work-life balance tend to work 21% harder than those that don't.

It's become apparent that increasingly, the important need to ensure work-life balance is being ignored by employers as they focus on layoffs, and reorganization, which puts even more pressure on employees. That in turn will actually have negative effects on employee productivity. Best practice organizations recognize that the most appreciated service they can provide their employees is the "gift of time." In the CEB study, more than 60% identified flexible schedules as the most important work-life benefit their employees can provide.

During good economic times, attention to the issue of work-life balance became popular with many promising practices. Now during the economic downturn, the danger of employers putting its importance on the backburner may be at both the cost of productivity and family stability.

Ray Williams is President of Ray Williams Associates, a company based in Vancouver, providing executive and leadership training and coaching.


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