Leading A Life Out Of Balance

Professor Chris Higgins discusses why people are experiencing time crunch and what they can do about it

Published: Jan 10, 2011

New technological devices, such as the iPhone and Blackberry, are both a blessing and a curse for workers. On one hand, they allow people to lead remotely and work outside the office. On the other hand, they make it easy for people to stay tethered to the workplace with less time for life and family.

Such advances, combined with long commutes and company cutbacks requiring workers to do more for less, have caused more and more Canadians to be caught in a time crunch. In fact, a recent report from the Canadian Index of Wellbeing entitled, Caught in the Time Crunch: Time Use, Leisure and Culture in Canada, found the number of Canadians experiencing high levels of time crunch has increased by 20 per cent.

Chris Higgins, a statistics professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business, has researched some of the factors that contribute to Canadians leading a life out of balance.

Dawn Milne recently sat down with Professor Higgins to discuss why people are experiencing time crunch and what they can do about it. She started by asking him if people are working longer work weeks than in the past.
A.  Yeah, absolutely we are working way longer than we did 10, 15, 20 years ago. White-collar workers are certainly spending two to three hours more per working week than they did 10 years ago. And even blue-color workers, even though they have the union mandated 37-1/2-40 hours a week, are working longer because organizations are doing more with less and now they are hiring people on overtime or part timers rather than hiring more full-time staff.

Q.  What are the main reasons why people are working longer?

A.  I think the number one reason is a lot of people are worried about losing their job. I think job security drives a lot of behaviours and so, if you are worried about losing your job, you're not going to be taking long vacations and extra days off. You're going to put in the effort because you know you want to keep that job. But, number two, a lot of people don't just want a job, they want a career, they want a lifestyle. And so, you know, if you've got a colleague and you're going for a promotion, if you've got a colleague who's putting in 55-60 hours a week, all things being equal, you're not going to be able to compete with them at 40 hours a week. So you're going to put in the extra time because, with the promotions comes the pay, the fancy cars, the lifestyle, and a lot of people crave that and so they'll put the hours in to get that.

Q.  What are the impacts of working longer?
A. 
Well, the impacts, of course, if you're working, there is only a fixed number of hours in a week , so, if you're working longer hours at work, obviously something has to give and what gives is family. So, you know, you'll spend less and less time with the family and for a lot of people that creates major guilt problems so they end up with a lot of what we would call work-family conflict  incompatible work and family demands and simply not enough time to get it done.

Q.  What about technology does it affect why people are working longer?
A. 
Yeah, technology is an interesting thing and it has both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, if you have to rush home and be with a sick child, you can still stay connected to work. If there's anything important going on or things you have to stay in touch with, that's wonderful. The negative side is people simply don't know how to control it at home. You know, you can even imagine people sitting at the dinner table with a Blackberry sitting beside them watching for the e-mails to flash across. People dont know how to turn it off.

Q.  How can people cut back on work hours and have better work-life balance?
A. 
Hey, here's the solution. It goes back to what Winston Churchill said during World War II. Winston said, I have found the enemy, it is us. And it is; we are our own worst enemies. You can work more efficiently at work, you can cut out all the social time, you can come home and you can say, OK, from 7 o'clock to 9 o'clock is family time. You spend time with the kids, you turn it off. What you have to do is create a boundary between work and family. However long that boundary is, don't let anything interrupt that boundary. If you can do that and compartmentalize, you can solve the problem.

That was Chris Higgins, professor of business statistics, Richard Ivey School of Business.

Reprint from Ivey Business Journal
[© Reprinted and used by permission of the Ivey Business School]

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