Health and Safety
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By Lisa Kopochinski


As current communication technology continues to blur the line between work and home, the importance of a successful work-life balance remains as critical as ever.

The term “work-life balance” has been bandied about for years in the media, but what does it really mean and is the Canadian work-force actually achieving it?

According to the Ottawa-based Human Resources Council for the Nonprofit Sector, an organization that is funded in part through the Government of Canada’s Sector Council Program, the definition of a work-life balance is as follows:


“A self-defined, self-determined state of wellbeing that a person can reach, or can set as a goal, that allows them to manage effectively multiple responsibilities at work, at home and in their community; it supports physical, emotional, family and community health, and does so without grief, stress or negative impact.”


While this sounds good and is definitely something that both employers and employees should be experiencing, is it really happening?

It is especially pertinent since technological advances today have made many workers feel an increased amount of stress due to the dependency on email and having to stay connected outside of regular work hours. 

“In the past decade, there have been a lot of changes to Canadian workplaces,” said Laura Frangella, CHRP, B.A., principal at FocusedHR, a Toronto-based company that assists organizations in establishing and maintaining effective HR capabilities by providing services in training, policy development, performance management, legal compliance, change management and strategic planning.


The firm has more than 50 years of combined human resources experience in diverse sectors including manufacturing, distribution, retail, pharmaceutical, energy and not-for-profit agencies, construction and health care.

“We have an increased rate of female workers today. The ‘breadwinner’ role is shared and balancing work and childcare has become more challenging. Many Canadians are also in the ‘sandwich generation,’ spending more time taking care of children and elderly parents.”
Frangella says we all still have much further to go in achieving a work-life balance, but it is important for companies to do so Laura Frangella, CHRP, B.A., Principal, FocusedHR for many reasons.

“A healthy work-life balance reduces staff turnover rates, which in turn lowers recruitment and training costs, reduces absenteeism and use of sick leave and improves productivity,” she explained. “Work-life balance reduces stress levels and employees feel they have control over time management in meeting their work-life commitments. Employees will have increased focus, motivation and job satisfaction knowing that family and work commitments are being met.”

It really is a balancing act, she adds, because the needs of the business also have to be met.“I do believe it is a give-and-take relationship, whereby employees will be more motivated in doing a great job if they feel supported.”

Alan Kearns, president and founder of CareerJoy, a Toronto-based firm that provides career management advice to both individuals and employers, views things a little differently.

“I don’t see balance. I see work-life integration,” he said. “We always talk about work-life balance, but it’s a myth. In today’s world, that’s almost impossible. We can work anywhere at any time and it’s about giving people flexibility about where, how and when they work. It’s focusing more on deliverables and less on time.”

Kearns – who has shaped his 15 years of career management experience into a company that helps people from coast to coast navigate through a wide variety of career-related issues – says the way people work is still very much structured in the industrial age. That is, the worker shows up, essentially punches a timecard, does their work and goes home. Yet we don’t work that way anymore.

We have an increased rate of female workers today. The ‘breadwinner’ role is shared and balancing work and childcare has become more challenging. 

“Globalization, outsourcing, insourcing, multiple projects – all of these trends have created a tremendous amount of convergence,” he said. “But people are still often being managed according to the old industrial model.”

He says it’s important for companies to move away from viewing work as time and shift their thinking to viewing work as results.

He cites a personal example of where he was a speaker at a recent conference in Victoria, B.C. His offices are in Eastern Canada, so he rose early to get some work done to compensate for the three-hour time difference. He was scheduled to attend and speak at the conference that evening, so from noon to 2:00 p.m., he went paddle boarding.

“That’s an example of work-life integration,” he said. “I was unavailable during that time. For the worker with family obligations, maybe they will get on the go train at 4:00 p.m., but they work on the way home and then are with their family from, say 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and then do some work that night. They’ll leave the office early when others are staying behind, but on the other hand, they’ll be working in the evening. I’m convinced that the majority of people will do the work they need to do when it needs to be done. They might just do it at 2:00 a.m.”


Strategies to Attain Balance

Whether one views it as work-life balance or work-life integration, it is still vital that companies create strategies and set successful policies to create a situation that works for both employer and employee. If employers don’t do this, the result is often a rise in employee absenteeism, lack of engagement, decreased productivity, performance issues, an increase in physical and mental implications and a decrease in profits.

Frangella said employers and HR professionals can encourage a healthy work- life balance within a workforce by initiating strategies such as “having flexible work schedules, the ability to work from home, time off for personal issues and reduced workloads. Some employers have wellness programs and provide onsite resources in the areas of nutrition counselling, relaxation training, active living challenges and stress management strategies.”

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are also beneficial and provide employees with support and assistance in assessing and resolving work, health and life issues. Additionally, limiting the use of mobile devices on evenings or weekends and when employees are on vacation also assists in supporting a successful work-life balance.

Kearns is a big proponent of what he calls a digital Sabbath. “Take 24 hours off from your computer and email,” he said. “Disconnect yourself digitally. It’s amazing what that does. It disrupts your pattern of constantly being ‘on.’”


A healthy work-life balance reduces staff turnover rates, which in turn lowers recruitment and training costs, reduces absenteeism and use of sick leave and improves productivity.

When an organization is focused on improving a work-life balance for its employees, it begins by ensuring that senior management are committed to supporting their staff to achieve a healthy balance between work and other pursuits and not foster a round-the clock work culture.

“Today’s workers have competing responsibilities, such as work, children, housework, volunteering, spousal and elderly parent care and this places stress on individuals, families and communities,” said Frangella. “A healthy work-life balance reduces staff turnover rates, which in turn lowers recruitment and training costs, reduces absenteeism and use of sick leave and improves productivity.”


The HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector offers a section on work-life balance in its online HR toolkit (http://hrcouncil. ca/hr-toolkit/home.cfm) that is designed to help managers, employees and board members better understand, address and manage issues relating to HR in nonprofit organizations.

Additionally, on its website (, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) offers initiatives that include benefits, policies and programs that help create a better balance between the demands of the job and the healthy management and enjoyment of life outside work. Work/life initiatives can potentially deal with a wide range of issues, including:


■ Onsite childcare and emergency child-care assistance

■ Seasonal childcare programs (such as March break or Christmas)

■ Eldercare initiatives (these may range from referral programs, eldercare assessment, case management and a list of local organizations or businesses that can help with information, products or seminars)

■ Flexible working arrangements

■ Parental leave for adoptive parents

■ Family leave policies

■ Other leaves of absence policies such as educational leave, community service leaves, self-funded leave or sabbaticals
■ Employee assistance programs

■ Onsite seminars and workshops (on such topics as stress, nutrition, smoking and communication)

■ Internal and/or external educational or training opportunities

■ Fitness facilities or fitness membership assistance When starting a work-life balance program, CCOHS stresses the importance for a company to appoint an individual or – in some cases – form a joint work/life committee.


To research needs and implement the program, the following two steps should be taken:

1. Assess the workplaces’ current situation and objectives. Survey employees, supervisors and managers. Ask about needs, concerns, etc. Find out about bottom line or underlying concerns (i.e., employees report not being able to cope with workplace stress. What is the true source of this stress?)

2. Get buy-in from all levels. Educate all members of the company about the benefits and challenges of introducing these programs. Be clear on the intentions and goals of the program.Provide any necessary training and/or education to help address these concerns.

“An employee has to feel that although they spend most of their time at work, they are also paying attention to all important facets of their lives,” said Frangella. “A good work-life balance is crucial to a person’s quality of living.”

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