In 1991, Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario conducted the first national study of work-life conflict in Canada to “explore how the changing relationship between family and work affects organizations, families and employers.” They repeated the study in 2001 and in 2012 have completed a third round. The study examined the work-life experiences of over 25,000 Canadians employed full time in public, private and not-for-profit organizations.
The results are not encouraging. First, Canadians are working harder than ever. The amount of time spent in paid employment has increased dramatically with 68 per cent of men and 54 per cent of women working more than 45 hours per week in 2011 compared to 55 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women in 2001.
While people are working more, apparently they are enjoying it less. Absenteeism over all increased seven per cent from 2001 to 2011 with people missing work due to emotional and mental fatigue increasing by 12 per cent. Workers reporting a high level of stress increased from 44 per cent in 1991 to 54 per cent in 2001 to 57 per cent in 2011, while those suffering from depressed mood, a state characterized by low energy and persistent feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, increased from 24 per cent in 1991 to 36 per cent in 2001 and 2011.
The Canadian workplace it seems is becoming a place of increasing unhappiness. It makes one wonder what all the remarkable technical progress of the last 20 years was for. Nor apparently has globalization brought the utopia corporations and their political servants promised.
The tragedy is not only a decline in the quality of work life. As we approach a time when growth must stop in order to preserve a future for both the health of the environment and the health of civilization, working less could make a major contribution. And we could enjoy the extra time for family, community and simply enjoying life. Yet we seem to be going in precisely the wrong direction. What, exactly, is the point?