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Technology throwing work-life balance out of whack in B.C.: poll

Take a quick look at any recent political speech – federal, provincial, municipal or international – and the word “jobs” is certain to appear in some form at some moment.

Take a quick look at any recent political speech – federal, provincial, municipal or international – and the word “jobs” is certain to appear in some form at some moment.

British Columbia has been consumed over the past few years with discussions about housing affordability, while enjoying a low unemployment rate and a seemingly happy workforce. However, when employed residents of this province are asked about the current state of affairs, there are plenty of instances when work is undermining lifestyle.

When Research Co. asked employed British Columbians recently about their work-life balance, a third of respondents (33%) described it as “perfect.” This leaves 12% of employed residents who believe that lifestyle is taking precedence over work, and a sizable majority (53%) who believe that work is getting in the way of their health, leisure, family and spirituality.

Technology was supposed to make work better for everyone. Company-issued cellphones and laptops would make communication seamless and allow tasks to be handled more quickly. Young employees smiled when they were provided with the shiniest portable hardware on their first official day on the job.

As time has gone by, cellphones and laptops have become more about direct surveillance than emergency accessibility. In the survey, 25% of employed British Columbians say they had to take a work-related call on the cellphone when they were with family or friends, and a slightly higher proportion (28%) had to reply to a work-related email at a time when they were not supposed to be “on call.”

What is fascinating about these interruptions caused by technology is that they affect younger workers more. Fewer than one in five employed British Columbians aged 55 and over were “interrupted” with calls or emails outside office hours. The proportion is higher for those aged 18 to 34 and 35 to 54.

The “generation gap” does not end there. If you are an employed British Columbian aged 55 and over, you are significantly less likely to have worked from home on a weekend (15%), to have worked from home at night (also 15%) or to have missed a “lifestyle” engagement (such as a family gathering or leisure activity) because of work (13%).

Conversely, significant proportions of workers aged 18 to 34 and aged 35 to 54 had to deal with work tasks on a Saturday or Sunday (26% and 27%, respectively), worked after hours from home (20% and 24%, respectively) and missed “lifestyle” gatherings because of “the office” (34% and 31%, respectively).

Staying late for work is the main reason messing with the family life and leisure of British Columbians. Once again, the age differences are not subtle. A majority of employed residents aged 18 to 34 have stayed at their desks longer than they should (52%) along with almost half of those aged 35 to 54 (47%). For those aged 55 and over, the proportion of “late workers” drops to 36%.

As expected, being “always on” even when they have left the workplace is taking a toll on employed British Columbians. Two in five (42%) say work has put a strain on their relationships with family and friends. The province’s youngest workers are more likely to report having a tougher time setting the office aside.

All generations agree that it is now harder to achieve work-life balance than it was for their own parents. It would be easy to blame technology, but it is not solely responsible for the fact that the office is now with us all the time. Overeager bosses and supervisors can generate a sense of panic – particularly among impressionable younger workers – that abruptly makes the signals emanating from the company-issued cellphone more important than the conversation with a significant other sitting at the dinner table.

The survey indubitably shows that millennials and members of generation X are having a harder time establishing clear boundaries between what they do and how they want to live. The fact that roughly a third of employed British Columbians of all ages gleefully boast of having a “perfect” work-life balance” should be a motivator for everyone.

The secret to knowing when to leave the office behind may lie in figuring out how to unplug, and not assuming that what can be dealt with during regular business hours is an emergency that requires shunning family, friends or leisure. •

Mario Canseco is the president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from April 4 to April 7, 2019, among 646 adults in British Columbia who are employed full time or part time. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.