Mark Darwin’s mother is 81, chronically ill and refuses to move from her home of 53 years to assisted living. His 22-year-old son lives at home at least half the year. And his step-daughter, 33, her husband and six-year-old son are planning to live under Darwin’s roof until they sort out their finances. Darwin’s wife works full time irregular hours. Darwin balances his work life between a part-time contract and various entrepreneurial pursuits.
It’s an all-too-common fact of Canadian life as 55-year-old Darwin does his best to juggle his work and his family obligations. And it’s a balancing act that employers must take into consideration, says Linda Duxbury, a Carleton University business professor.
“Our society and our family structure are becoming more complex,” says Duxbury, who has studied issues related to workload and stress for 25 years. “We are all Darwin at some point in our lives and there is not one set of policies that is going to protect us.”
Duxbury, who collaborates predominantly with Chris Higgins, a statistics professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business, explores work-life issues relevant to our society today and examines how they affect what we care about and where we’re headed – caring for aging parents and young children, making choices about career and family, dealing with mental health and stress, balancing our use of digital devices.
A recent study by Duxbury, for example, looked at the impact of technology and of being “on” round the clock.
“Organizations are trying to do more, with less, and it’s costing us. There is high ‘mental day’ absenteeism, for example, and people who are stressed and depressed are not creative.”
Duxbury and Higgins conduct surveys and interviews, analyze the data and discuss solutions with a wide range of organizations in the public and private sector.
“My ultimate goal would be to change public policy and how employers deal with people. They must understand that people are not simply a cost.”
Some employers, especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan, are becoming enlightened to the reality of the workforce, Duxbury says. They are showing signs they recognize the issues and the need to be more flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances.