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Friday, October 21, 2005

Live to work or work to live?

This is my newspaper column for next week...(10 small town papers).


This is Workplace Health Week in Canada – a time for employers and employees to consider how to strive for a healthier workplace and a good balance between home and work. This is a large topic; it clearly includes safe environments and preventing injuries, yet goes beyond to include the elusive work-life balance and job satisfaction.

Thinking about this led me to reflect on the workplaces I’ve enjoyed (or not) over the years. Several of my first jobs were of the ‘never again’ variety. The shortest was a mere twelve hours, peeling potatoes before retiring to my ‘free accommodation’, a filthy, windowless shack, teeming with mosquitoes and just spitting distance from the highway. The toughest job was working on a tobacco farm – backbreaking, nicotine-oozing work that would make a terrific smoking cessation program. In those early years I also shoveled out pens in a zoo, unloaded ships near Igloolik, served customers (some of them armed) in an all night convenience store in Colorado Springs and worked as a technician in a hospital operating room – setting up for surgery and mopping up the bits at the end.

While youthful employment stories are great for impressing my teenage children’s friends, I’m certainly glad that my career evolved to more rewarding employment, including my current self-employment. (I generally get along very well with the boss.)

According to a Health Canada survey, on a typical day, a Canadian worker spends 10.5 hours at the job or commuting and four hours doing housework and caring for children or other dependents. Add in sleeping time and it’s easy to see why so many workers feel a little touchy by the time their vacations roll around. The workers between 30 and 49 years old particularly indicated difficulty in achieving a balance. Career, children and aging parents all converge on workers in that age group. Who wouldn’t feel stress? It won’t surprise some readers that women are almost twice as likely as men to have trouble balancing home and work responsibilities.

What would the enlightened employer do to foster workplace health? Build flexibility into programs and policies to help employees juggle family responsibilities. Allow employees to pursue flexible career paths and give them as much control over their duties as possible. Change the work environment to make it easier for women to pursue a productive career and for men to contribute more fully to their families. And they would foster favourable health practices – from employee assistance programs to encouraging physical activity. And why would he do all this? Along with reducing absenteeism and sick leave, this would likely contribute to a healthier bottom line and would retain good employees for years to come.

What would the enlightened employee do? Seek an integrated life that includes emotional, spiritual, social, mental and physical elements. Choose one or two behaviours that would be helpful and might reduce stress, then ask someone close for support in this. Bring kindness, good humour and a calm focus to the work team. Celebrate successes at work. And finally, look for alternate employment if needed – in Canada’s wonderfully free society, it’s still a choice.

A friend of mine retired recently after working decades for a large company. He attended his final luncheon, got his watch (he really did) and then packed his personal belongings up to head home. Everything that was his to remove fit into one small cardboard box. When he got home, he set the box on the bed and was suddenly flooded with the realization that for years and years he had given so much to his work…and missed so much at home. Did it really all fit into one small box?

This is a great article. So true, we're valued so little at work, it's a terrible shame to voluntarily give any extra to it if we're missed at home.

How's this newpapering going for you? How many articles have you done now?

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