Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

IN CANADA: Tales from the Jungle

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

IN CANADA: Tales from the Jungle

Article excerpt

THE RESULTS of a new Health Canada study on "Work-Life Conflict" confirm what a lot of weary Canadians have suspected for a long time. Those who are juggling paid work and family responsibilities are at serious risk of dropping all the balls.1 After a decade of their employers' downsizing, rightsizing, restructuring, and globalizing, more than one-quarter of all job-holding Canadians are working more than 50 hours a week. After this grueling shift, they take work home with them, squeezing it in between looking after the children, doing household chores, and caring for older relatives.

Researchers Linda Duxbury and Chris Higgins analyzed surveys completed by nearly 31,500 workers in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. They contend that work/life conflict is undermining the economic productivity and effectiveness of virtually every institution. Among the most vulnerable employees are teachers and nurses, who are disadvantaged both because they work in the not-for-profit sector and because the majority of them are of the "juggling gender."

Duxbury and Higgins contend that years of job cuts and poor labor relations in health and education have devalued the professionals who are holding these key public systems together. Not only are they putting in a brutal number of hours on the job, but on average they spend 32 hours a month working at home. Not surprisingly, 62% of health and education workers complain of high "role overload."

Duxbury's cautionary worklife research published a decade ago contributed to an emerging policy discussion about how employers and governments could implement programs to head off the impending collision of work and personal life. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, this chat about workplace wellness, flextime, family- friendly employers, and -- gasp -- publicly provided day care appears to have remained just that: chat.

This new analysis argues that our precarious worklife situation has deteriorated over the last decade because governments have curtailed public services in order to finance the global ambitions of the private sector. While all employees have been affected by the intensification of work, Duxbury is refreshingly blunt about who has been hit the hardest. She told the Ottawa Citizen that health workers and teachers are "the most committed, overworked, stressed, and politically maligned workers in the country."2 Not only do Canadian teachers spend an average of 58 hours per week in "paid and unpaid teaching work,"3 but they also feel unappreciated and scapegoated for the problems generated by a poorly managed and underfunded system.

Duxbury warns that unless governments recognize that hollowed-out systems are driving the best out of their professions, the crisis will deepen as the current work force retires, on or off the job, and as potential recruits choose less-demanding professions.

This litany of complaints and warnings is all too familiar to teachers, whose organizations have documented the increasing demands on the profession and its growing frustration with cuts and criticism. From one end of the country to the other, teachers have described their workloads as unsustainable. The Nova Scotia Teachers' Union reported that more than 80% of their members felt "rushed" every day: "Teachers do not have adequate time to reflect on their teaching, they do not have time to work collaboratively with their peers, and they do not have time to re-fuel emotional and physical reserves."4

It is cold comfort to Nova Scotian teachers to be told that they are not alone. The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation found that while pretty well every teacher felt overworked (and underappreciated), perceived inequities in the distribution of work were also creating tensions within schools and within the profession itself.5 School-based administrators in small northern communities clocked an average of 62 hours per week on the job and thought that their pay should better reflect the unique demands of their settings. …

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