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Labour Views: Work-Life Balance

Aug 17, 2022

Though the Covid-19 pandemic is still ever-present, the removal of most travel restrictions this summer means many northerners are starting to take their postponed vacations, and gather with family and friends for weddings, funerals, and other life events.

Having time off from work is so important to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Finding the balance between work, rest, and recreation has been an ongoing challenge for employers and workers.

A traditional day of rest goes back thousands of years, and throughout history has fallen on a different day or weekly cycle, depending on the mainstream traditions and culture of any given time and place. Codifying weekends and statutory holidays into labour laws have been hard won battles for workers.

The fight for reasonable working hours was led by workers and labour unions to regulate the hours that someone could work in a day.

The big push came in the 1800s during the industrial revolution. Many workers moved from farms or home-based jobs to working in large factories. Factory owners demanded long hours, usually ten to sixteen hours per day.

In 1817, a Welsh social reformer named Robert Owen determined that an eight-hour workday was necessary for workers to remain healthy and productive, and came up with the slogan, “Eight hours' labour, Eight hours' recreation, Eight hours' rest.”

The movement gradually spread across the world, and by the early 1900s, most industrialized countries had officially adopted the eight-hour day (though it took Canada until the 1960s to officially legislate a 40-hour workweek).

As the way we work has evolved over the centuries, so have the goals of the Labour Movement. However, work-life balance has always been and still is one of the key principles we fight for every day.

When workers are out of balance, they burn out, lose morale and, in some cases, can make a workplace unsafe. Workers who are tired or stressed are more prone to absenteeism or more likely to make mistakes that can cost an employer time and money.

It’s ironic – and unfortunate – that so many employers use money as an excuse to avoid implementing policies and benefits that will make their workers more productive and save an employer money in the long run.

Though some workplaces had begun experimenting with shorter weeks or more flexible hours prior to the pandemic, the fallout of Covid-19 restrictions has brought the issue of work-life balance back into the spotlight. A new generation of workers are re-evaluating what work-life balance means in today’s world.

Soaring housing prices combined with wages that have failed to keep up with inflation mean many of today’s workers don’t own their own homes and are less tied down to a particular location. Being more mobile than previous generations means many are willing to relocate if their work situation is unhappy or unsustainable.

Workers need balance. This means having paid days off when you’re ill, when you need a mental health day, for vacation and rest, to participate in life events, or when emergencies arise.

Workers shouldn’t have to miss important moments or forgo much needed rest because they can’t afford to take time off, or because their workplace culture discourages it.

As worker priorities change, an employer that refuses to evolve and adapt along with their workforce will find it harder to recruit and retain staff.

While employers should not have to foot the bill for all their workers’ personal time, they need to ensure workers are not in a position where they are overworked and – as we see far too often in our territorial public service – feel forced to sacrifice work-life balance so their colleagues are not overloaded, or critical services to the public suffer.

This is an unfair burden for employers to place on their workers, especially because staffing and human resource management is the responsibility of the employer, not the workers.

Employers that advertise leave benefits in their recruiting efforts need to ensure that the leave they offer their workers is actually available to them. If a worker cannot access the leave they are entitled to, the advantages of working for that employer disappear and this impacts workplace morale.

Meanwhile, employers who don’t offer different types of paid leave to their workers need to think about how much those “savings” are really costing them in terms of worker turnover, absenteeism, and general productivity.

With nation-wide labour shortages, workers have the leverage to create change – but only if you are willing to fight for it.

This is your chance to use our collective power to redefine work-life balance for our current, and future generations of workers.