Short term pain for long term gain: managing work life balance in a recession

Professor Linda Duxbury, Sprott School of Business, Carleton University, Canada

Thursday 18 June 2009

Presented by the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre in partnership with SafeWork SA - WorkLife Balance Strategy, Department of the Premier and Cabinet

National Study of Work-Life Conflict
Report One: The 2001 National Work-Life Conflict Study: puts the series into context by describing the sample of employees who participated in the research and examining the various "risk factors" associated with work-life conflict.

Report Two: Work-life Conflict in Canada in the New Millennium: A Status Report: makes the business case for change by looking at how high levels role overload, work to family interference, family to work interference, caregiver strain and spillover from work to family) affect employers, employees and their families. 

Report Three: Exploring the Link between Work-Life Conflict and the Use of Canada's Health Care System: focuses on how work-life conflict affects Canada's health care system (ie quantifies the system demands associated with high work-life conflict and attempts to put some kind of dollar value on how much it costs Canada to treat the health consequences of such conflict). 

Report Four: Who Is at Risk? Predictors of High Work-Life Conflict: identifies key risk factors for role overload, work interferes with family, family interferes with work and caregiver strain. 

Report Five: Reducing Work-Life Conflict: What Works? What Doesn't?: examines what employers, employees and their families can do to reduce work-life conflict. 

Report Six: Work-Life Conflict in the New Millennium: Key Findings and Recommendations From The 2001 National Work-Life Conflict Study. 

Other Reports
Work-Life Balance in the New Millennium: Where Are We? Where Do We Need to Go? CPRN Discussion Paper No. W12 October 2001 

Where to Work in Canada? An Examination of Regional Differences in Work-Life Practices (2003) (2003). Looks at how the various predictors and consequences of work-life conflict vary by region of Canada. 

Many organizations and governments, busy with dealing with the recession, think that work-life issues are of secondary importance. This talk focuses on the consequences such an approach is likely to have.

Using both Canadian and Australia data this talk quantifies the human and monetary costs of such as an approach. Links are drawn between work-life conflict and increased demands on Australia's health care system, increased use of prescription drugs, and declines in physical and mental health. Dr Duxbury also presents data showing that employees who cannot balance work and family are more likely to cope by having fewer or no children - a strategy that will have significant implications on Australians ability to remain globally competitive in the seller's market for labour that is predicted to start in 2011, the exact same time that the recession is likely to end.

Dr Duxbury also links work-life conflict to key organizational success factors such as recruitment, retention, and succession planning. The talk ends with a discussion of what organizations and governments can do to reduce work-life conflict in their workforce. Strategies discussed include increased flexibility, a focus on the immediate management and a change in organizational culture.


Linda Duxbury is a Professor at the Sprott School of Business, Carleton University. She received an M.A.Sc. in Chemical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Management Sciences from the University of Waterloo. Within the past decade she has completed major studies on Balancing Work and Family in the public, private Sectors and not for profit sectors; HR and Work-family Issues in the Small Business Sector; Management Support (What is it and Why does it Matter?); Career Development in the Public Sector and in the High Tech Sector; generational differences in work values. Dr. Duxbury has also conducted research which evaluates the organizational and individual impacts of e-mail, portable offices, cellular telephones, blackberrys, telework, flexible work arrangements, shiftwork and change management and studying what makes a "supportive" manager. She has recently completed a major a follow-up study on work-life balance in which 32,800 Canadian employees participated.

Dr Duxbury has published widely in both the academic and practitioner literatures in the area of work-family conflict, change management, supportive work environments, stress, telework, the use and impact of office technology, managing the new workforce and supportive management. She has also given over 300 plenary talks on these issues to both public and private sector audiences.

Within the Business School at Carleton, Dr Duxbury teaches masters and PhD courses in Managing Change as well as the masters course in Organizational Behaviour.

Dr Duxbury is also an accomplished trainer and speaker in the area of supportive work environments, work-life balance, managing the new workforce, recruitment and retention, change management, gender and communication and the communication process.

Dr Duxbury held the Imperial Life Chair in Women and Management from 1992 to 1996 and was director of Carleton Centre for Research on Education on Women and Work from 1996 to 1999. In 1999 she was appointed to the Fryer Commission on Labour-Management Relations in the Federal Government. In May 2000, Dr. Duxbury was awarded the Public Service Citation from the Association of Public Service Executives for her work on supportive work environments. In October 2002 she was awarded the Canadian Workplace Wellness Pioneer Award for her "pioneering efforts, creativity, innovation and leadership in the field of organizational health."

SafeWork SA is the lead agency for the South Australian Strategic Plan Target 2.12 "Improve the quality of life of all South Australians through the maintenance of a healthy Work Life Balance"

The SWSA WorkLife Balance Strategy

The SWSA WLB Strategy is working in three areas

  • Improving and promoting minimum standards and legislation that supports WLB
  • Developing an awareness raising programme and research to support WLB
  • Establishing partnerships with other government agencies to address the WLB target

Work Life Balance [WLB] is no longer a luxury item but a key industrial and OH&S issue for many workers struggling to reduce the tension between the demands of work and the responsibilities in the rest of their lives. For employers, looking at flexible work arrangements can improve attraction and retention, reduce turnover, absenteeism and rehabilitation costs, increase productivity and improve their standing as an 'Employer of Choice'.

For employee's, the opportunity to have some say over how work is organised and have some access to flexible work and leave arrangements enables young people, parents and older workers to access and stay in work and reduce the stress of juggling other responsibilities.

While the views presented by speakers within the Hawke Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia or The Hawke Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: strengthening our democracy - valuing our cultural diversity - and building our future. 

While the views presented by speakers within The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia, or The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: Strengthening our Democracy - Valuing our Diversity - Building our Future. The Hawke Centre reserves the right to change their program at any time without notice.