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Opinion: Work regains the upper hand in the battle for B.C. work-life balance

55 per cent of employed British Columbians say work is “definitely” or “probably” taking precedence over lifestyle, up 10 points since 2021.
Working-late-web-Thomas Barwick-Stone-Getty Images
In the past six months, 41 per cent of employed British Columbians say they had to spend more time at the office than usual.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many employed British Columbians to reassess their relationship with work.

Those who were able to work from home developed a fondness for their kitchen offices and may have been happy to avoid commuting five days a week. Others missed the camaraderie of the workplace, even if they had the opportunity to take care of kids, pets and laundry every morning.

When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked about the state of affairs in April 2021, we saw a reduction in the number of employed British Columbians who said that work was dominating their lives. At the time, the findings appeared to be a welcome development from the 2019 survey, when the demands of work were bothering a large proportion of the province’s residents.

Three vaccine doses later, we are essentially back to where we were before the pandemic began. This month, 55 per cent of employed British Columbians told us that work is “definitely” or “probably” taking precedence over lifestyle, up 10 points since 2021 and two points higher than the level observed in 2019.

Also of note, the proportion of employed British Columbians who claim to have reached a perfect balance between work and lifestyle fell from 41 per cent in 2021 to 31 per cent this year. Simply put, one in 10 of the province’s workers went from bliss to stress over the past 12 months. Men (55 per cent), British Columbians aged 18 to 34 (68 per cent) and residents of southern B.C. (62 per cent) are more likely to say that work rules when it comes to their time.

The main culprit that affects our schedules is having to stay late at work. In the past six months, 41 per cent of employed British Columbians (up six points since 2021) say they had to spend more time at the office than usual – a proportion that climbs to 48 per cent among those in the highest income bracket and to 54 per cent among residents of the Fraser Valley.

More than a third of employed British Columbians (35 per cent, up 11 points) were compelled to reply to an e-mail when they were with family and friends, and a slightly smaller proportion (32 per cent, up four points) had to take a call on the cellphone during a similar situation. These interruptions can lead to tension around the dinner table, at a moment when the office is supposed to be left behind.

We also see an increase in other pesky features of the modern office that keep intruding on our free time. More than a quarter of employed British Columbians report having to work from home at night (29 per cent, up seven points), having to work from home on a weekend (also 29 per cent, up five points) or missing a “lifestyle” engagement – like a virtual or live family gathering or leisure activity – because of work (27 per cent, up 10 points).

While it would be easy to assume that workers of all ages are experiencing the pitfalls of a ubiquitous office, the numbers tell a different story. British Columbians aged 18 to 34 are more likely to be affected by late stays at work (57 per cent), inconvenient replies to emails (45 per cent), abandoned “lifestyle” engagements (43 per cent) and cellphone calls that must be dealt with at odd hours (40 per cent).

In our survey, almost half of employed British Columbians (47 per cent, up 12 points) say that work has put a strain on their relationships with family and friends, while a similar proportion (49 per cent, down 12 points) claim that this is not the case.

As expected, British Columbians aged 18 to 34 are significantly more likely to say that work is disrupting their lives (68 per cent) than their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (40 per cent) and aged 55 and over (30 per cent). Regionally, this is a complexity that affects residents of southern B.C. the most (52 per cent), followed by those in the Fraser Valley (50 per cent), Metro Vancouver (48 per cent), Vancouver Island (40 per cent) and northern B.C. (35 per cent).

Finally, only 17 per cent of British Columbians (up one point) believe that it is easier for them to achieve a work-life balance than it was for their parents. One-third (34 per cent, down three points) see no difference between generations on this front, while more than two in five (43 per cent, up four points) believe the quest is harder in this day and age.

As employers define the look and feel of the post-pandemic office, there will be many issues to consider. Younger workers are feeling the pinch more than their older counterparts. Being interrupted after work hours with calls and emails could be regarded as a natural sacrifice for a young go-getter eager for a promotion or a pay raise. Still, employers would be wise to assess all of their practices, including the number of days a person can work from home, if they want to enhance productivity and achieve retention. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from April 1 to April 5, 2022, among 650 adults in British Columbia who are employed full time or part time. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.