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Flexibility and Work-Life Balance
by Heidi Yetman, présidente  |  3/29/2017

Flexibility and work-life balance have been topics of conversation since the federal liberal government has taken power in Canada, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. On his campaign trail, Trudeau promised to amend the Canada Labour Code to allow workers to ask their employers for flexible working hours and to increase parental leaves. On a trip to Japan last year, for the Group of Seven Summit, Trudeau took a day off to celebrate his wedding anniversary with his wife Sophie. "This is the kind of work-life balance that I've often talked about as being essential in order to be able to be in service of the country with all one's very best and that's certainly something I'm going to continue to make sure we do," the prime minister said. Trudeau is also trying to introduce parliamentary reforms, which would include more “family-friendly” House of Commons working hours. He would like to change the sitting hours, hold voting earlier in the day and eliminate Friday’s session altogether. This would allow MPs to return to their contingencies on the weekends and spend more time with their families.

Sweden has been experimenting with shorter workweeks and it has been shown that employees are happier, feel healthier and are more productive. Shorter workweeks can save employers in the long term; if their employees are healthier there will be fewer sick leaves and less absenteeism. In addition, more jobs are created to help the economy.

In a 2012 Canadian national study, by Carleton and Western University, on balancing work and caregiving, researchers found that work demands have risen and flexibility in the workplace has dropped. Since work-related stress has increased, there are higher absenteeism and lower productivity among workers. In addition, women in Canada today still do on average one and a half times more domestic work or unpaid work than men. (Kramer, 2013)

I remember my mother visiting me from Winnipeg during the school year when I was newly married and working as a young inexperienced teacher. Every evening, after dinner, I would sit down at the computer and begin preparing for the following day. My mother declared, after seeing me work evenings for a week, “This is a crazy job. You have no life!” After teaching for five years, I became pregnant with my first son. Returning to the work pace that I was accustomed to, now as a young mother, was not practical. I returned to work, after a year of maternity leave, at half-time. This part time leave was crucial for my survival; I was a better teacher and more importantly a better mother (see picture above which was taken 10 years ago).

I believe that one of the reasons for women becoming teachers is job flexibility. Teachers' schedules are parallel with those of their children, allowing them to have the same holidays and spend summers together. There is no need as a teacher to search for summer and spring break youth camps for their children. It seems as if more and more teachers are asking for part-time positions, so that they can juggle work with their home life or to have a better quality of life. Unfortunately, I have discovered that managers at my school board, who are mainly men, are reluctant to grant part-time leaves. They believe that teaching is a full-time job. What they don't seem to see are the benefits of having part-time workers.

Now, as a union leader and in the beginning stages of local negotiations, I have a chance to try to make a difference. I will be fighting for teachers who need to have some balance in their lives.

Heidi Yetman

References:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-day-off-wedding-anniversary-1.3597533

http://globalnews.ca/news/2252448/6-hour-workday-catching-on-in-sweden-could-it-work-in-canada/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/growth/six-hour-workweek-boosts-productivity-in-sweden/article32323603/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/sweden-introduces-six-hour-work-day-a6674646.html

Kramer, Peter. "Women Happier with Flexible Work Hours: Study." Edmonton Journal (2013): n. pag. ProQuest Central,Canadian Major Dailies. Web. 5 July 2016.

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