Gimme a break: The quest for the right work-life balance

How was your weekend? Way too short? David Garvey says workers in North America should feel empowered to take a note out of the Swedes' book and push for shorter workweeks.

Canada should take heed of Swedes, experiment with shortened, condensed workweek, David Garvey says

David Garvey says people in North America are slaves to the 40-hour work week and would benefit from a little more time with family and friends.

How was your weekend? Way too short?

I often hear that around the office. On Friday everyone's happy to have 63 blessed hours away from work, but soon enough (or very quickly) we're back at it.

I hate Mondays, hump day, "Thank God it's Friday." We're inadvertently wishing our lives away as we go through our regular schedule. In the dark stretch of winter after the holidays, are we just putting in our time until we get the next long weekend? Where's Louis Riel when you need him?

I don't recall ever thinking that the weekend was a little too long, or wishing I was back at work — like, ever. But now that I have kids, the weekends seem more like a quick rest stop than an actual break from work. A family obligation here or there, some grocery shopping, a little cleaning and suddenly it's Sunday night and once again I have to wonder if I have clean pants to wear in the morning.

In case this sounds like one man's complaint about being busy, let me assure you that I see and hear of others who have far more difficult work-life arrangements than I do on a daily basis, such as pre-dawn arrivals at daycare, or single parents forced to drag kids to the bus stop on these freezing January mornings.

Still, I expect some readers will think "Boo-hoo, too bad for you," since some have a prideful, almost masochistic view of putting in long hours.

Tough bunch

But we're a pretty tough bunch of people to begin with. Watch the news from the U.S. and see how a little snow in the south or along the West Coast will shut the whole place down completely. Winnipeg ain't Vancouver and we always show up for work. Can you imagine telling your boss you're late because it's chilly outside? You'd be laughed out of the human resources office.

Some have a prideful, almost masochistic view of putting in long hours.- David Garvey

Last fall, the city of Gothenburg, Sweden, made headlines when a few employers decided to try out a six-hour workday. The news kind of morphed across the internet into the whole of Sweden taking part, but really, it's a localized experiment with some health-care workers and some small startups.

Still, the early results are positive: increased focus and quicker completion of tasks, less sick leave and a better work-life balance. Both employees and employers are seeing the benefits of a shorter workday.

Less work, hard work

But there's a catch — no Facebook or personal calls on company time. Just show up, do your work and then be on your way. Short and to the point, no need to dawdle on projects or slowly walk back from the washroom.

For some reason these initiatives are always taking place somewhere else, far away. But I believe we too could try not spending most of our time at our work with people who would otherwise be complete strangers. We already know we'll be coming in to work if there's a blizzard. There should be some kind of compensation for that hardy attitude.

The days of dad going off to work while mom stays home with the children are gone, if they ever really existed. Now most families require two incomes to make ends meet, which means the kids are also probably spending most of their time with adult supervisors who are not family members.

Fast tech, long haul

Smartphones, video chats, instant messaging — we have the technology to connect to almost anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye, and yet these expedited processes have not altered the concept that a workweek is a minimum of 40 hours.

And while a city in Sweden experiments with a better work-life balance, many of our American neighbours forego their annual vacation out of fear of losing their jobs. They're stressed out and overworked, and I doubt that is making them more efficient.

As we make our way through the rest of winter, let's at least consider what a reduced workweek would be like. Of course some people really love their job, and they probably think a 40-hour week already sounds like a vacation, so this idea may not be for everyone. But for all the overly busy people who do think their time off is way too short, let's at least dream of how it could be.

And employers take note: those workers in Gothenburg had their hours reduced, not their pay. No one said anything about reducing pay.

David Garvey wants his HR department to know he likes his job just fine. 


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