Balancing Work, Home Remains a Challenge in Canada

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Canadians working in the securities industry don't want their work to be their life, or their life to be their work - even at a time when employers are trying to do more with less.

Twenty six percent of CFOs recently polled by Accountemps said heavy workloads were the greatest source of work-related concerns for finance and accounting professionals in Canada. Work/life balance ranked second in the survey of 270 finance heads, with 24 percent. Corporate governance/compliance issues were third-biggest concern (14 percent), followed by personnel issues (10 percent) and job security (9 percent.)

To Toronto-based recruiter Jocelyn Yacoub, the results underscore how even in the current markets, employers shouldn't take their key staff for granted: People are less willing to sacrifice their personal lives for their careers than in the past.

"CFOs should be concerned and they should also realize that times have changed and finance professionals are no longer willing to sacrifice their families and precious time with their children for their careers. The days of working 70-hour weeks are no longer acceptable to finance professionals," Yacoub, the head of Yacoub & Associates Recruitment Professionals, says in an e-mail. "The banks are quickly realizing that work-life balance is essential, and are actually promoting their desire to allow employees to achieve work-life balance and are taking steps making it possible."

Doing What They Can Do

Aware of these trends, employers are taking steps to prevent workers from burning themselves out. Managers include workers in the hiring process so they can be sure a candidate will be a good fit with co-workers. Companies also are trying to make sure workers get the most urgently needed work done first, and using benefits such as wellness centers to keep staffs happy. "They want to make (work-life balance) part of their culture, which means people are leaving work on time," says Trent Arendse, branch manager of Robert Half's office in Brampton. Robert Half is the parent company of Accountemps. Of course, he points out, that's not always possible.

To be sure, given the current state of the economy, there's only so much the banks are going to be able to do. CIBC World Markets recently cut 100 administrative and management jobs. In June, Bank of Montreal laid off about 150 people, or 6 percent of the staff, in its capital markets unit. Other Canadian banks are trying to exploit such vulnerabilities, according to Yacoub. "Companies will try hard to steal top performers from any organization and offer them a better career opportunity," she says. "CIBC and BIMO are in no way to be isolated from the mix. All banks are fair targets."

Toronto-based recruiter Bill Vlaad, who specializes in financial services firms, recently suggested to Reuters that more layoffs were coming, particularly in corporate and investment banking staff. As the Canadian economy shows signs of stress, his pessimism is understandable. Unemployment rose to 6.2 percent in June, its highest level in more than a year, prompting concerns that woes in the U.S. are heading north.

"The financial services industry is putting more and more demands on its employees," observes Chris Blumas, an analyst with Morningstar in Toronto who follows Canadian banks. "They are working people hard. That's by nature what they do."

Out of Step?

Many companies, though, aren't doing enough to reach out to workers from Generation X (born between 1962 and 1979) and Generation Y (born after 1980), who are needed to fill positions being vacated by retiring Baby Boomers.

According to David Alpin Recruiting, which is active in the Toronto financial job market, most Canadian employers tout their support of local charities and casual dress codes when trying to attract these workers, though neither is high on the list of things employees want.

"Less than two-thirds of the companies are offering the incentives most sought after by Gen X and Y workers," says David Alpin. These include signing bonuses, subsidized transportation, free fitness membership and company stock options. Given the current economy, however, there are limits to corporate generosity.

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