The most important characteristic that Canadians look for in a job is respectful treatment at work, according to Graham Lowe, a leading work expert and president of the Kelowna, B.C.-based Graham Lowe Group.

Referencing a 2007 study, 21st Century Job Quality: Achieving What Canadians Want, he said Canadians place a high value on workplaces that offer the following characteristics (in order of importance):

• respectful treatment

• a healthy and safe environment

• trustworthy management

• work-life balance

• a sense of pride and accomplishment

• training to do their jobs effectively

Lowe, who spoke to a room of 50 benefits providers at the CPBI Forum 2008 in Toronto, said today’s employers face several pressures to create healthy workplaces. Those pressures include rising benefits costs, an aging and soon-to-retire workforce necessitating more aggressive recruitment and retention efforts, the need to create innovative and creative work environments to fuel a brain-based economy, and demand for quality of life.

“The convergence of these pressures this decade has raised the bar and encouraged organizations to look at health and safety,” he said.

Lowe was followed by presentation on work-life conflict by Linda Duxbury, a leading organizational health researcher, and a professor in Carlton University’s School of Business.

Duxbury said there are four types of work-life conflict, and each affects a person’s mental health:

• work overload

• work interferes with family responsibilities

• family responsibilities interfere with work

• caregiver strain

“Research tells us that work and life are not separate anymore, and mostly there is pressure to give work the priority,” she said.

Research shows that the direct cost of absenteeism due to work-life conflict on organizations is between $6 billion and $10 billion, Duxbury explained. The direct cost of absenteeism due to role overload alone is $3 billion per year.

“We got away with unhealthy behaviours for years…but we are now moving into a ‘seller’s market’ [there are more jobs than there are skilled workers],” she said.

“The older generation looks down on the younger generation thinking it has no work ethic. But the problem is you and your organization,” said Duxbury. “You got shareholder value by working people in your organization over capacity—by getting them to donate their free time to you…generation X and Y won’t take it.”

She made the following recommendations for reducing work overload:

• provide employees with a greater sense of control over their hours and work schedules

• offer paid time off to attend job-related training sessions, courses and conferences

• offer five paid personal days that employees can use to deal with whatever issues they want

• measure performance not hours worked

To reduce work interference with family responsibilities, employers should increase the number of supportive managers within the organization. Supportive managers:

• make work expectations clear

• are effective at panning the work to be done

• provide constructive feedback when performance is not met

• ask for employees’ input before making decisions

The CPBI Forum 2008 took place at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel from May 12 to 14.

For more stories from the annual conference, click here to visit our special online section, CPBI Forum 2008.

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