Employment Mobility and Family Gentrification in Montreal

Steven High (Concordia University)
Lysiane Goulet Gervais (Concordia University)
Michelle Duchesneau (Concordia University)
Dany Guay-Bélanger (Carleton University)

As Canada’s economy evolves, along with the opportunities and constraints it provides, family members adapt to fulfill their responsibilities at home and at work. For many family members, this can involve travelling long distances for work and being away from home for days, weeks or even months at a time. Since 2012, the On the Move Partnership((On the Move is a cross-sectoral partnership involving 40 researchers from 17 disciplines and 22 universities across Canada and around the world that is funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).)) has been exploring this phenomenon of employment-related geographic mobility (E-RGM) and has found that more Canadians than ever before are regularly commuting to work over longer distances in “complex and nuanced” patterns.((Michael Hann, Deatra Walsh and Barbara Neis, “At the Crossroads: Geography, Gender and Occupational Sector in Employment-Related Geographical Mobility,” Canadian Studies in Population, 41:3–4 (2014), http://bit.ly/2nrVuyd.))

Most people think of rural work environments such as northern gas and oil or mining worksites when examining the impact of mobile work and rarely consider Canada’s inner-city regions, yet these emerging labour patterns are shaping the social and economic environments of communities of all kinds.

As part of the On the Move Partnership, we have explored the impact of mobile work in urban centres through extensive interviews over the past two years with Canadians engaged in mobile work, which ranged from extended daily commutes to extended travel across Quebec and around the world. The workers and families in this study were living in Montreal’s Southwest neighbourhoods of Little Burgundy, Saint-Henri and Pointe-Saint-Charles. Once heavily industrialized, these inner-city areas experienced social and economic change as a result of the rapid deindustrialization and out-migration that occurred during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. This was followed by a period of family gentrification, as middle-class people moved into the areas with their loved ones.

Families “localize” resource access to manage responsibilities despite absences

Our interview findings suggest that there is a connection between employment mobility and family gentrification. Families with sufficient financial resources are choosing to live in inner-city neighbourhoods in order to “localize” other aspects of their lives. This localization includes (but is not limited to) ensuring that community resources such as neighbourhood daycares and schools, playgrounds, stores and public transportation (especially the city’s metro system and the airport express bus) are readily accessible to households in which a family member is engaged in mobile work.
 

One parent’s mobility often leads to the relative immobility of other family members, who then often become more dependent on proximity to community resources.

 
Proximity to the central city serves to counterbalance the prolonged absences of family members resulting from work-related mobility. Among two-parent families, since this mobility results in an absence from the family home, one parent’s mobility often leads to the relative immobility of other family members, who then often become more dependent on proximity to community resources.

Mobile work adds complexity to family life and relationships

In this study, interviewed parents shared their reflections on the impact of mobile work on their children and on family life. One mother, Imane,((First names have been changed to ensure privacy.)) expressed concern about the impact of the work-related mobility on her children’s physical health: “The funny thing is that young kids tend to stress without letting you know. And the only way that they let you know is that they get sick. So, when he travels a lot, they get sick a lot. It is their way of saying that they are not happy about this situation.”
 

“… young kids tend to stress without letting you know. And the only way that they let you know is that they get sick. So, when he travels a lot, they get sick a lot. It is their way of saying that they are not happy about this situation.” (study participant)

 
Family members engaged in mobile work expressed concerns about managing their parenting roles when they are often away from home. Some shared feelings of sadness and a longing to be more involved in their children’s lives and frustration around having to schedule their children’s activities according to their travel plans – something that surfaced repeatedly in the interviews.

One mobile-working mother, Kate, told us that returning home after being away for weeks at a time made her feel as though she had missed large chunks of her son’s development and growth. With both Kate and her partner, Russell, being mobile workers, even when one is home, the other is frequently away. Life in not quite the same in those moments, she says, “Whether it is Russell or whether it is me, we are always waiting a little bit to live.”

Among our interviewees, Imane had the most to say about the impact of mobile work on family life. If her interview had a recurring theme, it would be that her family life in the context of mobile work is “complicated.” Asked about the effect of her husband’s travels on the family, she replies, “That’s kind of complicated, because we need help with the kids. I have to get the girls ready.” The eldest is sent to school with friends, while Imane takes her youngest to daycare. She picks them up at the end of the day and prepares dinner without her partner being there. “It’s not just taking care of the kids, it’s doing everything like taking care of the home yourself, doing groceries, meals, plus the activities, the school and daycare. Life gets complicated.” Her husband’s absence leaves her with little flexibility and a significantly increased family workload. “I can’t even get sick,” she says.

Parents who stay “back home” adapt to accommodate their partners’ mobility

As she is self-employed, Imane usually has to work after the kids are asleep: “But when he’s away, I am so tired that I can’t really work when the girls sleep.” As a result, her own work is often left undone, something she finds stressful. Luckily, Imane’s mother lives in Montreal and helps manage family roles and responsibilities, such as cooking, laundry or picking up the girls. She stressed the importance of maintaining a routine, even when her husband is away for extended periods: “Life doesn’t change when he is away… [so] we continue living our life as usual.” Summing up things, Imane says, “You continue the routines and the busy schedule of having kids.”

Family life moves on even when a parent is away at work. One mobile worker, Pierre, explained that travelling for work wasn’t an issue before his daughter was born. Now, he is concerned about spending time with her, since his long commutes mean that when he leaves and arrives from work she is usually asleep. He is also worried that travelling for work will affect his capacity to take on his share of familial responsibilities. Several interviewees also said that they used to travel as a family when one of them had to work away from home, but that they stopped once their children reached school age. Imane’s family used to travel together but didn’t want to take the children out of school too often, so they now only rarely accompany their father when he travels for work.

Families use technology to maintain and manage family relationships

Families are increasingly using technology and new media to bridge the distance and remain present in family life. While not all families have access to these tools, these “virtual intimacies” are a growing reality and can help provide continuity in family rituals and relationships in the context of family absences.((R. Wilding, “‘Virtual’ Intimacies? Families Communicating Across Transnational Contexts,” Global Networks 6:2 (February 28, 2006), doi:10.1111/j.1471-0374.2006.00137.x.))
 

“Virtual intimacies” are a growing reality and can help provide continuity in family rituals and relationships in the context of family absences.

 
A number of study participants spoke of the importance of FaceTime, Skype and other social media in maintaining a connection to home while away. For example, while he’s away, Russell “continues to participate in some of the rituals of life with a child, such as bedtime stories and goodnight songs via Skype.” His partner, Kate, elaborates, “This didn’t exist before, 12 years ago, let’s say. It wasn’t possible – it was phone bills through the roof [laughs]. Nowadays, it is possible to communicate for a small charge or no cost at all; it really, really, really helps to save the day.” Imane says that when her husband travels internationally, communication can be difficult. If he is in India or Pakistan, there is a 10- or 11-hour difference, which can make it hard to find the right time to connect. Also, she says that “the girls don’t like the phone so much, so yeah, it’s not easy.” Her eldest would “barely say ‘Hi, I’m good, everything’s good. Here’s Mom.’” At only 3 years of age, her youngest child doesn’t really speak on the phone yet.

Children notice routine changes resulting from mobility

In order to gain an intergenerational understanding of how work mobility affects family life, we interviewed four children ages 5 to 7 as part of the study. Much of what these children shared reinforced what the parents said, while other elements of the interviews revealed a different perspective. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the children mainly recall the disruptions in their routine.

They fondly remember staying up late or eating certain foods as joyous occasions when the travelling parent is away. June talked about being sad that her mom, Laura, was away but also appreciates the extra time with dad and the extra privileges she receives, “I’m sad when mom is gone, but I am also happy because I get to stay up late.” Some of the children remember receiving and giving gifts upon return and other people caring for them: grandparents, family friends and others.

Families adapt to fulfill their responsibilities

By focusing on three different locations, our place-based approach to the issue of employment mobility allowed us to view mobility from another perspective. This approach highlighted some of the impacts on family life while considering the full spectrum of mobile work, from extended daily commuters to regular travellers who leave home for extended periods. It also encouraged us to consider the relationship between employment mobility and family fixity (aspects of family life that are geographically bound or fixed), particularly as it plays out in “local” processes of urban gentrification. Our research highlighted that while families experience a number of impacts resulting from mobile work, they evolve and adjust in diverse ways – including living close to community resources, adapting family relationships and using technology – to manage their multiple responsibilities.

 


Steven High is a Professor of History at Concordia University and co-founder of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.

Lysiane Goulet Gervais recently graduated from Concordia University’s art therapy program with a master’s degree.

Michelle Duchesneau is a graduate student at Concordia University’s School for Community and Public Affairs.

Dany Guay-Bélanger is currently working toward a master’s degree in the public history program at Carleton University.

Photo: New condominium complexes now line Montreal’s Lachine Canal. Photograph by David W. Lewis.

Download this article in PDF format.

Published on April 25, 2017

 




Participants Wanted for Survey on Mobile Work

Many employees in Canada are “on the move” for work. Mobile workers may engage in long daily commutes, extended absences from home lasting weeks, months and even years, and many people travel to, from and within their jobs. These employment patterns have an impact on workers, their families, employers and the communities in which they live.

To understand this reality and how it affects households and communities, and influences and impacts Canadian prosperity, the Vanier Institute of the Family is collaborating with 40 researchers from 17 disciplines and 22 universities across Canada and around the world as part of the On the Move Partnership.

As part of this research initiative, a team of researchers is conducting a study of leading HR policies and practices used to manage mobile workers and balance concerns regarding employee productivity, family and well-being.

The On the Move Partnership is currently seeking survey participants. Do you have responsibility for mobile employees in your organization who need to spend extended time away from home to do their jobs? If so, your participation is invited.

There are two ways to take part:

  1. A confidential telephone interview (which will take less than one hour to complete). Please contact Kara Arnold arnoldk@mun.ca for this option.
     
  2. An anonymous online survey taking approximately 45–60 minutes to complete.

On the Move will create a report and a free webinar on the survey findings. Participants will have access to these resources as benchmarks for participating organizations as well as a source of ideas about what policies and practices work for these employees and their organizations. Participants can also enter a draw for a free registration to an online HR Social Media seminar.

Please email Kara Arnold for more information: arnoldk@mun.ca.

To learn more about the On the Move Partnership, visit the project page, or read the following resources:

 


The proposal for this research has been reviewed by the Interdisciplinary Committee on Ethics in Human Research and found to be in compliance with Memorial University’s ethics policy. If you have ethical concerns about the research, such as the way you have been treated or your rights as a participant, you may contact the Chairperson of the ICEHR at icehr@mun.ca or by telephone at 709-864-2861.




Infographic: Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada

Caregiving is a fact of life and a common family experience in Canada. At some point in their lives, most family members have provided – or will provide – care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging need. However, Canadians don’t share a single narrative or caregiving experience, as social, economic, cultural and environmental factors shape who is expected to provide care, what kind of care they provide and the consequences of managing caregiving in addition to paid work.

And while the gap between women and men has lessened over the past generation, caregivers have historically been disproportionately women, and this remains true today. Research also shows that on average, women in Canada devote more time to caregiving tasks than men and are more likely to experience negative consequences as a result of their caregiving.

Our new infographic Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada explores family caregiving and work in Canada with a focus on women.

Highlights include:

  • 30% of all women in Canada reported that they provided care in 2012.
  • Women aged 45 and older reported having spent an estimated 5.8 years providing care throughout their lives, compared with 3.4 years for men.
  • Women are significantly more likely than men to report having spent 20 hours or more per week providing care (17% and 11%, respectively).
  • An estimated 72% of women caregivers aged 45 to 65 in Canada are also employed.
  • Women reported experiencing a variety of employment impacts as a result of their caregiving responsibilities: 30% reported missing at least one full day of work; 6.4% retired early, quit or lost their paid job; and 4.7% turned down a job offer or promotion.
  • Estimates show that women caregivers in Canada lost an aggregated $221 million in wages annually between 2003 and 2008 due to absenteeism, reducing work hours or leaving employment entirely.
  • Among women caregivers who have access to flexible work arrangements, half (47%) feel they cannot utilize these options without it having a negative impact on their careers.

 

Download the Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada infographic from the Vanier Institute of the Family.

 

Learn more about women, family caregiving and work in Canada:

 


Published on March 28, 2017




Vanier Institute and CHRC Host Roundtable on Workplace Diversity and Human Rights

On February 28, 2017, the Vanier Institute of the Family and the Canadian Human Rights Commission partnered to host the Canadian Work–Life Leadership Circle Roundtable on Workplace Diversity and Human Rights. This collaboration brought together Canadian leaders with an interest or involvement in work–life issues to enhance the ongoing conversation on work, life and family in Canada.

The roundtable included the following catalytic presentations and discussions:

  • Human Rights Perspectives and Workplace Impacts: The intersection of workplace policy and human rights moving forward (Marie-Claude Landry, Ad.E., Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission)
  • Diversity, Inclusion and Human Rights in the Workplace: The diversity of families and employees and their impact on workplace policy (Nicole Nussbaum, Staff Lawyer, Legal Aid Ontario)
  • Leading and Promising Practices: Workplace policy and practice, such as the duty to accommodate on the basis of family status, right to request flex and extending family-related leaves

“The concept of family is evolving every day, our workplaces should too,” said Marie-Claude Landry, Lawyer Emeritus (Ad.E.), member of the Bar and Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. “Workplace accommodation is about working differently, not less. Supporting employees to meet their family obligations means that everyone wins.”

“Human rights legislation, family law, labour law, employment law and immigration law all impact families and aren’t always in alignment,” said Vanier Institute of the Family CEO Nora Spinks. “The complexity and diversity of families is being taken into consideration with informal and formal workplace accommodations in order for employees to fulfill their multiple responsibilities at work and at home.”

 

Learn about work–life and work–family issues, and diversity in Canada with the following Vanier Institute resources:

 


Published on March 2, 2017




A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada

At some point in our lives, there is a high likelihood that each of us will provide care to someone we know – and receive care ourselves. Family members are typically the first to step up to provide, manage and sometimes pay for this care.

Families are highly adaptable and most of the time people find ways to manage their multiple work and family responsibilities, obligations and commitments. However, juggling work and care can sometimes involve a great deal of time, energy and financial resources, and employers can play an important role in facilitating this care through accommodation, innovation and flexibility.

In A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada, we explore some of the family realities and trends that shape the “landscape of care” across the country. This resource highlights how our family, care and work responsibilities intersect, interact and have an impact on each other.

Highlights include:

  • 28% of Canadians (8.1M) report having provided care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging need in the past year.
  • Three-quarters of family caregivers (6.1M) were employed at the time, accounting for 35% of ALL employed Canadians.
  • Most (83%) surveyed caregivers say their experience was positive, and 95% say they are effectively coping with their caregiving responsibilities.
  • 44% of employed caregivers report having missed an average 8–9 days of work in the past 12 months because of their care responsibilities.
  • More than one-third of young carers (36%) arrived to work late, left early or took time off due to their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Employers across Canada lose an estimated $5.5 billion annually in lost productivity due to caregiving-related absenteeism.
  • Research shows that caregiving provides a variety of benefits to caregivers, including a sense of personal growth, increased meaning and purpose, strengthened family relationships, increased empathy and skill development.

 

Reconciling care and work requires understanding, respect and recognition from employers that sometimes an employee’s family circumstances need focused attention. Research shows that family caregivers and their employers benefit from policies that are inclusive, flexible and responsive, and when employees have a clear understanding of the process for handling individual requests for accommodation and customizing work arrangements.

For nearly all Canadians, caregiving is inevitable at some point over the course of their lives. Care is not always predictable and does not always arise outside working hours. Open communication and creative approaches to harmonizing work and care in a flexible manner benefits employees, employers, the economy and society.

Download A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada from the Vanier Institute of the Family.

 

Learn more about family caregiving and work in Canada:

 


Published on February 21, 2017




A Snapshot of Workplace Mental Health in Canada

At some point in our lives, we are all affected by mental illness, whether through personal experience or that of a family member, friend, neighbour or colleague. Mental health conditions can have a significant impact on individuals, but they can also “trickle up” to have a detrimental effect on workplaces, communities, the economy and society at large – no one remains untouched. It is therefore vital that support for mental health be multi-faceted and every bit as prevalent as the conditions it seeks to address.

Stigma remains a major barrier to care for those living with a mental illness, many of whom are receiving, and benefiting from, care and support from their families.

This edition of the Vanier Institute of the Family Statistical Snapshots series explores mental health, families and work – three key parts of our lives that intersect and interact in complex ways that affect our well-being.
 
Highlights include:

  • 4 in 10 Canadians have a family member with a mental health problem.
  • At least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems in any given week.
  • Mental illness accounts for an estimated 30% of all disability claims and 70% of disability costs.
  • Stigma remains an issue, with 1 in 5 surveyed Canadian employees saying they believe that whether or not someone becomes mentally ill is “fully within their control.”
  • 4 in 10 surveyed Canadian employees say they would not tell their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem.
  • More than 7 in 10 Canadians who are affected by a family member’s mental health problem provided care to them, and 68% say they are not embarrassed about their family member’s mental health condition.

 

Download A Snapshot of Workplace Mental Health from the Vanier Institute of the Family.

 


Suggested reading:

Putting the “F” in EFAP: The Evolution of Workplace Mental Health Supports

A Little Support Can Go a Long Way: Reflections on Depression and Anxiety

Disability and Employment in Canada

 

Published on Tuesday, October 4, 2016




Understanding the Impact of Fort McMurray Wildfires on Foreign National Family Caregivers

The recent wildfire in northern Alberta, which began in early May and has only recently been brought under control, has had a profound impact on Fort McMurray and its surrounding communities. Approximately 2,400 buildings were destroyed, including many family homes and businesses, and the fire ravaged nearly 600,000 hectares of land. Many of the families in the region have experienced significant trauma due to their losses, the evacuation of more than 80,000 people and the overall impact on the community.

Live-in caregivers (foreign nationals living in Canadian homes and employed to provide child or adult care) working in and around Fort McMurray have been strongly affected by these events. These people comprise a unique and important workforce that is highly educated and experienced, and are “crucial to bridging work–family relations for their employers, especially those who work in the oil sands industry,” notes Dr. Sara Dorow, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Alberta in Live-in Caregivers in Fort McMurray: A Socioeconomic Footprint.

Dorow explores the impact of the wildfire on the caregiver workforce in a new study, Caregiver Policy in Canada and Experiences after the Wildfire: Perspectives of Caregivers in Fort McMurray, which reports on findings from an online survey of 56 live-in caregivers working in and around Fort McMurray.

Key findings include:

  • Caregiver evacuees are experiencing emotional and financial stress as a result of uncertainty with regard to their continued employment and housing – realities that are “tied together” through dependency on a single employer.
  • The fire has caused stress over the disruption to their pathway to permanent residency, which requires the completion of 24 months or 3,900 hours of work.
  • Despite these experiences, many expressed gratitude for the emergency relief funds and donations they have received from employers, friends, family and the community. Few report having applied for Employment Insurance.

The study was carried out as part of On the Move, a research partnership that includes the Vanier Institute of the Family and 40 researchers from across Canada and around the world. This partnership investigates how employment-related geographic mobility (E-RGM) affects households and communities, and how E-RGM influences and impacts Canadian prosperity.

Learn more:




Timeline: Fifty Years of Men, Work and Family in Canada

Over the past half century, fatherhood in Canada has undergone a significant evolution as men are increasingly sharing the “breadwinning” role, embracing caring responsibilities and integrating their responsibilities at home, at work and in their communities.

To explore these trends and the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that shape – and are shaped by – fatherhood and family relationships, we’ve created a 50-year timeline for Father’s Day 2016. Some highlights include:

  • More fathers are taking time off to care for their newborn children. More than one-quarter (27%) of all recent fathers in Canada reported in 2014 that they took (or intended to take) parental leave, up from only 3% in 2000.
  • The number of “stay-at-home” fathers is on the rise. Fathers accounted for approximately 11% of stay-at-home parents in 2014, up from only 1% in 1976.
  • Fathers of young children are absent from work more frequently for family-related reasons. Fathers of children under the age of 5 report missing an average 2.0 days of work in 2015 due to personal or family responsibilities, up from 1.2 days in 2009.
  • Fewer “lone fathers” are living in low income. In 2008, 7% of persons in lone-parent families headed by men lived in low income, down from 18% in 1976.
  • Fathers are increasingly helping with housework. Men who report performing household work devoted an average 184 minutes on these tasks in 2010, up from 171 minutes in 1998.
  • Fathers with flex are more satisfied with their work–life balance. More than eight in 10 (81%) full-time working fathers with children under age 18 who have a flexible schedule reported in 2012 being satisfied with their work–life balance, compared with 76% for those without a flexible schedule.
  • A growing number of children find it easier to talk to dad. In 2013–2014, 66% of 11-year-old girls and 75% of boys the same age say they find it easy to talk to their father about things that really bother them, up from 56% and 72%, respectively, two decades earlier.

This bilingual resource is a perpetual publication, and it will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Enjoy our new timeline, and happy Father’s Day to Canada’s 8.6 million dads!

Download the Fifty Years of Men, Work and Family in Canada timeline.

 


 

 

See also:

Timeline: Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada

Timeline: Fifty Years of Families in Canada

Families and Work in Canada by Nora Spinks and Nathan Battams




Timeline: Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada

While mothers in Canada have always played a central role in family life, there’s no question that the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that shape – and are shaped by – motherhood have evolved over time.

A growing share of mothers are managing paid work and family responsibilities compared with previous generations, and the dynamic relationships between women, work and family continue to evolve. To explore these relationships through a broader lens, we’ve created a 50-year timeline for Mother’s Day 2016 that explores some of the long-term trends over the past half century, including:

  • An increase in women’s participation in the paid labour force, which has grown from 40% in 1968 to 82% in 2014 for those aged 25 to 54
  • A growing share of “breadwinning” moms among single-earner couple families, which has steadily increased from 4% of earners in these families in 1976 to 21% in 2014
  • A significant drop in the low-income rate among single mothers, which has fallen from 54% in 1976 to 21% in 2008
  • A declining fertility rate, which stood at 3.94 women per children in 1959 during the peak of the baby boom, but has since dropped to 1.61 in 2011
  • A continually rising average age of first-time mothers, up from 24.3 years of age in 1974 to 28.5 in 2011
  • A greater amount of time mothers are spending with family, with women reporting 421 minutes (7 hours) per day with family in 2010, up from 403 minutes (6.7 hours) in 1986

This bilingual resource is a perpetual publication, and it will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Enjoy our new timeline, and happy Mother’s Day to Canada’s 9.8 million moms!

Download the Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada timeline.

 


 

See also:

Timeline: 50 Years of Families in Canada

Families and Work in Canada, by Nora Spinks and Nathan Battams




Putting the “F” in EFAP: The Evolution of Workplace Mental Health Supports

Craig Thompson

Over the past several decades, mental health has become an increasingly popular topic in public discourse, fuelled in part by our increased understanding of the many ways it affects all levels of society. When people experience changes to their mental health, their family members – always at the “front lines” – are typically the first ones to feel the effects. Family is society’s most adaptable institution. Families respond by adjusting to meet the needs of their members as best they can. In light of this, a growing number of organizations have offered assistance to employees and their families through Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAPs) to manage mental health in the workplace. By looking at the evolution of these services, we can learn how and why the “F” in EFAP first emerged, and how it has grown in importance over time.

The early years: Occupational Alcoholism Programs (OAPs)

Occupational Alcoholism Programs (OAPs) were first introduced in Canada in the late 1950s. Predecessors of the EFAPs, they were focused primarily on alcohol and the devastating impact alcohol has on the health and well-being of employees who experience dependency. These programs were typically delivered through the occupational health and medical departments of large industrial organizations in the manufacturing sector.

Employees would sometimes seek out these services through their own initiative, but more often than not were assisted or referred by their manager, supervisor or union steward. The focus of assistance was almost solely on the individual and the alcohol, and did not include the family. The dependent employee would be put on a strict program that included attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and their compliance would be closely monitored. If the individual relapsed after this treatment, it would usually lead to termination and no further support was provided by the employer. Their future would then depend solely on what level of support their family members could muster – if they were still around.

The formative years: Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

During the 1970s and mid-1980s, employers expanded the scope of these programs beyond alcohol, and they became known as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). Previous research on occupational productivity had shown that alcohol dependency was just one of many issues that could have an impact on a person’s performance, productivity and health in the workplace.

Although alcohol addiction was still seen as a problem, it became increasingly clear that workplace programs could benefit from including support for other issues that can affect productivity, such as other addictions, mental illness, serious health conditions or major life events such as births and deaths. More employers began to understand the value of offering EAPs and, as a result, mid-size, regional, national and global companies introduced programs in their organizations.

EAPs would typically offer short-term, solution-focused counselling, paid for by the employer, with either an average number of sessions or a predetermined maximum number of sessions allotted. EAPs were never intended to provide longer-term care, but when that was necessary, the provider would make a referral to an affordable and appropriate resource. EAPs were increasingly managed by human resources (HR) instead of occupational health and safety or medical departments.

During their prime working years, many people face concerns about their mental health, which EFAPs can help them to manage. Studies have shown that mental health conditions are not only costly to individuals, but also to the organizations to which they belong:

• Depression will rank second only to heart disease as the leading cause of disability worldwide by the year 2020.

• Disability represents anywhere from 4% to 12% of payroll costs in Canada; mental health claims (especially depression) have overtaken cardiovascular disease as the fastest-growing category of disability costs in Canada.

Some employers also started to understand the importance of families in the equation of employee attendance, concentration and focus. Emotional distress, family/personal relationships, child care, eldercare and health care started to get employers’ attention. Many began reaching out directly to family members at home to increase awareness and usage, and to help mitigate the negative impacts of these issues on performance and productivity. Communication materials were specifically designed for spouses and dependants, and creative methods were used to reach out to family members. Program admission was further expanded to include eligible young adults and family members who were attending post-secondary education institutions.

At first, utilization of these programs and services by families remained low, prompting further attempts to increase awareness and usage. One of the factors that limited their use was the fear that personal information would be shared with a counsellor or EAP practitioner and have consequences for the employee at work. Although EAP services were confidential (and remain so), the concerns about confidentiality and privacy protection understandably impaired users from taking advantage of services. During this period, 5% to 7% of the employee population accessed EAP services on any given year, with less than 1% attributed to family members.

While the first generation of EAPs was delivered by internal staff (usually MDs and occupational health nurses), this new generation of programs was typically outsourced to external firms that provided a broader range of professionals and specialty practitioners, including psychologists, counsellors and other health providers. This contributed to broadening the legitimacy of EAPs; however, these programs were still being offered primarily by larger companies and therefore were not yet mainstream. As a result, those who did not work for these firms were typically underserved.

The growth years: Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAPs)

The late 1980s through the mid-1990s were marked with important progress in this field. First, EAPs started providing an ever-expanding array of services, including responses for addictions, family/marital relations and psycho-emotional issues. These “broadbrushed” EAPs also recognized the importance of providing services for work relationship issues, financial, legal, aging parent and other non-work-related concerns. With this expansion in scope, EAPs began to take greater hold across a broad range of industries, sectors and workplaces.

Over time, a growing body of research demonstrated that investments by employers in EAPs resulted in various cost benefits, including reduced absenteeism, lower turnover, fewer medical costs and overall higher employee productivity. With this data, EAP providers were able to engage an increasing number of employers of various sizes in other industries to implement an EAP. The level of acceptance grew considerably and, with it, thousands of families and individuals gained access to resources and care.

Providers began offering toll-free 24/7 access to counsellors to eliminate barriers to reaching assistance if and when it was needed. Increased efforts to reach out to the homes of employees did increase family member utilization; however, in most programs, dependant use averaged 5% to 10% of the total utilization. Attention was also now being given to prevention and health promotion through the provision of resource materials, workshops and seminars. Stress management workshops were a central part of the education efforts, with the goal of giving participants the knowledge and tools to remain healthy and productive at work. EAPs also expanded to include services related to dealing with conflict in the workplace, managing workloads realistically and communicating effectively.

Current EFAP Referral Patterns: Percentage of Calls Received, by Issue

45%   Marital and family problems
25%   Psychological (depression, anxiety, self-image)
15%   Work-related problems
10%   Substance abuse/alcohol abuse
5%     Personal trauma/crisis

Another major step during this phase was the rebranding of Employee Assistance Programs to Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAPs). Although most programs had already included the family, this formal change explicitly identified the family as a key stakeholder in the provision of services. Credit needs to be given to the stewards of the MacMillan Bloedel EFAP for having the wisdom and vision to be this apparent and inclusive. They were the first to coin this term, which has become the standard reference for these types of services in Canada. This simple insertion spurred on greater interest in program enhancements for the family into the next phase of evolution.

The maturing years: Today’s EFAPs

From the mid-1990s to today, EFAPs have grown in popularity to the extent that most large and mid-size employers offer some form of program. Even smaller employers (i.e. fewer than 50 employees) have started to offer programs through group plans or community initiatives. This has been largely due to the partnerships that have developed between EFAP providers and group insurance providers in which the group plan can include the EFAP as another option for employers to offer. A range of counselling models (assessment and referral, short-term counselling, etc.) surfaced, varying depending on the organizational culture, industry and program in question. Employers had more models to choose from. During this phase, a wider range of services was made available by telephone, face to face or, more recently, online.

Online services increased accessibility, as they could be reached outside of the workplace from mobile devices and personal computers. This mode of access has increased the use by family members, and future expansion is expected. Online resources such as educational modules on parenting, communicating emotion, enriching relationships and dealing with aging parents are all now common offerings and can be accessed at home or on the road.

Prevention and health promotion has recently expanded to include wellness. A growing number of employers are assisting employees (and their families) to take charge of their overall health, including emotional, psychological and physical well-being. Health risk appraisals (HRAs) have become increasingly available; individuals can benchmark their current health risks and learn how to reduce those risks. Many employers are taking a holistic approach to employee health and wellness, and they are recognizing the importance of the family unit in maintaining and enhancing healthy choices and decisions. Overall employee health is increasingly seen as a vital part of an organization’s “bottom line” thanks to a growing body of research demonstrating direct links between employee well-being and rates of engagement, absenteeism and productivity.

Costs of Mental Illness in the Workplace

  • In any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians are absent from work because of mental illness.
  • More than 30% of disability claims and 70% of disability costs are attributed to mental illness.
  • Approximately $51 billion each year are lost to the Canadian economy because of mental illness.

Current and emerging legal requirements are now compelling greater numbers of employers to ensure that their workplaces are psychologically safe and built on relationships of civility and respect. In 2013, the federal guidelines for the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace were introduced to help organizations actively work toward creating psychologically healthy and safe environments for employees.

This standard was developed using evidence-based research from a variety of scientific and legal disciplines; it outlines existing knowledge on the psychological health and safety of workers, and provides guidelines and recommendations for promoting and maintaining healthy workspaces. While the standard is voluntary, there is still an obligation for employers to provide some degree of care based on current and evolving legislation and case law. As Dr. Martin Shain, who has written extensively on psychological safety in the workplace, says, “A psychologically safe workplace is no longer a nice to do, but is now a must do.”

The future of EFAPs

In the early days, when services focused on alcoholism, employers could readily fire an employee for non-compliance. In today’s climate, whether in response to legislation or regulations, or in compliance with voluntary standards, more employers are providing access to professional assistance and treatment to address the myriad of mental and physical conditions that may disable or impair an employee. After an employee reaches out seeking treatment, employers are taking greater steps to accommodate his or her return to work. As the dialogue on the reduction of stigma surrounding these issues grows in volume and intensity, more workers, families and communities are getting assistance.

The evolution of EFAPs demonstrates a growing interest within organizations to integrate care for the employees, ensuring that family circumstances are considered and enabled. Whether the result of legal obligation or efforts to increase performance and productivity, or out of care for employee well-being, a growing number of employers now take psychological health and safety in the workplace seriously. As interest and investment in EFAPs and employee well-being grows, further breakthroughs are bound to occur. Although it is difficult to anticipate with great accuracy what the future of employee assistance may look like, families will most likely remain a central component of future approaches.

 


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Craig Thompson, MEd, MBA, has been a clinician, business developer, account manager and business leader in the field of EFAP and Disability Management for nearly three decades. Over this period, he has worked with thousands of employers and employees and their families with a purpose of improving their lives and enhancing workplace effectiveness.