- Work-life balance - the time crunch takes over
- Sandwich generation issues at the forefront
- Transitioning to retirement: Get the message out
Few of us feel that we have enough time to accomplish the things that we must do, that we should do, and that we want to do, writes Nickie Polson
By Nickie Polson, Postmedia News April 27, 2011
'As individuals and as a society we are paying a steep price for this time crunch. We're less healthy, both physically and mentally and we have less time for leisure and relaxation with family,' says Roy Romanow.
Finding the balance between work (including unpaid work) and the rest of life is not working out for a lot of people.
When it comes to the "time economy," most of us are worse off than we used to be. Canadians, particularly women, are experiencing a time crunch. The trend has been getting worse over the past 15 years, says a 2010 report from the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).
"People are struggling to meet the competing demands of a workplace that can reach out to them 24/7, caring for children and aging parents, and their own need to refresh body and mind. As individuals and as a society we are paying a steep price for this time crunch. We're less healthy, both physically and mentally and we have less time for leisure and relaxation with family," said Roy Romanow, chair of the CIW advisory board and former Saskatchewan premier.
The proportion of Canadians experiencing high levels of time crunch, according to the report, grew from 16 per cent in 1992 to 20 per cent in 2005. About 23 per cent of women felt time-pressured and 17 per cent of men.
Adults providing care to seniors grew from 17 per cent in 1996 to 20 per cent in 2006. More women (23 per cent) took care of seniors compared to men (16 per cent).
Time spent on social leisure activities dropped from 15 per cent in 1998 to 12 per cent in 2005.
According to the Statistics Canada General Social Survey, almost onethird of working Canadians say they are workaholics. (The highest percentages of workaholics were found in management and in trades.)
About 80 per cent of all people responding in that survey said they felt rushed trying to get through their day. Roughly 40 per cent said that they do not have time for fun any more. They are trapped by their routines.
Approaching retirement age does not necessarily help a person gain balance. Canadian workers age 55 and over experience time crunch problems at the same rate as their younger counterparts. They reported that their challenges start with too much time on the job and too little time for the family.
Work-life balance problems included having a disability, providing elder care, working long hours, occupying a managerial position, and being a woman.
However, work is a positive aspect of our lives -whether we are paid for it or not. It gives structure and meaning to our days. We have somewhere to be, something to give. It is a part of who we are.
What can we do to help ourselves deal with the stresses of fighting for the work-life balance?
"People need to ask themselves, 'What roles do I play' and 'Are these roles working for me?' " says Julie McCarthy, a professor at the University of Toronto.
"And if they're not working, we then need to ask, 'What are the strategies I'm using to make things better?' "
McCarthy recently published a study looking at how university students attempt to achieve balance of work, study, and life. The three strategies often used to deal with too many demands on too little time and energy are problem-solving, venting to others and ignoring the problem (avoidance).
Although we usually advise people to face their problems and design solutions, McCarthy found that this approach could cause more stress.
Surprisingly, the avoidance strategy produced some of the best results in reducing stress. "This technique is traditionally seen as 'running away from your problems,' " McCarthy says. "But maybe by backing off and taking breaks, students are able to replenish their resources." Most of us are in a lifelong process of learning how to deal with the stress of a rushed life that is out of balance. Finding our way through it is worth the effort.
Feeling drained leads to dissatisfaction with life and opens the door to burnout, depression and ill health.
We can help ourselves by sorting out the roles that we play and re-evaluating the responsibilities we take on. We can give ourselves space by allowing ourselves time and space to avoid or ignore troubling issues -for a while, at least. When we have the energy for it, we can do some problem-solving. The truth of it is that we demand a lot of ourselves and those around us. We seem to force ourselves onward in an ever-increasing rush to do everything we think we should do.
We could learn a thing or two about taking time to smell the roses.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
All of the parties are offering goodies to help families care for dependents
Monday, April 25, 2011
By Megan Harman
As they try to secure votes for the upcoming election, Canada’s political parties are taking steps to appeal to the middle-aged “sandwich generation” of Canadians who are struggling to simultaneously support both their children and their parents.
This group of voters — which likely includes many of your clients — is grappling with the costs of caring for their aging parents, putting their children through post-secondary school, and trying save for their own retirement.
Between tax credits for caregivers and financial aid for students, the three main parties’ platforms all feature goodies designed to help the sandwich generation cope with these pressures.
Help for caregivers
Statistics Canada estimates that 2.7 million Canadians are providing care for an older family member, and many face financial woes because of it.
“This is a group of people that either has to take time off work, has to pay for people coming in to help or has to pay for medical devices or other assisted aids. Or, they’ve actually given up their jobs,” says Susan Eng, vice president of advocacy at Toronto-based seniors association CARP. “Many people can’t afford to keep doing this.”
The Conservative party got the ball rolling on this issue in the 2011 budget, with its proposal for a new 15% non-refundable Caregiver Tax Credit on an amount of $2,000 for individuals caring for infirm dependent relatives.
The budget also proposed enhancing the Medical Expense Tax Credit by removing the $10,000 limit on expenses that caregivers can claim.
These proposals were generally well received; however, some organizations suggested they didn’t go far enough.
“We need to continue to work collectively to ensure more is done so that all family caregivers in Canada get the financial support they need and deserve,” said Dan Demers, director of public issues with the Canadian Cancer Society, in response to the Conservative budget.
The Liberals and NDP have upped the ante with more generous proposals. If elected, both parties would create a tax benefit to help low- and middle-income individuals who provide essential care to a family member at home. The Liberal plan would provide a tax-free monthly payment worth up to $1,350 per year, while the NDP proposes a heftier benefit of up to $1,500 per year.
Both parties also propose more EI flexibility for workers taking time off to care for gravely ill family members. Under the current rules, a maximum of six weeks of compassionate care benefits may be paid to eligible individuals who leave work temporarily to care for a family member who has a significant risk of death within 26 weeks. Both the Liberals and the NDP propose extending coverage to six months.
To further support caregivers, the NDP would also introduce a forgivable loan program that would help families renovate their homes to accommodate aging family members.
Overall, the NDP’s caregiver-related proposals stand out as the most comprehensive, while the Conservative platform is the most limited in this area. Still, Eng says she would be happy to see any of the parties’ proposals adopted.
“This is all great stuff,” Eng says. “If any of them come into fruition, it’s going to be a net increase on the status quo.”
Making education more affordable
To help sandwich generation parents with the costs of putting their children through school, the parties all address education expenses in some way.
The most ambitious proposal is the Liberals’ Canadian Learning Passport proposal. This would provide $1,000 to $1,500 a year over four years for every high school student with a Canada Education Savings Plan, to use for college, university or CÉGEP.
Student groups say the plan is promising, but fails to address skyrocketing tuition rates.
“The proposed ‘Learning Passport’ would be a substantial investment in students and their families,” says David Molenhuis, national chairperson of the Ottawa-based Canadian Federation of Students. But, he adds, “Financial aid is only half the equation.”
The NDP aims to tackle tuition fees directly, with a designated $800 million transfer to the provinces and territories to lower tuition fees. In addition, the party would raise the education tax credit from $4,800 to $5,760 per year to help families with rising education costs.
The Conservatives have little to offer in this area, aside from a small expansion of loans for part-time students and an expansion of the in-study exemption for students working while receiving loans.
“If we are to take the issue of education seriously, we need to be prepared to make more targeted and aggressive investments in the sector,” says Zach Dayler, national director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
Joel Kranc | April 11, 2011
Statistics are a funny thing. They can be twisted and turned and manipulated to support or refute nearly any question. But they serve an important purpose and often shed light on important topics that may otherwise not get the attention they deserve.
Case in point is the last Benefits Canada Survey of Capital Accumulation Plan Members released in November. Some frightening statistics painted a grim picture of employee participation, which should act as a wake up call to plan sponsors. The survey showed that only 7% of those surveyed used employer-provided information to make investment decisions. Also, member contributions had declined from 7.3% in 2007 to 4.9% in 2010 and finally, only 21% of those surveyed recalled reading or hearing anything in the media about pension reform.
Tack onto those statistics the demographic facts of Canada’s aging workforce and plan sponsors are left with a number of arduous tasks. They must work harder to communicate effectively and prepare their DC pension plan members for the inevitable transition to retirement.
The right choice
For a large plan sponsor like Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) with about 40,000 DC plan members—28,000 of whom are active—the sheer amount of investment choice and the types of funds offered can often overwhelm employees with their retirement decisions. This year the retailer is moving to a target-date platform on top of the a la carte menu of investment choice it already offers. And while it is not a target date fund per se, it is a platform that allows for a reduction in equity investments over time.
“This year what we’re doing is helping plan members invest for their future and we are going with a target date approach,” says Michelle Chusan, senior manager, retirement programs and communications with HBC. She adds that although enrollment in the pension plan has always been mandatory for members and is a condition of employment, the new platform will allow members to be less intimidated about making the right investment choices and concentrate more on their retirement end-goals.
And this is a point industry experts agree with. Jean-Daniel Cote, a partner with Mercer, says plan sponsors need to be thinking about transition to retirement and that up until now, too much focus has been on the accumulation phase of retirement assets. “As we get closer to baby boomers starting to retire, of course, there’s going to be an increase in interest towards finding solutions and helping plan members [with their] transition,” he notes.
Marylin Lurz, pension consultant with Lynmar & Associates reiterates the point. “Employers have had a huge focus on the accumulation phase. They really have not spent a lot of time thinking about retirement and the de-accumulation phase and how best to assist plan members with that transition,” she stresses.
Only 7% of employees use employer-provided information to make investment decisions. Member contributions have declined from 7.3% in 2007 to 4.9% in 2010.
Even a plan sponsor like electronics retailer Best Buy, which operates with an extremely young workforce who often look at retail as a transition point to the next career, is beginning to consider the tools needed to help plan for and move into retirement. The plan sponsor rolled out a DC plan three years ago to show employees that Best Buy need not be a transitional employer. And, says Kelly Cardwell, director, rewards and HRIS, with Best Buy, target date funds will likely play a role in their investment line-up as well. “[Pensions] are a major concern for us…one of the things we’ve been looking at are the investment choices we offer employees and [we] are looking at target date funds,” she says.
Communication and balance
Most plan sponsors of medium and large-scale DC plans likely have several communication tools either they, or with the help of their provider, supply to plan members. Best Buy’s Cardwell says a big push this year will be around communication. And because of its young workforce it is looking at unique and different ways such as social media to assist plan members. Lunch and learns and a focus on total reward statements, which emphasize the retirement plan, are all part of a broader communication strategy.
John McAteer, manager, savings and benefits plans Canada, with Direct Energy says his company helps members with transition issues by meeting regularly with its DC provider to analyze tools, promote material through internal communication and address issues of web traffic and how online tools are being used. Coupled with that are the target date funds and six outside funds it offers to employees in order to enhance their investment selection.
HBC works closely with field HR representatives to stay aware of upcoming retirements and work with their recordkeeper to get that member their retirement income options and ultimately ease the move from full-time work to retirement.
Lynmar & Associates’ Lurz says, however, that the balance within communications has been lacking. “Employers are not taking as proactive a role as they should be in driving what’s put in front of their members,” she adds. In other words, while communication is being offered and even some financial planning is a part of that, sponsors are not insisting on a variety of communications with regard to managing longevity risk and the need for members to protect themselves once they retire.
Tools (online calculators, booklets, in-person sessions, etc.), communications and balanced communications are all important parts of the retirement arsenal. And while Cote says providers are making good progress in helping with the penetration of these tools, they are only successful if they are being used. He says putting retirement projections at the beginning of statements, personalizing messages to members and custom emails all help bring up the “take up rate” and engagement by members.
When all is said and done, both plan sponsors and members have a responsibility to communicate with one another about goals, needs and what retirement should look like on an individual level. Without that two-way communication, the messages may be falling on deaf ears.
Joel Kranc is a freelance writer in Toronto.