MRO Magazine

Workers with unstable hours feel more stress, says new study (March 30, 2006)

Ottawa, ON -- Work hours instability was a fact of life for many Canadians between 1997 and 2001, according to a ne...


Human Resources

March 30, 2006
By MRO Magazine

Ottawa, ON — Work hours instability was a fact of life for many Canadians between 1997 and 2001, according to a new Statistics Canada study that follows the working patterns of individuals.

The study follows the working hour patterns of individuals aged 25 to 54. It found the traditional model where workers work the same hours year after year applies to a relatively small share of workers.

About one in three workers, or 32%, worked a ‘standard’, full-year full-time work-year in every year between 1997 and 2001, 15% worked a short work year in each year and less than 1% worked a long work year in every year. The remaining 52% shifted among these categories.

The study defined a long work year as more than 2,400 hours, which is the equivalent of 46 or more hours per week for 52 weeks. A standard work year was one with between 1,750 and 2,400 work hours, and a short work year was one with less than 1,750 work hours.

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While it was common to work a long work year in a given year, it was rare to work chronically long hours. One in five workers had at least one long work year between 1997 and 2001, but less than 1% had a long work year each year.

Workers with unstable hours felt more stress and reported worse health than those with more stable work hours.

UNSTABLE WORK YEARS ARE A FACT OF LIFE FOR MANY CANADIANS

The traditional model where people work the same hours year after year applies to a relatively small share of workers. Only 20% of men and 15% of women worked the exact same hours in each year from 1997 and 2001.

The remaining men and women had some annual hours instability. In some cases this instability was quite large. The study defined a worker as having highly unstable work years if he worked more than 2,400 hours in at least one year between 1997 and 2001 and at least another one with fewer than 1,750 hours.

About 1 in 12, or 7.8% of workers had highly unstable work years. Most of these workers combined periods of long work with periods of short work to achieve the equivalent of a standard work year over a five-year average.

Those with unstable work years are more commonly found in lower quality jobs. For example, 9.2% of workers with no pension plan and 9.7% of workers working in small firms had highly unstable work years.

CHRONIC PERIODS OF LONG WORK YEARS ARE RARE

Long hours are a common feature of employment, with 11.4% of men and 4.5% of women having a long work year in 2001.

While long work hours can lead to more earnings. Research has indicated that some individuals working long hours may be more likely to experience increased levels of stress and also report being less healthy.

Many more workers are exposed to long hours of work over a five year period than the 2001 results alone would suggest. One in five workers had at least one long work year between 1997 and 2001.

Long work years were much more common among men than women. Among men, 29% worked a long work year at least once over the five years. Only 12% of women worked this much in one year.

While a brief exposure to long hours is common, chronic exposure to long hours is quite rare. Just 1.2% of men and 0.2% of women had a long work year in every year between 1997 and 2001.

UNSTABLE WORK YEARS MAY LEAD TO LOWER WELL-BEING

Workers with unstable work years felt more stress and reported poorer health than those with more stable work years. The study finds that 51% of workers in the high instability group reported having a high level of stress. This compares to a lower rate of 38% among those who always worked standard work years.

Moreover, 20% of those working unstable hours reported being in fair or poor health compared to 16% among those who always work standard hours.

These differences hold even among workers who were not stressed and were in good health at the beginning of the period. This suggests that variable work hours are related to an increase in feeling stressed and reporting bad health. These results remain after controlling for other background characteristics.

The research paper ‘Work Hours Instability in Canada’ is available free of charge online. A short version of this study entitled ‘Summary of: Work Hours Instability in Canada’ is also available. To find them, visit www.statcan.ca, select Studies, then under Browse periodical and series, choose Free and for sale. Under Series select Analytical Studies Branch.