Time Use

Time Use considers how people experience and spend their time. It means how the use of our time affects physical and mental wellbeing, individual and family wellbeing, and present and future wellbeing. It examines the length of our workweek, our work arrangements, our levels of time pressure, and the time we spend with friends and in other free-time activities.

The implicit assumption with Time Use is the notion of balance. Most activities are beneficial to wellbeing when done in moderation, but are detrimental when done excessively or not at all. There are only 24 hours in a day, so too much time directed towards one activity can mean not enough or no time at all allocated for other activities that are also critical for our wellbeing. Not only does the amount of time matter, but the pace of and relative control over timing of activities throughout the day can affect overall quality of life.

The time crunch trade-off

Despite a recent upturn in the Time Use domain, it has had, overall, an adverse effect on the wellbeing of Canadians. Some indicators of time use have improved, but others have deteriorated. What has improved? Fewer Canadians are working more than 50 hours each week and more Canadians have flexible work hours. However, we are spending more time commuting to jobs and employment has become more precarious. While the time pressure indicator improved very slightly, how our time gets used has left us less time for friends and for quality sleep.

Fewer of us are working long hours and we have more flexibility…

Fewer Canadians are working more than 50 hours per week. The percentage of Canadians in the labour force who are working more than 50 hours per week has been dropping steadily since its highest point in 1994 of 14.6%. Throughout the mid-2000s, the percentage had leveled off to a little more than 10% of the labour force, but it then dropped continuously following the recession to its lowest point in the 21-year period of 8.7% in 2014. Regardless of the specific reasons for the decline, this downward trend is positive because it reduces the risk of work-related injuries and poor health associated with long hours.

Flexible work hours are more widely available. Whether Canadians are working shorter

or longer hours, they increasingly have flexible work hours, allowing them to schedule when their workday begins and ends. The percentage of Canadians working for pay with flexible hours has increased from 35.8% in 1994 to 43.2% in 2010, with every indication that the percentage will continue to rise. While such flexibility does not reduce the number of hours typically required for most work, it does provide employees with a greater sense of control over how they use their time.

…But more are working irregular hours and shorter hours not by choice

Fewer workers have regular daytime hours. Since 1994, a smaller percentage of the labour force has regular, Monday to Friday, daytime work hours. By 2014, the percentage had fallen to 66.5% of the labour force from its peak of 74.5% in 1994. This 8% drop means that more working Canadians are working on evenings and weekends, and on rotating schedules, and that fewer people can synchronize their daily routines with the regular timing of needed services and programs as well as other family and community-based activities.

The greatest impact is in low income households. Both men and women have been equally affected by the changes in regular, weekday work hours. Employees in higher income groups generally are more likely to keep regular hours. Working Canadians in households with the lowest annual incomes are much less likely to have regular weekday work hours (60.4%).

Women are more likely to be underemployed. The numbers of Canadians in the labour force who are working less than 30 hours per week not by choice increased significantly following the recession. More people — especially women — are working part-time because more secure, full-time employment is not available. Before 2008, the percentage of such under-employed workers had been falling steadily since 1997. Following the recession, however, the numbers rose steeply (13.1%) and have remained there.

Canadians continue to feel the “time crunch”

1 in 5 Canadians feel high time pressure. The percentage  of Canadians feeling the “time crunch” has remained largely unchanged over the years, with just under 20% of Canadians 15 to 64 years of age reporting high levels of time pressure. The percentage of Canadians feeling high levels of time pressure peaked in 1998 (21.1%) before decreasing slightly in the years that followed. By 2010, 17.4% of the people felt time pressured. Women and single parents feel the “time crunch” most severely.

Time spent commuting to work continues to rise

By 2014, daily commute times were nearing 1 hour for working Canadians. Between 1994 and 2010, the average daily commute time to and from work for Canadians with paid employment increased steadily every year to 52.0 minutes from 42.6 minutes in 1994. The upward trend is continuing and by 2014, commute times were nearing one hour each day for working Canadians — a 40% increase. Since 1994, this increase represents almost 20 additional minutes per day spent commuting, or about 80 hours per year. In other words, working Canadians are losing about two weeks of their free time each year to commuting.

We are getting less quality sleep

Only 1 in 3 Canadians are getting enough sleep. The percentage of Canadians who report getting between seven and nine hours of good quality sleep has steadily declined since 1994 from 44.2% to 35.9% in 2010. By 2014, barely one-third of Canadians are getting sufficient sleep and are therefore at risk of poorer physical and mental health.

…And are spending less and less time with friends

Time spent with friends each day is down 30%. Maintaining strong social connections with friends is an important way to help offset the negative impacts of time pressure, sleep loss, and  a decreased sense of work-life balance. Yet, the average amount of time spent with friends each day has dropped from just under two hours in the early 1990s to just over 80 minutes by 2014 — a drop of 28.2% over the 21-year time period. This loss of valued social support has been felt more so by women and by adults between the ages of 35 and 64 years — the years when pressures at work are higher and such support is most important.


The way in which Canadians spend their time and their perceptions of that time have changed dramatically over the last two decades. While individuals make choices, these choices are often shaped and constrained by their economic, health, social, cultural, and family conditions. These include the social environment in which they live, the workplace environment, the local neighbourhood, and the broader society.

The changing nature of work and the workplace is forcing more Canadians to accept less than desirable working conditions. Increasing commute times and an expansion of the service sector  to a 24-hour/7-day cycle — such as banks offering extended hours or grocery stores open 24 hours a day — are big contributors to more people working non-standard hours. Increasing commute times are of concern because as they rise, Canadians feel a decreased sense of work-life balance, more time pressure, greater stress, and lower overall life satisfaction. When commutes get longer, especially in congested traffic, there is a corresponding increase in environmentally damaging outcomes like smog and pollution, which jeopardizes public health.

Today, there are fewer families that have a parent at home to help manage the household, or provide child care and eldercare. These factors have all contributed to feelings of time crunch. The effects of changing time use patterns — coupled with the continued declines in time spent with friends for social support, in formal volunteering, in providing support to others in need, and interactions with our children — point to troubling outcomes for the wellbeing of all Canadians.

Time Use indicators tracked 1994 to 2014

  • Percentage of Canadians 25 to 64 years of age working over 50 hours per week at main job
  • Percentage of labour force working under 30 hours per week, not by choice
  • Percentage of labour force with regular, weekday work hours
  • Percentage of individuals working for pay with flexible work hours
  • Mean workday commute time for individuals working for pay
  • Percentage of Canadians who report 7 to 9 hours of good quality essential sleep
  • Average daily amount of time with friends (minutes per day)
  • Percentage of 15 to 64 year olds reporting high levels of time pressure