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Fragile Synchronicities: Families, Mobility, Work Scheduling and Precarious Employment

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Growing numbers of Canadian workers are precariously employed. Precarity is associated with employment in changing worksites and with variable work schedules. Journeys-to-work are also becoming longer and more complex.

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Research on work-family balance and on precarious employment pays limited attention to mobility. This webinar will: (1) present key findings from a program of research on employment-related mobility in the Canadian context including its association with precarious employment and particular kinds of work scheduling; (2) explore ways mobility, work scheduling and precarious employment interact to affect the family lives of workers; and (3) discuss what unions, employers and government are and could be doing to help synchronize the rhythms of home, travel and working lives.

Take-home Messages

  • Workers and their families make substantial investments of time and other resources in efforts to synchronize the rhythms of family life with those of complex/lengthy commutes and the often non-standard work hours and changing/multiple work locations associated with precarious employment.
  • Shift scheduling that does not take these challenges into account has the potential to disrupt family lives and the ability of some workers to remain at or advance in their workplaces.
  • Employer programs to address the challenges of work-related mobility for workers and their families tend to focus on resources to help workers respond to problems once they arise rather than preventing them in the first place.
  • There is a “duty to accommodate” family status in Canadian and provincial human rights acts but it remains unclear how mobility specifically converges with human rights code recommendations around this duty.

Learning Outcomes

About the many types of Canadian occupations associated with extended mobility to and within precarious employment
How work-related mobility and work scheduling can intersect to affect employee diversity and the incomes, experiences, safety and options of workers and their family members
The potential consequences of mobility and non-standard work scheduling for family well-being
Potential strategies for going beyond employee assistance programs and improved wages to help workers and their families synchronize family, mobility and work scheduling rhythms


Barb Neis
Dr. Barb Neis is John Paton Lewis Distinguished University Professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. Based in the Department of Sociology, she is also the Co-Director of the SafetyNet Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research. She was co-awarded the Vanier Institute of the Family Mirabelli-Glossop Award for distinguished contribution to the work of the Vanier Institute. She is a past president of the Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health, is currently Project Director on a 7-year project called On the Move: Employment-Related Geographical Mobility in the Canadian Context, and is co-chair of the Newfoundland node of a second project, the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy.
Elise Thorburn
Elise Thorburn is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Sociology at Brock University, a medical student at Memorial University and a former postdoctoral fellow with Memorial University's On the Move project. With On the Move she investigated the use of algorithmic shift scheduling software in low-wage work environments, particularly those that require long commutes, and how such algorithms impact capacities for social reproduction. She is also the Principal Investigator on a SSHRC Insight Development Grant-funded project entitled "Between the Office and the Prison Yard: Mobile Monitoring of Social Life" which examines the genealogy and circulation of emerging mobile surveillance devices across a variety of institutional settings. Specifically this research examines the increasing use of monitoring technology in immigration detention, elder-care facilities, and corporate and extractive industries. Broadly, her research focuses on the intersection of social reproduction and digital technologies in a variety of spheres – including but not limited to labour, care, resistance, education, and incarceration.

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