No more email after work? 20 paid vacation days? Amid COVID-19, Canadians are rethinking their work-life balance

Toronto Star – When Canadian teacher Helen Ng moved to the city of Toulouse in the South of France in 2017, she couldn’t believe how different social norms were compared to what she experienced until that point.

“No one would bat an eye if you took a two-hour lunch. On the other hand, if you quickly ate a sandwich at your desk, people might give you concerned looks and ask if there’s anything wrong,” Ng said.

It took some adjusting to customs such as spending entire evenings savouring dinner with friends, but she soon realized she “really liked it.”

While many of her colleagues were driven and career-oriented, working days were shorter and annual vacation leave was more generous than in Canada or Hong Kong, where she had worked as many as 70 hours a week for five years prior.

Ng had moved abroad in the first place because of poor prospects for teachers in Vancouver, B.C. where many struggle with the notoriously high cost of living for years before landing a full-time job.

Almost a decade later, she is considering moving back to Canada, but worries about quality of life factors such as financial security.

However, months of living in a pandemic reality has prompted widespread soul-searching about priorities when it comes to time spent working or with friends and family, as those lucky enough to have jobs are struggling to stay productive while taking care of dependants at home.

These stressors are particularly acute for many essential front-line workers, who have greater exposure to possible infection, and those in gig economy industries, which don’t typically come with extended health-care benefits or paid sick days.

Many Canadians may feel that our norms could use a cultural shift as well.

Could a silver lining of COVID-19 be that Canada now has an opportunity to implement lessons on work-life balance from parts of Europe?


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