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Balancing Act

“Work-life balance” is a buzzword you hear a lot these days, and it’s one of those ambiguous terms employers use to make themselves sound more attractive to potential employees. Though I’d heard this term before, unfortunately, in my experience, balance often meant going into the office early, leaving late and always being attached to my Blackberry.  Taking an hour for lunch was considered a luxury, and the closest thing to a break was running to the coffee machine. Any more balance than this was out of the question.

Since moving to Nunavut, one of the greatest takeaways that I have gained from this experience is the ability to step back from work and enjoy the breaks I am afforded – there’s real work-life balance to be had here. At first, being able to focus on my home life while at home seemed like a novelty to me. The entire town shuts down between 12pm and 1pm so everyone can go home for lunch, and this was an alien concept to me. Now that I am used to it, one hour in the middle of the day when I can let my brain rest, eat a well-balanced meal (rather than gulping down a greasy lunch I picked up, or a meal replacement shake just to get by), and spending the hour with my husband is a welcome break that I look forward to. Work begins at 8:30am and ends at 5:00pm the majority of days. A short drive to the house means that I am typically back at home before 5:15pm and the rest of the evening is all mine. With there being so few daylight hours in the winter months, you cherish your time outside the office and try to make the most of it. On the flip side, in the summer months with 24 hours of sunshine, you value your time outside the office so you can soak up every bit of vitamin D goodness you can before it goes away again.

In a world so competitive and focused on getting ahead, is there such a thing as work-life balance? In the South, I used to feel guilty if I left right at 5:00pm because I thought it made me seem like I wasn’t working as hard as my colleague. I knew of a person who used to stay late and walk by the executive offices, pretending to grab photocopies so they would see her working late. I think there is a misconception of people who work 8 hours a day and then go home – that they are somehow contributing less than the person who stays an extra 2 hours into the evening. Another lesson I have learned while living in Nunavut is how to work more efficiently. The hours I put in while I’m at work are completely focused and driven by work because I know that when I am home, there is no thinking of work. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we have big projects and deadlines that require we work extra hours, but that isn’t the norm. We are expected to go home at the end of the day and continue on the next day. It has been a refreshing philosophical and cultural shift that I have welcomed with open arms.

In a world that moves so quickly and bombards us with information, balance needs to be encouraged. Organizations expect employees to work tirelessly, which contributes to increased stress and burn-out. Allowing a culture of work-life balance to flourish leads to happier, more loyal employees, with increased productivity and efficiency. Companies are striving to recruit and retain the best workforce possible, and individuals are becoming much more selective in where they choose to work. One of the best parts about working in Nunavut is the discovery of what work-life balance truly means – and something I’m not willing to give up in my next venture.