As COVID-19 burnout and fatigue take hold across the country, four Canadian cities are ranked in the top 20 globally for having the best work-life balance.
Out of 50 cities ranked, Ottawa was sixth behind Helsinki, which took the top spot, followed by Oslo, Zurich, Stockholm and Copenhagen, according to the 2021 index released by U.S.-based tech firm Kisi on Thursday.
The Canadian capital, which jumped from its pre-pandemic 2019 ranking of 11, was followed by Vancouver, which came in eighth place, Calgary at 13 and Toronto taking the 14th spot.
The rankings were based on a number of factors, including remote jobs, vacation days, city livability, COVID-19 related economic support and access to mental health care.
By comparison, American cities were ranked outside of the top 20, with Salt Lake City at 24, followed by Portland (26), Denver (28), Seattle (29) and Boston (31).
“Canadian cities, by and large, display less of a need for high, high, high levels of productivity, that there seems to be relatively more openness to the reality that people don’t only have work in their lives,” said Laurent Lapierre, professor of workplace behaviour and health at the University of Ottawa.
Paula Allen, LifeWorks’ global leader of research and total well-being, said the rankings were a reflection of the country’s work culture and measures taken to promote a healthy workplace.
“I think Canadian employers and Canadian business have really done a lot that they should feel proud of,” she told Global News.
Many Canadian employers offer mental health assistance programs free of charge, which staff can access voluntarily and confidentially, Allen said.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Allen said there has also been a push towards supporting the financial well-being of employees, from increased training, communication and apps that help people make good decisions to hardship funds they can turn to.
Lapierre said he was “not surprised” that Ottawa ranked higher compared to other major cities in the world.
This is, in part, because government staff make up the majority of the workforce in the capital, with the feds offering a wealth of employee benefits and relatively generous paid vacation.
Safety, size and social factors also play a role, Lapierre said.
“Ottawa generally attracts people who are highly educated simply because of the nature of the jobs that are concentrated in Ottawa … and we’re less likely to see evidence of social strife than in other major cities.”
In terms of the most overworked population, Toronto ranked at 13 after Kuala Lumpur, Calgary and London. Hong Kong took the number one spot.
Toronto is a much bigger, busier and more populated city, which makes it particularly more time-consuming and stressful to commute to and from work compared to Ottawa, Lapierre said.
Over the past year, amid tightened restrictions and public health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, working from home has become the new norm.
While the switch to a virtual office with meetings on Zoom, Skype or other online platforms has allowed for greater flexibility, efficiency, convenience as well as safety, experts say working remotely has also blurred the lines between our professional and personal lives.
“There is a very real danger that employees slip into an unhealthy equilibrium between ‘working’ and ‘home’ hours without the physical boundaries of the working environment,” said Bernhard Mehl, CEO and co-founder of Kisi, in a press release.
A recent Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News found that the number of Canadians experiencing mental health issues continues to rise across the country, with half of those surveyed being deemed at “high risk.”
A new Mental Health Index report published by LifeWorks on Thursday found that nearly half of working Canadians feel the need for mental health support.
Of those who have not taken action on mental health in spite of the need, 30 per cent believe that affordable care is not available, while 29 per cent report that they do not have energy to seek care, and 27 per cent do not know which type of care is best for them, the survey showed.
“It always has been very concerning how little our mental health has improved since the start of a pandemic,” said Allen.
“At this point, just how long this has been going on is one of our biggest risks.”
After more than a year, the Canadian economy is starting to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
After Denmark, Norway, Finland, Belgium and Singapore, Canada was ranked sixth for offering economic support to workers affected by the pandemic, according to Kisi.
In March 2020, the federal government announced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB): $2,000 per month, meant to cover the significant gaps left by Employment Insurance (EI).
As of May 14, more than 17.75 million applications for CERB, which became the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) in September, have been approved by the federal government.
How to balance work and personal life
While many companies have made an effort to promote better work-life balance for their employees, Mehl said, “more needs to be done on a city and country-level to shift the conversation towards alleviating stress and offering mental health support.”
“The pandemic has really highlighted how important it is to have a break from our working routines, not just for our own sakes but also for our overall productivity,” he said.
Lapierre said it really boils down to the manager, who should be aware of the employees’ working hours and check up on their mental well-being. It is also important for employees to speak up and voice their concerns, he added.
To improve their mental health, 67 per cent of Canadians used exercise, 52 per cent turned to healthy eating and 41 per cent talked to their friends, the LifeWorks survey showed.
Allen offered other helpful tips on how to better balance your work and personal life:
- Bring variety to your day
- Make sure you have some fun
- Do something creative
- Think about things outside of work
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