THE BLOG
04/26/2014 12:03 EDT | Updated 06/25/2014 05:59 EDT

Don't Romanticize European Work-Life Balance

ALAIN JOCARD via Getty Images
Flowers blossom near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on March 9, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ ALAIN JOCARD (Photo credit should read ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)

We've all heard the adage "work to live, don't live to work." Many people say that Europeans work to live while we North Americans live to work. Europeans, in general, receive more vacation time than us and work less hours than us, but does that mean they are happier or more successful? And what does "more successful" even mean? Recently I read about the proposition in France to turn off work email at 6pm, and it made me wonder if that would that even succeed here? And should it?

I have always taken the position that work-life balance is about integration and about loving what you do, both at home and at work. It's about finding a place of happiness within, and not expecting your work alone to make you feel complete. Do we view hard work differently in North America? I believe it's about loving what you do, and focusing not on the hours we put IN but on what we get OUT of our work, our chosen career.

North America was founded on hard work.

The advent of the smartphone did not start us off on a hardworking path. Both Canada and United States were founded by people from other countries (often European) who came here to build a better life. Arianna Huffington, Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google) and Jan Koum (co-founder of WhatsApp) are just a few of the hardworking immigrants who launched iconic American companies.

The list of successful Canadian immigrants includes achievers like former Governor General Michäelle Jean and Ðragon's Den entrepreneurs Arlene Dickinson and Robert Herjavec. Even George Washington and Sir John A. Macdonald were immigrants who came to North America to work towards a better life.

My own family immigrated to Canada when I was very young and I am so grateful for the lessons I learned from seeing my parents strive for a new life. Even at a young age I felt very fortunate to be in a country where hard work is recognized. I believe it encourages people to achieve great things -- where they feel all things are possible. Foreigners continue to flood our shores in search of a better life, one that they are willing to work hard for.

We reward hard work, we value hard workers. North Americans are a highly integrated group. In both Canada and the United States, 1 in 5 people speak a language other than English (or French in Canada) in their homes. We come from varied backgrounds, with very different ideas of what constitutes work-life balance. What we share, however, is our desire to build a good life with strong values, a solid work ethic and the belief that success takes work.

We have different perspectives on work-life balance.

Naturally, with a nation full of so many diverse cultures, it would be difficult for us to come to a common agreement about what constitutes work-life balance. Implementing changes to our working habits would only succeed if an entire society adheres to it, which is perhaps why France made theirs a law. I think it also depends on your line of work, and because we have such a diverse workforce, it would be hard to enforce an all-encompassing rule. One office or two businesses can't decide to instil a work curfew because everyone that works with them and surrounds that business might work completely differently.

We value good customer service.

I wouldn't ignore a client's email because they sent it after 6 p.m. I try my best to respond to urgencies with the kind of service I would want to receive. Workaholics are not the same as hard workers. Hard workers seem to help their clients, solve problems and create solutions.

We strive to stay on top of the competition and ahead in the game. Some studies say 1 in 6 North Americans work over 60 hours a week and the average Brit works 150 hours less per year than their American counterpart. I lead by example in that I work hard but I also enjoy all aspects of my life. I feel fulfilled because I don't base my entire happiness on my career (although it is pretty integrated). I base it on all the things in my life that make me whole, and my career is certainly part of that. This all being said, I think holidays are important, and doing things you love on a regular basis is part of what keeps you happy and balanced.

The opportunities are endless...if you make the most of them.

Hard work, dedication, loyalty and a positive attitude will get you far in North America. There is a difference between working hard and being efficient, effective and enthusiastic. We can waste a lot of time not being effective or efficient. As we develop in our careers, especially in our early days when we are still learning, it takes us longer to do the work.

Then, as we gain more experience, we can perform at more efficient levels. I believe it's not about working hard or harder but that it takes time to learn a career, a job, so you can spend your work day being the best you can be or spend those hours complaining or wishing you lived in Europe -- which one will be more effective? It's about making the most of the opportunities that are presented to us, and not taking for granted the freedoms and possibilities we have in Canada and the US, where in general we are safe, protected and encouraged in the workplace. We need to also remember that we live in a thriving economy unlike our European friends.

While I believe some European habits could be beneficial to North Americans, like going out for a coffee or a drink after work instead of heading straight home to crash on the couch, I think we may be romanticizing Europe a little when we think of them working less than us. Most of my colleagues, friends and clients abroad work just as long hours as we do here; they do it because they love their work and they feel fulfilled and accomplished. Plus, compared with many Asian nations, we North Americans have it easy!

What do you think about the new 6 p.m. curfew that France is initiating? Could it work here in North America? I would love to hear your thoughts!

xo Natasha