Hustle and Bustle; provided by Pixabay

This year has been a year of reflection and re-evaluation. Not everyone gets a chance to stop, sit, and reflect for an extended period of time. That is exactly what happened to me. I was temporarily laid off, and all of a sudden, I was lost. After working constantly for the five years prior, full time at my previous company while trying to start up my own freelance business, my entire identity was my work. I worked Monday to Friday, pouring my soul into my new job at a small, woman-run business while excelling on weekends with my own company. I could feel the burn-out coming, and yet, when the break I had been craving came, I felt like I had lost my entire identity.

With all the changes brought about by COVID-19, I hope businesses return to a slower pace and refocus on ensuring a positive work environment for employees. In March I was working for a small business, which had to temporarily close its doors as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. My boss sprung into action, keeping us up to date and helping us with our Canadian Emergency Response Benefit applications. My boss and I had a turbulent relationship—I started in August of 2019, replacing someone who had been in the position I was starting since the business opened. After leaving a large international company, I was thrilled to work for a company that was small and preached family values. However, my optimism was met with a crushing blow. My time at the company was filled with day-off rejections, unpaid work, and an expectation that I would be available at any hour of any day.

Despite the emotional turmoil I was experiencing at this job, I was so committed to it. From the outside, the company was everything I believed in. It was small, owned locally, and entirely female-run. I spent weeks continuing to write blog posts and creating social media content for this company despite not being paid, because my boss thought it would “help [me] stay connected with the [company name] family.” In my downtime, I reflected. My boss abused my commitment to the company, and by not allowing me basic requests like a sick day or proper training in some of my tasks, established an environment in which I felt worthless. I never returned to the company when it reopened in June.

Our society supports the hustle, especially when you read books and articles aimed at women in business. The companies I worked for promised I would be rewarded if I worked just a little harder. I, alongside everyone else working there, was overbooked and expected to support my coworkers with any spare time I had. This company made me want to belong, to support my company even if it meant doing so unpaid, and that working for them would give me a special identity. It took COVID-19 to make me realize I had lost many of my own values and interests, trying to appease companies that didn’t even follow their own values. I was burnt out, depressed, and pulling away from my own company for someone else’s, because I was so hypnotized by the very marketing that I helped them create.

This experience made me realize that work isn’t everything; you shouldn’t have to give up your own happiness for success. Just because a business is small and local doesn’t mean it is acceptable for them to take advantage of their employees. As we return to normal, I hope businesses see the value in COVID-19 restrictions.

Limited clients in a business at one time is easier on employees, as they no longer rush from one client to the next. Consequently, the experience is more positive for the employee and client alike. Companies need to respect work-life balance, properly train employees, and ensure there is enough coverage within a business to run efficiently without overworking employees.