This woman’s employer offers company-wide quiet hours, no emails, no meetings

This woman’s employer offers company-wide quiet hours, no emails, no meetings

From 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., noon to 1 p.m. and 3 to 4 p.m., staff can do whatever they need to do to disconnect

Photograph by Daniel Ehrenworth

Linda Onolemhemhen, a products analyst at Interac Corp., has used her company’s quiet hours program to get ahead at work, help raise her nephews and keep her mental health in check.

—As told to Alex Cyr


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I moved to Toronto from Lagos, Nigeria, in October 2019. I was looking for something different, a new environment. Toronto appealed to me because it’s young and diverse, with lots of opportunities across several industries. That December, I saw a posting for a project coordinator at Interac, applied and got the job. The first few months in a new city and country were pretty hard. I was just starting to make friends and network when Covid hit.

Thankfully, I liked my job, even after we all started working from home. I’m a product analyst, so I keep track of how Interac products are selling. That’s an especially busy job during a pandemic, because I have to continuously track how lockdowns, new variants and other world events affect our sales. On top of that, there’s a lot of collaboration with our tech and marketing teams, so I often have back-to-back meetings from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., in addition to the rest of my work.

Early in the pandemic, it was hard to juggle a full day of meetings and work and also find time for myself. I tried managing by going for walks or spending time with my roommates, but like so many people I struggled to disconnect once my home became my office.

Interac staff had spoken out about their challenges balancing their work and home lives, so the company launched quiet hours from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., noon to 1 p.m. and 3 to 4 p.m. During those times, we don’t schedule meetings or send emails. Some people pick up their kids from school, others take care of elderly family members. Since I don’t have any dependents, I used those hours to dive deeper into work without being interrupted.

As the pandemic dragged on, I noticed it was taking me longer to get things done. I wasn’t motivated. I felt like I couldn’t escape the four walls of my house. I withdrew and shut out family and friends. Honestly, I didn’t even realize what was going on with me until Interac invited a professional therapist to host a session on burnout—and then it clicked.

In August 2021, I temporarily moved to Calgary to help my sister take care of her newborn twins. There, the work-mandated quiet hours took on a different purpose: they gave me time with my nephews. The diaper changes and feedings were a lot. It helped me see how important it is for parents to get time during the day. Spending those months with my family also helped me achieve more balance. I no longer felt the need to work through my quiet time hours.

I moved back to Toronto in January. Since discovering what burnout is, I feel more prepared to overcome it. Lately I’ve been using some of those quiet hours to relax. Interac offers yoga and fitness sessions. Sometimes I watch sitcoms to get my mind off work (I’m currently bingeing Superstore and Kim’s Convenience). If I want to chill, I listen to Afrobeats, like Wizkid and Davido. Music reminds me of my fun self, the Linda who likes to travel and have a good time with friends.

In the space of 30 minutes, I feel much better, like I’m in control. The quiet hours program is a daily reminder that I have the option to work hard, to take care of others, and also to take care of myself.