For many of us, our jobs play an important part of our lives. From feeding the family and paying the bills to funding adventures and giving us a sense of purpose, building a career is very much a part of our society. But it’s important to remember it’s only one part of our lives.
Having a good work/life balance is key to living a healthy, happy life. It gives us time to destress from our roles, to socialise, build meaningful relationships, make memories and most importantly, to relax.
What is work/life balance?
Work/life balance is the term used to explain the idea that all of us need time for both work and play. Your work/life balance is how you organise your days, for example, how many hours you spend at work, and how much time you spend doing things you enjoy outside of work.
While the general definition is clear, in reality it’s not quite so simple to maintain. Work/life balance will vary from person to person, depending on our lifestyles as a whole. Age, for example, can make your balance different to a colleague or a friend.
If you’re entering the start of your career, perhaps in your early twenties you may be more dedicated to building skills, knowledge, career progression and having fun. As you grow older and are more settled in your job, it’s a common pattern that your priorities start to shift. You may start thinking about building a family, as well as career progression or maintaining your career.
If you’re stable and established in your career, hypothetically in your fifties it’s common your focus may have shifted from work, to other aspects of your life. You may have spent a large part of your life building your career alongside raising a family; now thoughts are turning towards more personal goals and activities, holidays and other things that you weren’t able to do previously.
Wherever you are in your life, the overall premise is the same when it comes to work/life balance, as it’s so important to help maintain a positive state of emotional well-being.
Why is it important?
Nowadays, pressure to perform at work is paramount and so we spend much of our lives in the workplace. Whether you’re in an office five days a week, or working shifts, it’s common that the day doesn’t always end when you leave for home. With technology at our disposal, we’re always contactable; we can work from home, check emails on-the-go and send a text to a colleague at the click of a button.
Without a good work/life balance, exhaustion, stress and burnout can make an appearance so it’s essential we take time to relax, unwind and enjoy other aspects of our lives.
If you’re stressed and unhappy in your role, but are unable to take a break or make a career move, it’s common that your work and personal life may suffer. Poor work/life balance can leave you unmotivated, short-tempered and emotional. When stress is not addressed, your emotional well-being suffers and gradually your physical health can deteriorate.
Work is just one part of life. It may be an important part, but it is still just one part. Maintaining our health and happiness is vital - we should feed our passions, build relationships and enjoy our lives. We’re only human and we crave comfort and adventure. Maintaining a good work/life balance can ensure we’re chasing our personal dreams, but flourishing at work, too.
How to assess your work/life balance
According to the Mental Health Foundation, more than 40% of workers neglect other aspects of their life because of work, which can increase their vulnerability to mental ill health.
But how many of us are aware of this neglection, and how easy is it to recognise when our work/life balance is unhealthy?
Common signs of an unhealthy balance
Whether you’re a graduate starting your first full-time job, or the CEO of a company, your work/life balance matters.
It can be difficult to know what is a small bump in the road, or if there is a bigger problem contributing to your overall stress levels. While everyone reacts to pressure differently, there are some common signs of stress that may indicate a poor work/life balance:
If you’re lacking sleep due to checking your emails late at night or are waking up during the night, worrying about your to-do list, there may be a problem. Perhaps you’re waking up tired, despite getting your full eight hours. A constant feeling of tiredness, no matter how many hours of sleep you get, is a common sign that your brain needs a break.
Aches and pains
If you’re experiencing headaches more than usual, or you’re suffering long-lasting, persistent shoulder and neck pain, you may be struggling to cope. Chronic headaches and muscle tension indicate a constant state of strain and this is a clear sign that your body needs some TLC.
Stress can often have a negative effect on our eating habits. Some people lose their appetite, often forgetting to eat meals or eating very little on the go when they are so busy thinking about what they need to do at work. Others may do the opposite, and turn to food for comfort which can negatively impact both your physical health and your self-esteem.
You may not notice a change in your eating habits, but others can pick up on it. If you’re an onlooker and are worried about a friend, reach out and suggest you meet for lunch - they might well need a break and enjoy a friendly conversation.
Working out of hours
A big indication of poor work/life balance is if you’re thinking about work, or working during your time off. If you’re due to finish work at 5pm, then it’s important you actually stop. This is your time to switch off and focus on the other aspects of your life.
Checking emails and answering calls late at night or at the weekend demonstrates you may need time to adjust your work/life balance. Similarly, if you’re worrying about work on your time off, or feeling guilty for taking a break, action needs to be taken.
Irritable and snappy
When we have no work/life balance, our emotions can feel heightened, and more sensitive. We may feel our patience is wearing thin and our temper is harder to control. If you find yourself getting short with colleagues, or snapping at loved ones daily or multiple times a day, it could be that you’re finding it difficult to cope and need to take a step back.
Similarly, when overwhelmed, we can become quite teary and emotional. Getting upset and frustrated at tasks that you normally find easy and enjoyable, indicates you need some time out.
When was the last time you spend time with your family, laughed with friends or had a real conversation with your partner (that wasn’t talking about work)? If you can’t remember or people are telling you that they don’t see you anymore, it might be a sign you need to prioritise how you allocate your time.
Understanding the problem
Of course, before you can make things better, you need to understand the problem. It may be clear to you already (a particular project at work or a conflict with a colleague perhaps) but, for some, it may be less obvious and a slow decline.
If you’re yet to pinpoint the problem but are experiencing signs of stress, or if you think you have a good work/life balance, yet people are telling you otherwise, consider keeping a diary. For an idea of your current work/life balance, record everything you do for a week, and make note of how long you spend doing each activity, both at work and at home. You may also find it helpful to record everything you eat and when, how you feel and how much sleep you’re getting.
At the end of the week, access everything you’ve done. Highlight everything to do with work in one colour, and then highlight mealtimes, sleeping routine and ‘play’ in other colours. When you’ve coloured all the sections in, analyse if there are any patterns.
If the majority of your week is taken up with the work colour, including weekends and non-working hours, it’s clear that you’re lacking balance in your life. When you can see where your current priorities lie, you can start to work out where healthy changes need to be made.
The risk of imbalance
Wellness and the focus on self-care is very much becoming a key part of modern life, but not all of us practise the idea. We work long hours, take little breaks and try to fit as much in as we can when out of the office. But, while maintaining a social life is important, we also need to give ourselves time to completely relax. This may mean enjoying a moment of peace with breakfast in the morning, or scheduling in an hour to have a bath and pamper yourself in the evening.
You may feel you’re handling things well: perhaps you have a good job, you’re doing well in your role and still maintain a social life. Yet, you may be lacking balance in other aspects of your life. Consider for a moment; how much sleep you get each night, when was your last homemade meal, when was the last time you took a day off to spend with your partner?
According to the Mental Health Foundation, the pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture is perhaps the biggest challenge to the mental health of the UK population.
Occupational burnout is thought to be a result of long-term, unresolvable job stress. When unmanaged, this can lead to physical symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue, and personality changes, including short tempers, closed thinking and a lack of interest. It has the potential to cause problems with your employer, particularly if your productivity and working ability is affected.
Stress is often a causing factor, as well as a risk of poor work/life balance. Stress, when unmanaged, can build and build until one day, it becomes too much. Chronic stress can result in personal distress and unhappiness, as well as physical symptoms.
Work-related stress costs Britain 10.4 million working days each year.
In a 2017 YouGov Work Life Balance reported, one in five (21%) 25 to 34 year olds are unhappy with their work/life balance, compared to 17% of 45 to 54 year olds. Furthermore, four in 10 (41%) of 25 to 34 year olds believe there is often an expectation from their employer to work outside their normal hours.
The report reveals responding to emails and messages are one of the major pressures felt by employees, and 43% read or send work-related emails outside of office hours - including on holiday.
Physical and emotional symptoms of stress can include:
- Feeling overwhelmed, or like you are losing control.
- Low self-esteem, feeling lonely and worthless.
- Becoming easily agitated.
- Lack of energy due to poor sleep.
- Aches, pains and tense muscles.
- Upset stomach.
- Frequently catching colds or illness.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of stress, you may benefit from speaking to a professional, such as a counsellor or life coach. A life coach can help you reassess your situation and help you find balance. If there are underlying issues that may be contributing to your stress, a counsellor may be able to help you understand and manage the problem.
If you spend the majority of your spare time focusing on work, whether it be in the office or at home, it’s likely you don’t have much time for friends. Your friends and family need your time - neglecting them constantly due to work commitments can affect these relationships, which can, in turn, heighten the impact of stress.
Your loved ones are there to support you, but tensions can arise when they feel neglected. Nurturing these relationships are key for overall well-being, as well as an essential part of maintaining a good work/life balance.
How coaching can help
For some, they’re able to recognise the problem early, and manage it well. Others however, may need a little guidance. Generally, we turn to our friends or family for support and advice, but sometimes we need more in the form of professional support.
Speaking with a life coach can be a great way to help you get back on track, and help you recognise and decide exactly how you would like to spend your life. While we all have to make compromises, it’s possible to organise our lives in a productive way to enable enjoyment of our time outside of work, whilst maintaining success in the workplace.
How can a life coach help me achieve a better work/life balance?
For you to benefit fully from the support of a life coach, you need to want to change. It takes courage and a willingness to recognise a problem and ask for help, it’s a huge step. Coaching can help you understand your feelings, recognise your goals and support you in taking the necessary steps to change your life.
With the support of a coach, you’ll be able to:
- Identify the roadblocks and problems that are currently standing in your way.
- Change counterproductive behaviours.
- Build on confidence and self-belief.
- Recognise and address job burnout.
- Set boundaries by speaking up.
- Manage stress.
- Improve your effectiveness at work, and at home.
Life is short, and ensuring you live a happy, healthy life should be priority. A coach may be able to help you see things in a different light. Perhaps your stress has built up over time, due to lots of small things. Or maybe one thing in particular is causing your unhappiness. Whatever the cause, a coach can help you recognise issues, and set goals to overcome them.
Are you ready to make a change? Find a life coach near you.
We need to put in the energy and passion if we want to be successful, but our lives need to deliver personally, as well as giving us what we want professionally. At times, the focus on building a career can mean we sacrifice the things that make us happy, but a life coach will help you find a balance. Coaching can help you rebuild communication with friends and colleagues, help you manage expectations and ensure your work is supporting your life, rather than opposing it.
Tips to improve work/life balance
You’re the one in charge of your own life. If you want to make a change, a life coach can support you, but primarily, you take the lead. If your lack of work/life balance is causing you stress and misery, there are ways you can help yourself:
Schedule your day - plan fun and plan rest
While it sounds counterintuitive to do more things when you’re already drowning in tasks, scheduling times to exercise, socialise and do the things you enjoy can help you relax. At the beginning of the week, plan time to do the things that nourish you (mentally and physically): whether that’s going for a drink with friends, going to the gym or even an evening devoted to pampering, it will be a welcome break from the office and can actually make it easier to be more productive at work the following day!
Learn to say no
There needs to be a clear boundary between your work and home life. You may think that saying yes to everything makes you look like a great employee, but it could be damaging to your health in the long-run. If you’ve got a particularly busy period, you are allowed to say no and highlight your priorities.
Similarly, taking work home with you may seem like a good idea in the beginning, but it can quickly become the norm. You shouldn’t be expected to work, unpaid and out of working hours, so if you have something you need to do, let your boss know you’ll get back on it first thing the next morning. Keep things positive, but make it clear you’re not available outside of your contracted hours.
Try the ‘work smart, not long’ method
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do well and succeed in your career, and working harder and longer may seem like the right thing to do, but it may actually be hindering your journey to success, rather than helping it. The ‘work smart, not long’ method involves tight prioritisation and planning to ensure you do. It allows you a certain amount of time on a task, without getting caught up in less productive activities, or taking on more work than you need.
Each morning or at the end of the day the night before, write down your top priorities, the things you need to get finished today and why, and schedule in a proper lunch break and an end time. Follow this and a routine will start to form.
Make health a priority
Calling in sick isn’t always easy, but you need to prioritise your health and well-being. Pushing through illness and fatigue will only make your illness worse. This is particularly important if you feel close to burnout, you’re frequently experiencing headaches or not sleeping, it might be time to consider speaking to your doctor. Ensure your employer is aware of how you are feeling, and the effect high workload and long hours are having on you. They should support you and together, you can decipher a more manageable plan.
It can feel quite daunting talking to your employer about your health, but being honest about how you feel, and the impact your work is having on your health is the most important factor.
Know what you want
This may not be possible for everyone, but if there are certain working hours and locations that you think will benefit your work/life balance, consider speaking to your employer. If you have a long commute and spend hours in traffic every morning, perhaps you can start earlier, to avoid traffic and make the most of your working time. Maybe you have the option to work remotely, every now and then. Whilst working from home isn’t necessarily the best way to maintain a good work/life balance, a new location may help when struggling in the office environment.
Another question to ask yourself is: are you really happy in your role? Think of the reasons why you’re working so hard, and what is causing your stress. Are they avoidable, or can they be managed? Only you know if you can overcome the issues, and if this isn’t possible, maybe it’s time to move on and follow a new path.
We are individuals, and so our work/life balance may vary. But regardless, we should all make a conscious effort to set out some rules to help us find the right balance between work and life. For example, switching off all electronic devices at 8pm, or making sure you have a sit-down dinner every evening despite your workload.
Advice for employers
How you can support your staff
The well-being of your staff is very important in making your business a success. Whether you’re a large, corporate company, or a smaller business, the mental health of your employees needs your attention.
We spend much of our lives at work (estimated around 12 years, while the commute is thought to take 588 days) and so, our health and happiness in our role should be taken seriously. While self-care and work/life balance primarily comes from the individual, it should be on the minds of companies too.
There are many benefits for companies to encourage work/life balance, from happy staff and increased productivity, to reduced leave costs and less sick days.
Whether you already have a policy or are looking to start from scratch, there are many ways you can encourage work/life balance in your company:
Promote the message
The first thing to do is introduce the message of work/life balance to everyone in the office. Inform them that this is a key focus in the workplace, and encourage speaking up if anyone is struggling with their workload, or with anything else in their life. Employees often think they can’t bring their problems to work, but if there is a support network available, they can take steps to managing the problem, rather than keeping it to themselves.
Develop mental health policies
Having policies that acknowledge and raise awareness of the link between work-related stress and mental health is important. Policies should include information about the support available, the process and who to speak to, should employees need help.
Allow staff to attend counselling and support services during working hours: mental health is just as important as physical health, so should employee be granted appointment allowance for the dentist, it should reflect for a counselling session?
Encourage a culture of openness
Within your workplace, encourage a culture of openness. Openness about time constraints, workload and employees’ mental health. It’s important staff feel comfortable about speaking up if they are being asked too much of, or if they need a day or two off to focus on self-care or their mental health.
Provide training for managers
Knowing the signs of work-related stress and poor work/life balance can be very beneficial in maintaining the health of, and supporting, employees. Training should be provided to all managerial staff; raising awareness of the symptoms and causes of work-related stress and burnout, and the steps to take should they feel concerned.
There should also be a process for managers who may be experiencing stress or lack balance. Everybody in the workplace should have the opportunity to seek support if needed.
When swamped with deadlines, you may see employees staying late, or working through their lunch. One way to encourage taking a break is to set certain times for lunch, or coffee breaks.
It’s suggested that top performers work solidly for 52 minutes, before taking a 17-minute break.
Our lunch hour is the time to take a moment away from our responsibilities and give our minds a rest, before another afternoon of working. Encouraging employees to eat lunch and get some fresh air is essential for good well-being, but also helps boost afternoon productivity.
Consider flexible working
How flexible you can be will depend on the industry, but offering flexible working can be a great way to support employees and promote work/life balance. If your office hours are 9 - 5pm, consider introducing flexitime, so staff are able to avoid the traffic, or even catch up on some much-needed sleep. An extra 30 minutes can go a long way.
Perhaps you can change up how you do meetings. A change of scenery is sometimes the best way to get motivated, so suggest that teams head to the local coffee shop for their weekly meeting, or even try a walking meeting.
If you can offer remote working, this again is a great way to support employees and encourage work/life balance. Tony Boatman from QNNect, reveals that employees that work remotely tend to be 13% more efficient than those that work full-time in the office. Remote working can ease some of the pressures that come with working in an office, while also allowing staff to allocate their time and tasks to their own schedule.
Introducing an emphasis on working well during contracted hours, rather than putting in extra time at home/after hours, is another way to encourage work/life balance. Daily breaks, weekends and holidays are essential in combating burnout and is one of the most important aspects of staying productive at work.
In your workplace, encourage work-free weekends, set rules against contacting employees with work-related queries out of hours, and encourage holidays. Stepping away for a week or two to completely unwind is not only beneficial for health and mental well-being, but it’s also a great way to come back feeling refreshed, inspired and keen to work.
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