A successful career is important to many people, but it’s also important to maintain a healthy balance between competing priorities in our jobs and personal lives. In an increasingly connected world it can be especially difficult to separate the two. Research shows nearly half of UK workers (47%) spend significant time feeling overwhelmed by their workload, and 85% feel their work is causing them stress.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance
When you’re investing too much time and energy into one area of your life at the expense of another, you’ll likely feel stressed, anxious, guilty and irritable. Over exhaustion often leads to illness and burn out, with a negative impact on your self-esteem and personal relationships.
Your ideal work-life balance will depend on your career goals, life stage, and family or social commitments, and it will likely change over time. But maintaining a healthy work-life balance has many benefits:
- Improved health and well being
- Higher productivity
- Greater enjoyment in your job
- Stronger relationships
- Enhanced personal development
- Greater success in achieving goals
Improving work-life balance
Spend some time reflecting on current priorities in your professional and personal life. Consider what you should be doing and what you want to be doing. With this in mind, try these tips to achieve greater work-life balance:
Set boundaries: There will almost always be work you can do to fill time, so it’s important to define clear boundaries that will help you keep your work and personal life separate. Whether it’s not checking emails out of office hours or scheduling dedicated break time throughout your day, do your best to respect the boundaries you set for yourself.
Manage your time: This goes for both in and out of the office. Prioritise the tasks and events that are most important or time sensitive, always focusing on the essentials first. Is there anything you can do to streamline your work responsibilities? Can you save some time by eliminating unproductive meetings or delegating minor tasks? Are you spending too much time watching TV when you could get some social time or reading in? Can you do more to limit distractions or interruptions?
Take breaks: It can be tempting to work through your lunch or break time when you’re busy. Not only is it this counterproductive, but the quality of your output will start to suffer too. Do your best to take some time for yourself every day; whether that be reading, catching up with friends or going for a walk. You’ll come back re-energised and more focused.
Take time off: When was your extended break? Vacations are fun, but you don’t need to hop on a plane to get some much-needed rest and relaxation. Use your annual leave to recharge so you don’t burn out.
Invest in personal development: Work isn’t the only place to learn and develop. Devote some time to learning a new language, volunteering, taking up a hobby or mastering a new skill. Having interests outside of work will make you a more rounded and interesting individual.
Know when to say no: Do your best to avoid accepting tasks or invitations because you feel obligated or guilty. You’ll find that you have more time for activities that are meaningful for you.
Advocate for change: There’s nothing wrong with respectfully sharing your suggestions for increasing the support for work-life balance in your workplace. This could be around flexible working, wellness programs, encouraging healthy activities in the office or setting more reasonable expectations around communication outside of office hours.
What to look for in a new job
If despite all this work-life balance seems impossible, or you genuinely dread going to work every day, then it may be time to pursue a new opportunity.
When exploring new opportunities it’s important to first have a think about your greatest needs. Perhaps you could benefit from working remotely or from home a couple times a week. Or maybe you need some flexibility around start and finish times. It’s also important to consider your potential commute and how far you’re willing to travel.
Research the company culture and pay attention to what the hiring manager says during the interview process about flexibility, wellness programs and employee benefits. Think about the quality of life you’re looking for versus salary, and consider whether you’re willing to make any sacrifices to achieve the work-life balance you want.
What can employers do?
More than half (52%) of UK workers believe their employer does not promote a healthy work-life balance, and only a third say that their managers help them to manage their workload. A government report on work related stress demonstrated that stress accounted for nearly half of all working days lost due to illness.
A happy and healthy workforce means increased job satisfaction, higher productivity, higher engagement, lower turnover and less absenteeism. Since work-life balance is different for everyone, employers should try to approach it in a way that can be tailored as much as possible. A work environment audit can highlight potential issues on a cultural level, and one-to-ones, focus groups and employee engagement surveys are all good ways to get feedback from employees.
It’s important that owners and senior management lead by example in promoting a culture of working smarter, not harder. If there are benefits, perks or programmes in place to support work-life balance, encourage employees to use them.
Remember that work-life balance is about identifying the mix of business and personal life that is right for you. Understand you won’t be able to maintain this balance all the time, but hold yourself accountable to your boundaries as your priorities change.
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