What is work-life balance and why is it important?
We hear the term ‘work-life balance’ a lot these days, but what does it mean? Some will argue that it is subjective, and while the right balance for one person might not be right for another, it’s often easier to spot when work-life feels out of balance.
For many, an increase in the demands of work and of working hours is having an impact on other areas of their life. Many people, including parents, are working way beyond their contracted hours, according to Working Families. As a result, generally speaking, we’re spending less time doing things that we enjoy and connecting with those who are important to us during hours that are supposed to be non-working hours. So, the more additional time we spend working and the less down-time we have, the more likely it is that we will become fatigued and if unaddressed, we will reach burnout.
So, how can we achieve balance? Here are 5 tips to get you started:
Tip 1 – Re-vamp lunch break and recharge
Do you get away from your job at lunchtime or do you use lunch to ‘catch up’ with more work? Do you change your environment or do you eat at your desk or on the job? Making sure that you eat and drink well during your working day is important if you want to keep up your strength and a change of environment is also important for recharging. If you can, get outside and take in the fresh air and if you have time, why not go for a walk?
Tip 2 – Practise saying “no”
Do you find yourself adapting to others and saying yes to additional tasks when your workload is already barely manageable? Do you say ‘yes’ and inwardly groan ‘no’? Where does taking on extra work when you’re already struggling actually get you? Does anyone notice if you’re always the last to leave work? Who benefits?
Saying ‘no’ can feel difficult if you feel compelled to please others most of the time, but saying ‘no’ to others is saying ‘yes’ to you! Saying ‘no’ when needed, is a good example of setting a healthy boundary for yourself and others. Sure, some won’t like it, and that’s okay, the sky won’t fall in if someone is displeased. Saying ‘no’ can be the best self-care activity you do this week!
Tip 3 – Ask for help when you need it
When saying ‘no’ isn’t a good or viable option, if you’re struggling with an already challenging workload, asking for help is the next best thing. But how are we when it comes to asking for help at work? How come many of us would prefer not to?
Sometimes there’s a worry that others will think that we’re weak and can’t cope but asking for help when we need it shows insight and strength. If you become overwhelmed this is not sustainable and your mental wellbeing will decline if the situation continues. It is okay and essential to ask for help when you need it.
Tip 4 – Clock out, log out!
So, you’ve left work but have you left work at work? How many of us take more work home with us to do? How many of us receive emails outside of working hours? How ridiculous would it seem if, while sat eating your evening meal or in your PJs unwinding before bed, a colleague appeared at your door with a job that needed doing? Most of us would be a little confused, irritated or even outraged. Yet, when the phone or tablet pings, generally speaking, most workers feel an obligation to read work emails and respond. Perhaps it’s the boss, and as they email outside of their work hours, you feel there’s an expectation that you have to continue to work too.
Don’t fall into that trap! Turn your emails / work phone off outside of working hours or, if checking emails is an absolute must, allow yourself a set time to do this with a time limit, say 15 minutes max. Putting in healthy boundaries to be unavailable for work makes you available for you, and the people and activities that you love.
Tip 5 – Mentally clock out
Tip 4 was about physically clocking out but what if you struggle to switch off mentally? Practising tip 4 will help to some extent as you form a healthier habit around not allowing work interruptions to leak into your down time. But what about those all-intrusive mental interruptions?
Often, our minds wander to things that have happened during the day or we start to worry about things that we have to do tomorrow. Usually, there’s nothing you can do about those things right now, so spending time and energy ruminating, worrying, or creating mental lists of things to do the next day is wasted.
If you find that work worries intrude to the point that you struggle to relax or sleep at night, write them down and then let it go. You will soon notice that you have more head space for yourself and those close to you.
A good work-life balance is a protective factor against chronic stress and other mental health issues. Good employers will care about the well-being of their staff and have systems in place to promote and support this.
As individuals, we can also take responsibility for our own work-life balance by: making sure that we take those breaks, establishing healthy boundaries, asking for help when we need it, making time for ourselves, friends and family and recreation by clocking out-digitally, and decluttering our head space of work by getting it out and onto paper then letting it go until the next working day.