A high proportion of our time is devoted to work, assuming a typical job is 8 hours a day, 5 days. Outside of work we have many other roles involving family, friends, hobbies and relaxation. If you spend too much time either working or letting your thoughts be dominated by work to the detriment of other aspects of your life then it is an indication you need to ask yourself, “What is my work life balance?”.
You work and work for years and years, you’re always on the go“Enjoy Yourself” – Guy Lombardo (covered by The Specials)
You never take a minute off, too busy makin’ dough
Someday, you say, you’ll have your fun, when you’re a millionaire
Imagine all the fun you’ll have in your old rockin’ chair
Obviously, I’m not saying work isn’t important. For many of us, myself included, work is an enjoyable and challenging aspect of our lives. The reason this blog exists is that I believe work takes up such a high proportion of our time it’s important for it to be stimulating and pleasurable. However, if our work starts to take over our lives then it can cause an imbalance, which can be unhealthy to both our physical and mental well-being. Prolonged overworking, if left unchecked, can lead to burnout and stress
One aspect that makes it difficult to provide a work life balance definition is because it differs so much from person to person. A situation that one person thrives on could cause another to be stressed and ill. The other difficulty in pinpointing imbalance is that an individual may be enjoying their work to the detriment of others in their lives. For instance, an entrepreneur may spend long hours focused on their business, which they find rewarding. On the other hand, their family may feel they’re spending too many hours at work and not enough with them.
How to Recognise an Unhealthy Work-Life Balance
For this reason it’s impossible to define the right work life balance for everyone. However, the UK’s Mental Health Foundation identified several indicators:
- Feeling unhappy about the amount of time devoted to work
- Neglecting other aspects of your life because of work
- Feeling anxious or irritable due to working long hours
- Spending time outside of work worrying or concerned about your work
- Anxiety caused by ‘juggling’ competing life roles, e.g. spending time with the family
- Experiencing negative effects on your personal life, including personal relationships
Is Work Life Balance Important?
At the heart of work life balance is our mental and physical health. Any imbalance caused by too much work can be detrimental to our well-being. This has important implications for both companies and employees.
Our mental and physical well-being underpins our general health. Feeling stressful or unhappy periodically is all part of life. However, if this becomes too common then it’s difficult for individual’s to sustain. Common problems can be:
- Lowered immune system meaning a higher susceptibility to illnesses such as flu
- High blood pressure, which could cause heart problems
- Increased respiration levels that can cause panic attacks
- Mental health problems such as depression
- Behavioural issues such as irritability, impatience and moodiness
- Physical problems such as headaches, migraines or tiredness
In a survey of 10,000 participants it was found that workers who spent just three hours longer than required had a 60% higher risk of heart-related problems. (The Happiness Index)
Why Work Life Balance is Important For Companies
For employers, having staff work longer, often unpaid, hours may seem like a positive result! However, longer hours don’t necessarily result in more productive hours. The mental wellbeing of staff must be high up in the priorities of companies who want to retain staff, maximise engagement and focus. Company bosses should ask their staff if they look forward to Monday mornings. If they could find a way to get a truthful answer this would be a good indicator of work life balance.
Other factors affecting work life balance is the ‘Always On’ aspect of contemporary offices. Most people know the day they got their first smartphone is the day they said goodbye to 9-5 hours. Smartphones and tablets mean we are now reachable 24 hours a day. The most unhealthy part of this is that our colleagues and bosses now expect people to respond 24 hours a day. This synchronous method of working can be highly destructive in the long run as people feel under pressure to answer every work related email they receive, despite the hour or day of the week.
What are the Benefits?
For companies there are sound financial reasons for ensuring a healthy work balance of employees.
- Higher retention of employees
- Less sick days
- Higher productivity
- Reputation for Mindful Employer
How Can Companies Encourage Better Work-Life Balance
- Be visible about supporting healthy work-life balance by sending regular messages to people
- Have a clear policy regarding mental health in the office. Ensure employees at all levels are aware of their responsibility in promoting mental health.
- Everyone in a company should feel able to speak out if they feel the demands on them are too great.
- Introduce training so managers can spot poor work-life balance amongst staff and how to respond.
- Encourage a culture of ‘Working smarter, not longer’
- Conduct a regular audit to identify policies or practices that may be causing unhealthy work-life balance.
- Monitor indicators of poor work-life balance such as sick days and hours spent in the office vs productivity
- Treat staff attending counselling or support services in the same way as attending any other medical appointment
- Introduce activities, such as exercise or relaxation classes, into daily schedules.
Work Life Balance Tips
When discussing work life balance the difficulty is there is no ‘one-size fits all.’ What works for one individual will have little effect on another. However, these tips are derived from my own experience plus a number of articles on the subject.
- Don’t feel guilty about taking time off
- Take short, regular breaks
- Outside defined work hours you have the right to disconnect
- Understand synchronous vs asynchronous communication
- Social media is not ‘being busy’
- Longer hours may be masking other problems
- The art of being ‘just good enough’
- Working the longest hours in the office is not a badge of honour
- Make your work transparent
- Define your own hours
- Recognise the symptoms of stress
- Acknowledge the importance of activities such as exercise, meeting friends or leisure time.