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Maintaining a healthy work-life balance

Each of us will define a healthy work-life balance differently. It’s not about dividing your time 50/50 between work and leisure, but about feeling fulfilled and content in both areas. An example of a healthy balance would be:

  • Keeping up with work deadlines while still having time for friends and hobbies

  • Sleeping and eating well enough

  • When you’re at home, you don’t have to worry about work.

Having caring responsibilities, a demanding boss, or health issues can make this challenging.

What are the signs of a poor work-life balance?

When we’ve done it for a long time or all our coworkers are in similar situations, it can be easy to normalise working long hours or being under extreme stress. If we don’t take a step back once in a while, our assumptions and habits about work can become ingrained.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to make changes at work: if you’re on a zero-hours contract, for example, you might not feel comfortable speaking up, or you might have to work long hours to make ends meet. In work-life balance is a cycle, not an achievement, recent research suggests following five steps to regularly assess your work-life balance.

  1. Pause. What is currently causing you stress or unhappiness? How does that affect my personal and professional lives? Is there anything I need to prioritise? Is there anything I’m missing out on? Many of us don’t reflect on work until there’s a major life event, like the birth of a child or the loss of someone close to us. You can discover if how you live and work is right for you just by stepping back and thinking about your priorities

  2. Pay attention to your feelings. As you become more aware of your current situation, how do you feel? Do you feel satisfied and happy? Are you angry or resentful? You can decide what changes you want to make based on your feelings

  3. Reprioritise. Make a list of the changes that need to be made. You might want to consider whether working long hours is worth missing out on family time or missing out on social events.

  4. Consider alternatives. Do you need to make any changes at work in order to meet your new priorities?

  5. Make changes. For instance, you might ask for flexible hours, make sure you use all your annual leave, or not check your emails over the weekend.

Help yourself

Work-life balance can be improved by taking certain steps.

Being precariously employed or worried about losing your job can make standing up for yourself at work difficult or impossible. If you feel any of these tips are safe for you to try, make sure you know your rights:

  • Workplace rights are important to understand. Citizens Advice has information about contracts, working hours, sick pay, and parental leave. An employer might be required to make reasonable accommodations if you suffer from a disability (such as mental or physical conditions). Your working hours may change as a result.

  • When work expectations and demands become too much, speak up. Identifying your pressures will help your manager and employer address them.

  • ‘Work smart, not long’ is a good motto to live by. The key to this is prioritising – giving yourself enough time to complete each task – and avoiding less productive activities like unstructured meetings.

  • Make sure you take breaks at work. Make sure you take a half-hour break for lunch and get out of the office if you can. Gov.uk has more information about your legal right to take breaks during the day and working week.

  • Keep work and home separate. Try to keep to a routine if you work from home, dedicate a workspace, and switch off at the end of the day. Work from home tips can be found on the NHS website.

  • Stress at work can have a serious impact on your mental health. There are several ways to reduce stress on our page about stress, including exercising, eating well, and forming supportive friendships.

  • Relate’s work-life balance tips may help you rebalance your work and personal life. Scheduling time together, getting help with chores and childcare and making every second count are all ways to spend time together.

  • Rather than counting your working hours by the day, track them over weeks or months. Your work-life balance will improve as a result. Also consider how much time you spend worrying about work – this is a good indicator of work-related stress. Talk to your colleagues and management staff about your work-life balance if possible. It is more likely to have an effect if the process is visible.

What you can do at work to help

You shouldn’t be the only one responsible for finding a balance. Managers and workplaces also play a role. The following should be done:

  • If you’re under too much pressure, encourage an open culture so you can speak up

  • Educate managers on how to spot stress and poor work-life balance

  • Flexibility and remote working when needed is encouraged

  • Use annual leave to encourage breaks during the workday

  • Review your workload regularly to ensure it’s manageable

  • Give you time off so that you can volunteer

  • Enhance support for parents and carers to prevent them from leaving

  • In the same way that medical appointments can be made during working hours, counselling and support services can also be arranged during working hours

  • Consider stress-relieving activities such as relaxation classes or lunchtime exercise

  • Find out what would improve the work-life balance of your employees

Amie

Author Amie

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