You’ll often hear people talking about the importance of a healthy work/life balance - yet so many of us ignore it. It’s almost a dream scenario, talked about in the same yearning tones as owning a luxury car or winning the lottery. Yes, these things are possible, but for most of the population, they’re not attainable.
But having a healthy work/life balance shouldn’t be an unattainable aspiration. It should be the core of your working life, a requirement for every job. Because if you’re not maintaining the right balance then it will not only affect your personal life but your job as well.
So why do so many of us ignore it?
A poor work/life balance affects our wellbeing
According to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation:
more than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems
when working long hours more than a quarter of employees feel depressed (27%), one third feel anxious (34%), and more than half feel irritable (58%)
the more hours you spend at work, the more hours outside of work you are likely to spend thinking or worrying about it
as a person's weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness
Why a bad work/life balance can affect your job
When you focus too much on work it’s easy to lose perspective. What should be minor hurdles in the workplace become major aggravations - for example a project off schedule, a change in your position, a business decision you disagree with, etc. If you’ve ever found yourself losing sleep over issues such as these, or feeling overwhelmed, angry or upset about them, you’re not alone.
When we take some time away from work, when we find that balance that allows us to switch off from our job and focus on something else, it’s amazing how quickly negative emotional reactions fade away. The problems seem less important and the difficulties are easier to solve.
Balancing work and life is extremely difficult right now.
In the current climate, whilst many are still working from home and social activities are limited to comply with social distancing measures, it can be easy to focus too much on work with opportunities for down time seemingly reduced. In addition, worries about retaining your job or finding a new one can cause more anxiety and make it harder to switch off.
Working from home is the biggest change that many people have experienced this year and the literal merging of the home life and work life - for some - means there’s seemingly no end to the working day. But there are things that you can do to manage this difficult time and keep a healthy balance:
Spending too much time working or thinking about work can have negative effects. So, it’s important to cut yourself off from it when you can. Consider setting boundaries such as switching off at the end of the workday and not thinking about work until the next day. This can be more easily said than done for some people, so you could also take steps to ensure it’s physically impossible for you to work late into the night.
For example -
make sure your work computer is switched off at 5.30pm and don’t turn it on again until the next day
if you have a company mobile phone, turn it off to stop yourself from checking emails in the evening
if you’re working from home, make sure all work is kept to one room, with no work allowed in the rest of the house
if feasible, set up a designated workspace in a spare room and try not to work in your bedroom – this space should be reserved for sleep and relaxation.
If you’re searching for a new job, boundaries can help here too. This can be a stressful and worrying time and you can be tempted to spend all of your time on the job search. But that’s a quick way to burn out or find yourself feeling down or depressed. Instead, set a cut off time for searching or applying for jobs, and set time aside to spend doing things you enjoy - a new hobby, time with the family. It won’t hurt your job search and you’ll have a more positive, healthy experience.
Open up to your employer
Communication is vitally important to ensure your employer has visibility of your workload and can help if you do find you’re struggling to manage what’s expected of you. Particularly if you’re working from home, your manager won’t be there to physically see how busy you are and receive real-time updates on your progress.
If you do feel like there’s too much pressure which is impacting your home life, talk to your employer. Let them know what the problem is. In most cases, they will simply be unaware, and they certainly won't be able to help you if you don’t tell them there is a problem. By sharing your concerns your employer can help set realistic goals. If you don’t feel this is helping your situation, it may be time to take alternative steps such as finding a new role that fits in better with your lifestyle.
Take a break
The key to achieving balance in life can be as simple as having time away from work. Most jobs give you a set time for lunch amongst other breaks - make sure you use them. Many of us spend our lunch break eating at our desk or cut it short to get back to work but this just reinforces a lack of balance. When working from home the situation can be worse - for example if you’re already working in your kitchen it can be too easy to just grab something quickly from the fridge and then sit down again in front of your computer. Instead, use that time to get away from work. Find a different activity - whether it’s getting some exercise with a walk, distracting your mind with a book or watching a TV show. Your work will not suffer if you take your full lunch break, and you’ll find yourself refreshed and happier.
The importance of longer breaks can’t be overstated. Don’t end the year with annual leave left to take. You are entitled to that time and you should use it. Take a holiday - even if it’s just a few days at home. Just a short time away from work can help you get some perspective, realign your goals and maintain your mental wellbeing.
Remember that if you are struggling with work/life balance or any aspect of your wellbeing at work, there are people to talk to. The best thing you can do is open up to the people close to you, but if you want some extra advice or help (or just someone who will listen to you), reach out to a local support group in your country – there are many charities across the globe that can help if you’re struggling with your wellbeing.
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