Achieving a healthy work-life balance: is it possible?

work life balance

Work related stress already costs over ten million working days a year.

Over the last year, the number of times “work-life” balance was mentioned in the media increased by almost 900%, compared with the number of mentions ten years ago.

For those of you who are unsure exactly what it is, work-life balance is the way individuals create harmony between the demands of their work and personal life – resulting in a more satisfying and healthy lifestyle, for both body and mind.

Sadly, there are several obstacles standing in the way of UK workers and a healthy and happy work-life balance:

  • the desire/need to earn more money
  • longer working hours
  • changes in gender roles

Greed or need?

Perhaps the greatest challenge to achieving a healthy work-life balance in the UK is the demanding culture of work. Organisations, such as The Mental Health Foundation, are concerned with the large numbers of people foregoing a healthy work-life balance in order to earn more money. Many ‘corporate warriors’ have yet to rid themselves of the notion that the most successful people are those who have the most money when they die.

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Work related stress already costs over ten million working days a year, and this is in part due to the fact that 13% of the UK’s labour force work forty-nine hours a week or more. Office initiatives such as ‘flexi-time’, ‘office nursery’ and ‘dress-down Fridays’ are designed to make you feel okay with spending more time at the office, but working sustained long hours can have a potentially devastating effect on a healthy work-life balance.

‘Playing’ mother

Changes in gender roles are also responsible for putting greater demands on both men and women at work. Some women don’t want to stay at home and ‘play mother’, they want careers. Many mothers have no choice but to work.  77% of mothers with children aged  between 6 and 17 were employed in 2010, demonstrating that the majority of women with dependent care responsibilities cannot or do not want to abandon their working lives.

Conversely, many men are pursuing alternatives to working full-time so they can spend more time with their families, accepting work is not their only source of fulfillment, despite lower wages. Traditionalism is becoming less well . . . traditional!

Is my work-life out of balance?

Before you make changes to your schedule, you must identify the signs of an unhealthy work-life balance. Here are the most common symptoms of a work-life imbalance:

  • You are neglecting your personal life. More than 40% of all workers are neglecting aspects of their personal life because of work.
  • You are working longer and longer hours. Generally, as a worker’s weekly working hours increases, so do their unhappiness levels.
  • You are ill more often than you used to be. More than 60% of workers have experienced negative effects on their personal lives as a result of too much work, including physical and mental health issues, poor relationships and a lack of personal development.
  • You are feeling unhappy, tired, stressed, achy, irritable or down. When working long hours, 58% of workers feel irritable, 34% feel anxious and 27% feel depressed.
  • The thought of work makes you anxious or upset. More than 30% of workers feel either unhappy or very unhappy about the amount of time they devote to their work.

So, how do you spend more time investing in your personal life and earn a living? First you need to be realistic and honest with yourself. Stop thinking that, given enough time, you will ‘get everything done’ because you will never be ‘done’. Instead, choose to spend the time you have wisely, split between the things you have to do, i.e. work, and the things you should do, i.e. spend time with your family.

Redressing the balance

If you suspect you might be suffering a lack of work-life balance here are a few tips to help you begin addressing the problem:

  • Take the lead in designing your own life. If you don’t design your own life, someone else will. Don’t let that ‘someone’ to be your employer because some will take as much from you as they can legally get away with. Speak up when demands at work are too much. By taking personal responsibility for your work-life balance, employers will wise up to where pressure lies.
  • Write a plan for an ideally-balanced day or week. This isn’t an exercise in scheduling everything little thing you want to do; if it was, you’d be exhausted! Instead, prioritise the most important things for the week ahead, at home and in work, and think about how you can make time to complete them. Everything is not equally important. Do fewer things but do them well.
  • Set boundaries and stick to them. It is much more rewarding to keep commitments 100% of the time than 98% of the time. Colleagues and family members will respect your lifestyle far more if you are clear about your boundaries.
  • Make relaxation part of your schedule. When planning your week, commit to spending time with family and friends. You’ll have something to look forward to and an incentive to manage your time well. Even on your busiest days, allow yourself time to recharge your batteries. The result? You will be happier plus you will be more efficient in the workplace!
  • Be realistic. While it would be lovely to wake up at ten, linger over a three-hour lunch and have time for an hour at the gym before dinner but, for most people, this really isn’t feasible. The trick to getting a great work-life balance is to approach it in a balanced way!
  • Be patient. Restructuring your life is a daunting task. It isn’t easy and you won’t fix it in a week or two. However, if you are committed and give yourself time time, you can improve your work-life balance dramatically.

  ‘You can do anything once you stop trying to do everything.’

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