All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Jack’s imbalanced work-life balance could also affect his mental health or eventually lead to burnout, which, in turn, can affect every aspect of Jack’s life.
The drive to work long hours might come from a lack of security around work, general low self esteem, or conversely having ambition and a large capacity for work. No matter what motivates us to work excessively, in the long run there will be an imbalance, and the consequences could result in unfulfilled feelings about ourselves and our lives.
What is work-life balance?
Coming out of Covid-19 lockdowns, along with the current cost of living crisis, it is no secret that the lines between work and private life have blurred considerably for many of us. According to Ivy Wigmore from Tech Target, the definition of work-life balance “is the optimal arrangement of an individual’s on-the-job and private time to facilitate health and personal satisfaction without negatively impacting productivity and professional success”. Wigmore goes on to suggest it is the responsibility of ‘corporate culture’ to ensure appropriate time off and work loads. However, it might also be the responsibility of each of us to prioritise our own wellbeing by enabling the part of ourselves that can say no to over working and instilling healthy boundaries with both management at work and excessive pressures put upon us in our private lives.
A good work-life balance requires separation between work and everything else, focus and being able to say no when appropriate. Knowing when our personal healthy limits are breached and not allowing our own selves to go beyond that limit, will reduce stress and benefit general health in the long run. The research, published online in the European Heart Journal, found that, a study conducted by UCL of more than 10,000 participants, stated that white-collar workers who worked three or more hours longer than required had a 60% higher risk of heart-related problems than those who didn’t work overtime. So, making healthy choices and taking responsibility for our own mental well being is key, one way to address this is to be aware of what proportion of our lives we dedicate to work and being aware of our motivations for doing so.
How to achieve a work-life balance
Finding a safe way to say no when required, and in order to achieve a work-life balance that works for you, can be a learned skill. Perhaps ask yourself the following questions when asked to take on more at work.
- Am I saying yes to extra work loads when I clearly can not take on any more at the moment?
- Am I being asked to complete tasks that are outside my skillset?
- Am I at breaking point?
Effective communication is key to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Discuss the effects of taking on more with management, what the timelines are, and perhaps express gratitude for being considered for the tasks but that other work must take priority for you at the moment. Setting healthy boundaries at work can feel intimidating at first, but if your work load is infringing on home life, you feel constantly exhausted, are taking excessive sick days, or indulging in behaviours such as alcohol misuse to cope – it might be time to readjust how you are working.
Steps to improving work-life balance
As well as learning the art of saying no, there are other steps you could also try and take in order to redress the balance.
1. Work smarter.
Give yourself time to work on deadlines, but in an efficient way. Sometimes using a timer can be helpful to focus the mind on specific tasks over a timeframe, and to ensure you are not spending too much time on one thing. Set more difficult tasks when you have the most energy in the day and attack similar tasks together. Save the most mundane tasks for the end of the day when your energy might be at its lowest.
2. Give yourself more time in the morning and set a routine to ease you into the day.
Try having a maintenance hour first thing in the morning – 20 minutes to stimulate yourself mentally, with an interesting blog post, or magazine article. 20 minutes for physical activity, perhaps taking a walk or following a workout video online, and 20 minutes to stimulate yourself spiritually with meditation or journalling. If done regularly before work, over time, this routine could benefit your whole being, slow down your thinking, and regulate your emotions.
3. Make time to do nothing.
Unplugging and allowing the body to relax gives the brain space to process thoughts and expand the sub-conscious. It gives room for the mind to run free, stimulating your creativity, and has the added benefit of modulating your feelings, allowing you to tackle new tasks with a renewed energy.
4. Ask for help.
If you have reached the point where you know you need help, enquire if there are mental health supports at work. Employee assistance programmes are becoming more prolific in workplaces recently, and are there to be utilised. Or, if this is not an options, perhaps seek out a mental health professional yourself who can help you reprioritise what is safe and important for long term wellbeing, and give you techniques for pulling back from over zealous management demands.
Whether the answer to finding a work-life balance is learning the art of saying no, or employing these steps to create space in both your work and private life, your efforts will ensure a healthier mindset, along with longevity in all aspects of your being.
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