Work-life balance is critical to finding workplace well-being, and is a term we use to describe how people distribute their time between their personal and professional lives.
There are many signs that you might have an unhealthy work-life balance, including poor physical and mental health, stress, unhappiness, a lack of motivation and low levels of control over work and your personal life. It is typically caused by problems at home or in the workplace, poor levels of support, high workloads and poor organisational skills – but the good news is that many of these issues can be remedied.
In the last post, the first in a series of four, we discovered that work-life balance is important for good physical and mental health, and is one of three components that make up workplace well-being, the other two being a sense of purpose and fulfillment in the workplace, and we established that you need all three of them if you are to find true workplace well-being.
In this post, the second of four, we’re going to take a look at the importance of work-life balance, define what it is and why it’s important. We'll also look into diagnosing the signs of an unhealthy work-life balance, investigate what affects work-life balance, and how to improve it, whether you’re working in the office or remotely.
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What is Work-Life Balance and Why is it Important?
Work-life balance is a term that we use to describe how people distribute their time between personal and professional lives without allowing one to encroach upon the other. Both are equally important, and if your boss disagrees, start looking for another job elsewhere – you are in the wrong place and he is going to work you to death!
Heather Moulder, a Mindset and Business Coach at Course Correction Coaching, in her blog post 10 Reasons Why Work Life Balance Is Important says:
Creating work life balance is about making tough choices
Heather Moulder - Mindset & Business Coach
Understanding the reasons behind why work life balance is important is essential to actually achieving it.
That’s because balance isn’t something that you find or are given.
It’s created by you!
When someone has a good work-life balance, they allocate their time so they don’t overwork and can spend time on other aspects of their life, such as family and friends, hobbies and other social activities.
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What Are The Signs of Unhealthy Work-Life Balance for Employees?
If you suspect you might have an unhealthy work-life balance, there are a number of things to look for. Here are 11 things that a poor work-life balance affects negatively:
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Stress levels
- Control at work and in personal life
- Quality of work
- Personal development
- Relationships at work and in the home
Poor physical health resulting from work-life imbalance ranges from short-term health problems such as seasonal influenza to more serious health conditions like strokes and respiratory problems.
In their 2010 study ‘Overtime Is Bad For Your Heart’, University College London reported that of more than 10,000 participants who worked three or more hours longer than normal, 60% had a higher risk of heart-related problems, such as death due to heart disease, non-fatal heart attacks and angina, compared with those who did not work overtime.
According to a 2003 Mental Health Foundation study ‘Whose Life is it Anyway?’, when working long hours more than a quarter of the 577 respondents felt depressed, more than a third felt anxious, and almost 60% felt irritable. Conversely, less than 10% said that they were motivated and only 3% said they were happy.
In the same study, they reported that as a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness, with 1 in 3 employees feeling unhappy about the time they devote to work.
According to the 2017 ComPsych StressPulseSM Survey, 39% of workers say their stress was caused by workload, while 19% cite juggling work and personal life as the cause of workplace stress.
Control at work and in personal life
A typical side effect of stress is a loss of control at work and in their personal lives, a sense that they have little control of events and may not know how to regain control.
Motivation, Productivity and Quality of work
Stress also typically causes a lack of motivation and focus, resulting in a decrease in the quantity and quality of work produced. The higher the stress levels, the greater the effects on motivation and the quantity and quality of work produced, leading to more stress and a destructive spiral, to the extent that work could grind to a halt entirely.
Signs of an unhealthy work-life balance are often accompanied by changes of behaviour and acting out of character.
Personal development and Relationships at work and in the home
The Mental Health Foundation study also found that nearly two thirds of employees experienced a negative effect on their personal life, including lack of personal development, poor relationships and poor home life.
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What Affects Work-Life Balance?
If you feel that you have an unhealthy work-life balance, it is likely that one or more of these nine factors are likely to be the cause:
- Social and Work Support
- Poor Organisational Skills
- IT Accessibility and Connectivity
- Work Issues
- Family Issues
- Social Issues
- Lack of Knowledge
Work-Life Balance - 9 steps to improve your work-life balance and be fulfilled in the workplace. #workplacewellbeing #worklifebalance #worklife #purpose #fulfillment
Social and Work Support
With poor or imbalanced support from work and family, work-life balance can be difficult to achieve.
Poor Organisational Skills
Poor organisational skills will typically lead to lack of productivity, loss of performance and dissatisfaction, and in return lead to increased stress levels.
Stress is one of the most important factors affecting work-life balance, potentially leading to loss of productivity, unhappiness and fatigue, and in the more severe cases, mental illness, depression and heart disease.
IT Accessibility and Connectivity
In our increasingly connected society, access to IT is becoming an important factor in loss of work-life balance. Lack of connectivity can lead to loss of productivity, and on the other hand, too much connectivity can make it difficult to switch off – physically and mentally.
Issues at work, including reorganisations, disciplinary procedures, harassment, and breakdown of work relationships all take their toll on work-life balance.
Breakdown of family support, relationships, illness and death of family members also lead to work-life imbalance.
You only have so many hours in a day to fulfil your duties. Attending church or sporting events, volunteering or driving the kids to evening classes are all seen as having positive health benefits. However, taking on too many responsibilities can have the opposite effect and can impact work-life balance, even if they are all important.
Taking work home and working in the evenings and at weekends, checking emails at all hours, making business calls outside work hours, and taking on too many responsibilities at work can also have detrimental work-life effects.
Lack of Knowledge
Changing scenarios and lack of proper training can lead to stress, resulting in the effects mentioned above, leading to a change in work-life balance.
How Do You Improve Work-Life Balance?
Having a good work-life balance is important and is more than just working 40 hours, clocking off and going home. It’s about feeling happy and fulfilled in both your working life and your personal life. There are many ways to improve your work-life balance, including:
- Take personal responsibility for your work-life balance
- Manage your time
- Prioritise your time
- Take proper breaks
- Draw a line between work and leisure
- Exercise is an essential, not an optional luxury
- Relax and take up a hobby
- Reflect and learn
- Write a bucket list – and work on it
Home Office Tip
3 quick tips to help you improve your work-life balance:
Reflect & Learn
Take personal responsibility for your work-life balance
It is important to realise that your work-life balance is just that – it is yours, and whilst there are many things that can break it, you are the only one that can make it. Speak up when expectations and demands are too much, both at home and at work. Family and employers need to know where the pressures are to be able to address them.
Manage your time
Create a routine that includes everything in your life. Set specific work hours and stick to them. Include family commitments, holidays, birthday parties, etc., so you can see at a glance whether there is balance between work and life.
It is important to prioritise your work-life balance and discuss it with your boss, colleagues and family. The more visible the process, the more likely it is to work. Remember, when you are happy both at home and at work then everyone around you is likely to benefit from that.
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Prioritise your time
Allow yourself a certain amount of time per task and don’t get stuck with less productive activities. Your to-do list may have 50 tasks on it, so you need to prioritise those tasks into four categories:
- Urgent and important – Do them now
- Important but not urgent – Schedule them
- Urgent but not important – Delegate to others
- Neither urgent nor important – Delete them
Take proper breaks
Refresh yourself by taking regular breaks, including at least half an hour for lunch. Get away from your desk and out of the workplace if possible.
Do this is your personal life too – it’s great to be ‘in the zone’ when you’re doing something enjoyable, but taking a break lets you get refreshed and gives you time to see the big picture of what you’re doing and get some perspective.
Draw a line between work and leisure
Occasionally we all need to take work home, but only do it if it is absolutely necessary. When you do, take it to a dedicated workspace, close the door and get it finished as quickly as possible. Get in, get it done and get out!
Exercise is an essential, not an optional luxury
Make sure exercise is given as much priority as anything else in your life. You will function better with both a healthy body and a fresh mind, which means you complete tasks in less time.
Relax and take up a hobby
Make time for you. Do something you love outside of work and give it the time it deserves.
Meditate, take up Yoga or write that book that you know is within you. Spend time with loved ones who will lift you up and make you laugh.
Reflect and learn
At the end of every day, ask yourself what went well today, and what did not. Write it in a personal journal. Finding out what went wrong will help you fix it and get it done better and quicker next time. Doing this for both your work you and your at-home you will make you a better all round you!
Write a bucket list – and work on it
You don’t want to get years down the line and realise you missed out – time is something you can never get back. Plan and book those holidays and city breaks you always wanted to do. Sky dive, abseil and swim with dolphins. You only get one life, so live it to the fullest!
How Do You Get Work-Life Balance Working From Home?
The key to successful remote working is to prioritise life over work. Remote workers typically place greater importance on life over work, and as a consequence have a better work-life balance than office-based workers, and is the main reason they work remotely.
They have a high degree of flexibility and autonomy to structure their workday so they can maximise their productivity and efficiency, and make time for their personal life.
All of the aspects of work-life balance that we discussed above are still relevant, but here are some more specific tips for work-from-homers:
- Set your own rules
- Get ready for work the same way as when you’re going to the office
- Have a designated work space
- Know your peaks and troughs
- Set a schedule, and try to stick to it
- Eat properly
- Take a walk
- Socialise with family, friends and colleagues
- Use communication tools to indicate your online/offline hours
- Make them wait
- Use personal tasks or activities to take breaks throughout the day
- Finish on time
- Have a consistent sleep pattern
- Take your days off seriously
Set your own rules
To find your own work-life balance, it is important to set your own rules. Decide how you want to balance work and life, set a few rules to start with, and discuss them with your family, colleagues and your boss.
Allow these rules to evolve as you find out what works well and what does not. Keep a journal of what works and what does not, adjust and go again. Constant improvement will help you perfect working from home.
Get ready for work the same way as when you’re going to the office
Take a shower, make breakfast, and get dressed. Mentally preparing for your day the way you normally do gets you ready for a normal, productive working day. And don’t forget to brush your teeth – that’s the first thing that everyone forgets when you start working from home for the first time!
Have a designated work space
Have a space where you are able to work productively, and keep that space distinct from other parts of your home so you can unplug from work when you are done. It could be a dedicated home office, a spare room or even a corner of a shared space, but make sure it is specifically dedicated to work.
Know your peaks and troughs
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Knowing when your periods of high productivity are helps you do your best work at the right time. Do not hide this from your boss – discuss it with him. Emphasise that learning to work from home effectively and productively is a journey. Keep it under regular review to build mutual confidence.
Set a schedule, and try to stick to it
Decide on a plan for the day and make sure everyone knows what that plan is. That way, colleagues will know when they can and cannot reach you. Give your full attention to each task, regardless of whether it is work- or home-related, and try to gently repel distractions.
Set aside lunchtime for yourself. Better still, have a nutritional lunch prepared so you can maximise relaxation time away from your office space. Proper breaks from work nourish you and will help recharge you for the rest of the day.
Eating from a real plate with a knife and fork rather than out of a plastic tub helps you to appreciate the meal rather than suffering from the dreaded get-it-done-so-I-can-get-back-to-work syndrome.
Take proper breaks
For every hour of work you do, you should be having breaks of 10-15 minutes. Not all at once – every hour! Walk the dog, stroll around the block or visit the park during your lunch break – even if it’s just for five minutes. You will be energised and ready to tackle the rest of your work when you return to your desk.
Socialise with family, friends and colleagues
Working from home can be a lonely pursuit, but it doesn’t have to be. Regular social interactions break up your day and help make life interesting. Make sure you talk to work colleagues a couple of times each day.
Have a video water-cooler chat to catch up on gossip and office news, share jokes or memes, or whatever you usually chat about. These interactions go a long way towards a healthy work-life balance.
Use communication tools to indicate your online/offline hours
To avoid a work-from-home disconnect, once you’ve determined a workable daily schedule, use different communication tools to publicise your schedule to team members in different locations.
Set your working hours on Google Calendar to automatically decline events outside of your daily schedule and set your Slack availability to only receive notifications at certain times of the day.
Make them wait
Make it clear to colleagues that you will reply to emails within 24 or 48 hours. Better still, train them to indicate in their emails when they need to have a response by. As long as you are reliable about replying on time, your colleagues will trust you to respond in the right time frame. This is good for communication, trust and productivity.
Use personal tasks or activities to take breaks throughout the day
For each hour of work, give yourself a break of 10-15 minutes, and during that time do some personal tasks. That way, you will take productive breaks from work so you can spend your time exercising, cooking, or relaxing.
It is surprising how interspersing personal tasks throughout your workday can help with productivity in both your work-life and home-life.
Finish on time
Decide what time you finish for the day. Stop working and leave your workspace. Judge your productivity by your results, not the hours you put in.
When you end your workday, stop. Separate yourself from work. Shut off your computer, stop checking email in the evenings and at weekends. If it’s absolutely essential, set up a dedicated out-of-hours email account so your work colleagues can contact you in a genuine work emergency.
Have a consistent sleep pattern
Good physical and mental health relies on good sleep patterns, so try to have consistent go-to-bed and wake-up times. Keeping a regular sleep routine also helps your day feel more structured, so get into good sleep habits and a consistent routine.
Some people find that turning off the alarm and waking naturally helps with freshness and productivity. Some find the opposite. Try it and find out if it works for you! Give your body a few days to get used to it before deciding if it’s working.
Take your days off seriously
Have at least one day a week – preferable two – where you unplug from work completely. Do not check emails, do not do any work, and definitely stop thinking about work. You might consider that thinking about work is good preparation, but it isn’t – it is disrupting your important work-life balance and one way or another you will end up paying the price!
The Importance of Work-Life Balance: Summary
Work-life balance is important to finding workplace well-being, and is a term we use to describe how people distribute their time between their personal and professional lives.
There are many signs that you might have an unhealthy work-life balance, including poor physical and mental health, stress, unhappiness, a lack of motivation and low levels of control over work and your personal life.
It is typically caused by problems at home or in the workplace, poor levels of support, high workloads and poor organisational skills – but the good news is that many of these issues can be remedied.
If you learn to take personal responsibility and place importance on your work-life balance, identify the cause of the imbalance and work to improve it, you can very quickly make big strides towards a resolution.
We also suggested ways in which you can get a healthy work-life balance when you’re working from home. Perhaps most importantly to this is learning how and where to draw a line between your work life and personal life. Key to this is prioritising life over work, and learning to set your own rules.
As we established before, though, work-life balance in itself is not enough if we want to find true workplace well-being, we also need to find purpose – a sense of striving towards a goal that we truly believe in. Something that gives us a reason to spring out of bed in the morning and keep going year after year.
This is the focus of the next blog post in the series, and is where we’re going now.
And now it's your turn.
What's your favourite tip for work-life balance? Tell me in the comments!