- A poor work life balance can have a big impact on your health, increasing the risk of burnout, stress, anxiety and depression
- A better work life balance can improve your productivity, with a study finding that happier employees are 13% more productive
- Juggling all the priorities in your life can be difficult but there are many ways you can improve your work life balance, from setting clear boundaries to prioritizing your health and wellbeing
Whether you work from home or have a daily commute, managing your commitments and responsibilities both at home and at work can be a struggle. Fail to achieve a good work life balance and you could be heading for burnout. By implementing a few tips for work life balance, you could find that you’re more productive at work, more present at home, and have a more enjoyable life all-round.
Keep reading to find out our top tips for how to maintain a work life balance, no matter where you work or what industry you’re in.
What is work life balance?
First things first, what exactly do we mean when we talk about a good work life balance? Work life balance is the juggling act between ensuring you’re happy and have a healthy relationship with your job, while carving out enough time for your hobbies, for your friends and family and for yourself.
It means different things to different people, but it could look something like:
- Getting all your work done within your contracted work hours and not having to stay late (unless it’s really necessary!)
- Having enough time outside of work to see your friends, family and do your hobbies
- Getting plenty of sleep and having enough time and brain capacity to eat well and exercise
- Not worrying about work when you’re not at work
Unfortunately, many workers don’t feel that they have the right balance of work and play. Many people struggle to juggle everything, leaving them feeling run down, stressed out and like they simply can’t switch off.
Managing work life balance: why is it important?
Maybe you’re wondering “why do I need to know how to have work life balance?”. Well, if you get it right, the benefits can be far-reaching – and if you get it wrong, it can have a long-lasting effect on both your work and your personal life.
A poor balance can increase the risk of burnout
Stress and burnout are becoming ever-more prevalent in the workplace. Research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 41% of US workers felt burnt out at work, and 45% felt emotionally drained from their work. It was found that the younger the employee, the more likely they are to experience this work-related burn out. Because of this, 44% of employees stated that they felt ‘used up’ at the end of their work day.
If you feel like you have nothing left to give once you’ve finished work for the day, it has a direct impact on the rest of your life. You have no energy to spend time with friends or engage in your hobbies, and it can quickly turn into a cycle of work – sleep – work – repeat.
And even your sleep can be impacted by work. The study found that less than 40% of employees are getting enough sleep to feel rested. So even if it feels like all you’re doing is working and sleeping, the reality is that you’re probably not doing either of those things very well.
Better balance = better productivity
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that working more hours means you’ll get more done and be better at your job.
But actually, the opposite is true. Studies show that productivity falls off a cliff after 50 hours a week – so if you’re sitting at your desk for 12 hours every day, are you really focusing at work? The chances are that you’re just wasting time, for at least some of the time.
What’s more, a recent study by the University of Oxford found that happy people are 13% more productive than those who aren’t happy. So, improving your work life balance has benefits for both you and your employer.
There’s a direct link between how much time you spend at work and how healthy you are. The World Health Organization found that, in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 died from heart disease as a result of working 55 hours a week or more.
Working too much has also been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety. One study found that employees who work more than 55 hours a week are 1.66 times more likely to develop depression and 1.74 times more likely to develop anxiety.
Making sure your working hours don’t get out of control is paramount for maintaining a good work life balance, and ensuring you stay happy and healthy.
Why is managing work life balance so hard?
If you’re burning the candle at both ends, we get it. Life gets out of control sometimes. And it’s okay for a short while – it’s natural that you’ll go through busy periods in both your work and personal life. It just becomes an issue when it’s sustained over a long period of time.
Some of the reasons you may be struggling to find the right balance include:
- Increased responsibilities at work, meaning you have to work more to get everything done
- Increased responsibilities at home, such as caring duties
- Rising cost of living, meaning you have to work more shifts
- Poor pay
- Lack of advancement opportunities at your workplace
- Lack of support at home
- A long commute to work
- Working from home with no separation between work and your free time
- A poor working relationship with your manager
If you’re struggling and want to know how to have a work life balance, it’s important to understand what’s affecting you. Some questions to consider are:
- Do you have lots of projects on the go at work, and a lack of support to get them done?
- Do you find you have little free time for yourself because you work long hours, have to commute for several hours every day, and have a family to care for?
- Do you find it hard to focus because your workplace is so noisy, so you have to finish up your tasks at home?
Whatever the reasons, once you’ve established what areas you need to work on, it’ll be easier to map out your specific work life balance problems and solutions.
How to balance work and life
You know what a work life balance looks like. You might even understand why you’re having trouble maintaining boundaries between your work and personal life. So, without further ado, here are our top work life balance ideas to help you be more productive at work and present at home.
1. Think about what’s important to you
It’s really important to get clear about what’s important to you. Is your family your main priority, and you want to get home from work in time to put your kids to bed every night? Do you love going on holiday and want to be able to take a long weekend every month? Are you a keen runner and having enough time to train for a marathon is a non-negotiable?
Think long and hard about what’s important to you. You may not always be able to achieve the ‘perfect’ work life balance (what does that even mean, anyway?), but you can strive for something that’s achievable, realistic, and helps you to meet your goals, rather than leaving you exhausted.
2. Ask your employer about flexible working
People need to work flexibly for all sorts of reasons. Some people have caring responsibilities that mean the standard 9-5 workday doesn’t work for them. Others have health conditions that mean they prefer to work from home. Maybe you suffer from misophonia and struggle with loud noises in the office. Some people like working late into the evening, rather than getting up early. For some employees, they simply like being able to structure their day however they please.
Having autonomy over how, when and where you work – whether at home, in a coworking space, or in the office – can help to reduce the amount of stress you feel and tip the scales towards a better work life balance.
If you want to work flexibly and your employer doesn’t already offer flexible working, take a deep breath and broach the subject with them, with a clear idea on how you want to work. Some options include:
- Part-time working
- Job sharing a role
- Working during term time only
- Flexi-time, where you have flexibility as to when you start and finish your working day
- Compressed hours
- Remote working
- Hybrid working, where you work from the office sometime and remotely on other days
To help build the business case for flexible working, be sure to let your employer know that it’s not only good for your mental health as an employee, but it’s also good for business. The Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey discovered that 43% of employees said that flexible working hours helped them to be more productive.
3. Make your health a priority
Your health is your wealth. Working overtime might get you some more cash, but the health dangers of working too much can’t be denied. So make it your mission to prioritize health.
Have you ever felt absolutely awful but dragged yourself into work anyway? Or had a terrible cold but struggled through the day, working from home while snuggled under a duvet? This is known as ‘presenteeism’, and a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that 81% of home workers work when they’re ill, as do 65% of those who work from a workplace.
It can be tough to take a day off, especially if you don’t get sick pay or you have a mountain of deadlines looming, but it’ll benefit you in the long run. You’ll recover faster and be able to get back to work quicker.
Another way to prioritize your health is to schedule workouts. When you get busy, that gym session or spin class is usually the first thing that’s dropped – but that could be a mistake. Not only will scheduling in time for exercise help you to add more balance to your life, but it’s also a great stress buster.
4. Don’t skimp on sleep
Everything feels better after a good night’s sleep. Better sleep is associated with less stress, while poor sleep can lead to a lack of focus, worse decision making – and not to mention the fact that not getting enough sleep can make you grumpy, which can have an impact on both your work and home environments.
Forget about hustle culture, which glamorizes sleeping for only a few hours a night, working long hours and ignoring self care. You might find success with that approach, but it’s likely to come at a cost!
One of the easiest work life balance solutions is simply to sleep more. To ensure you get a really good night’s sleep, take some time to improve your sleep hygiene. You could also try writing down what’s on your mind before you go to bed, to decrease your chances of lying awake focusing on your tasks for the next day.
Finally, try wearing earplugs at night. Earplugs like the Loop Quiet offer up to 27 decibels of noise reduction to reduce noises that can disturb your sleep. Plus, they’re made from super soft silicone so you can comfortably wear them all night long.
5. Use your vacation allowance
The U.S. Travel Association found that 52% of employees don’t use their full vacation allowance – but not taking time off is a fast-track to burnout.
You might be worried that you’ll have a huge amount of work piling up when you’re away, and are stressed about having even more to do when you get home from vacation. Maybe you don’t have anyone to hand work over to. You might feel like you can’t fully relax when you’re on holiday because you’ll be worrying about work. Or maybe you feel like it’s pointless to take a vacation because you’ll just have to work when you’re off anyway.
Don’t let any of these reasons stop you from using your vacation allowance – taking regular breaks from work is vital for both your physical and mental health. If you’re concerned that you have too much work or no one to hand over to, speak to your manager or HR team to see what can be done to reduce what’s on your plate.
6. Set clear boundaries
Ever find yourself checking your work emails in the evening, or answering emails on the weekend? Maybe it’s time for you to set some boundaries…
If you can, be clear with your manager, colleagues and clients about when you work and when you don’t. You could block out time in your calendar so that no one can put in meetings before 10am, for example, or set up an auto-response to reply to emails received after 6pm to let them know that you don’t reply to emails in the evening but will get back to them as soon as you can.
7. Block out time for what’s important to you
If you’re busy at work, it can be easy to let family dinner slide, or forget to call your best friend for a couple of weeks. But nurturing your close relationships is super important for improving your psychological well being.
So, if eating dinner at the table together at least twice a week is important to you, make sure to put it in the calendar. If a monthly date with your bestie is a non-negotiable, book out the time well in advance, and make sure to stick to it. You’ll come away feeling revitalized, refreshed, and less stressed.
8. Better manage your workload
Sometimes, if you want a better work life balance, you need to look at how your days are structured and see if there are any improvements you can make.
Write down a list of tasks that you need to achieve for the day, and sort them into buckets of ‘urgent’, ‘important’ and ‘can wait’. Then, you can build your day around the tasks that you really need to prioritize.
For the ones that can wait, see if you can delegate them. If they can be given to someone else, it could be a great development opportunity for them, while freeing up more of your time.
You could also try using the Pomodoro Technique to boost your productivity. This is a technique that helps you to keep your focus by chunking your time into 30 minute blocks. You work on a task for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5 minutes. That means you’re not tempted by any distractions in the 25 minutes of focused time – it’s best to put your phone away while using the Pomodoro Technique – and you might be surprised by how much you can get done.
Creating a work life balance isn’t an immediate solution. It may take you some time to understand what challenges you face, both in your work and personal life, as well as which of our work life balance tips help you to find the equilibrium you need.
But you can get there! Speak to your employer, lean on your family and friends and think about what you really value in life. Over time, you’ll be able to carve out more time for yourself and your loved ones, while still smashing your professional goals.
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