We spend a significant chunk of our week at work.
That’s before factoring in the time spent outside work hours answering emails and thinking about that work problem. Before you know it, you’re scrambling to find time for your family and your own interests. Not to mention personal time for rest and relaxation.
In fact, those words may have dropped out of your vocabulary altogether. It begs the age-old question, ‘do you live to work or work to live?’
Working long hours is still viewed as a rite of passage for anyone who wants to climb the corporate ladder. Late nights, being too busy for social events and being tired to the point of exhaustion can be touted as a badge of honour for a productive employee. However, nothing can be farther from the truth. In fact, a dichotomy exists between sustained exhaustion from ridiculous work hours and work productivity.
The good news is that companies are starting to recognise the harmful effects of overworking staff and taken steps to achieve work-life balance. On the flip side, prospective employees are placing more weight on good culture, social responsibility and work-life balance.
Work-life balance is the balance between a person’s private life and their work life. It falls under the wider umbrella of employee wellbeing. The wellbeing of employees is a defining factor of whether a business succeeds or fails. But before we start sticking it to the man, it’s important to note that good work-life balance is both the employer’s and employee’s responsibility. After all, it’s in everyone’s best interest.
At the end of the day, you don’t need someone telling you that work-life balance is important – you already know. Perhaps the more pressing question is – how can it be achieved? To answer this, we’ll look at several mitigating factors, how they affect overall employee wellbeing, and what can be done to reach the perfect balance.
1. Stress and Burnout
Stress is a normal and unavoidable part of life. In the workplace, stress can result from pressures and deadlines, lack of support or appreciation, workplace violence and bullying, or when an individual feels incompetent or expects too much of themselves.
When stress is not properly managed, it can lead to burnout. Burnout is characterised by an increasingly cynical and negative outlook, emotional exhaustion, irritability and fatigue, and an overall negative response to stressors. The toll it takes results in poor productivity and adversely affect workplace relationships. More importantly, it can have devastating results to the individual’s health and often takes months (if not years) to recover.
The saying – ‘prevention is better than cure’ – is particularly true in the case of stress and burnout. Recognising the signs and remedying stressors is the most effective way to manage employee burnout. Other prevention strategies include ongoing support and training, clear communication of goals and workload, setting realistic expectations, encouraging flexibility and breaks – the list goes on, because everyone is different.
2. Work-family balance
Work and family are two important spheres that are seen as competing forces for our time and energy. It’s a particularly important topic given that roughly 11 million people, that is a third of the UK workforce, is made up of parents. Gone are the days where men are viewed as the main, if not only, breadwinners for the family. Now more than ever, there are more women in the workforce and more dual income families. As such, the dynamics between work and family life are gaining more attention, with more workers (both fathers and mothers) pushing for more family-friendly policies.
Finding the balance between being productive employees and present parents can seem exhausting, if not an impossible feat. There will be instances where one must take priority – for example, if a family member has wound up in hospital, or if a work emergency comes up – but if the priority is heavily skewed one way for a sustained period of time, it can result in adverse outcomes. These include strained relationships at home, poor productivity at work, frustration, and feeling like an inadequate parent or employee, and poor mental health.
In fact, the relationship between work and family life is cyclical. That is, one component will impact the other – for example, if you have a good home life, the positive effects will flow into your work (and vice versa). Both government and corporations are starting to implement more family-friendly policies to assist with achieving a balance between work obligations and family demands. These include maternity and paternity leave, parental leave, child care assistance, and flexible work environments. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s no magic formula as individuals have different demands.
3. Maintaining your sanity: Tips for employees
With the very few exceptions that live to work, most employees are looking for a good work-life balance. While it’s easy to point the finger at demanding managers and numerous deadlines, it’s important to recognise that everyone has a role to play in achieving work-life balance. Employees need to take the primary responsibility and ownership over their own wellbeing.
There’s no hard and fast rule as every individual have different requirements. Individuals with young children often require more time and energy at home, whereas employees at the beginning of their careers may choose to devote more time and energy at work for their own learning and development. Either way, employees must be the driving force behind what work-life balance looks for them.
Some tips for maintaining your sanity include ensuring both physical and mental needs are met. These include age-old advice your mother would tell you – get a good night’s rest, take time to exercise, and eat well. Other helpful steps include scheduling downtime, setting realistic expectations and goals, establishing limits with your superiors, prioritising your task and time and learning to say no. Whatever steps you decide to take – it’s up to you to prioritise your own wellbeing.
4. Support your staff: Tips for management
Corporate culture is often dictated by upper-level management. At the very least, the culture of a company has little chance at shifting without the support of senior members of staff. There’s no point in hearing the modern workforce appeal for better work-life balance if corporate policy and culture remains rigid and unrelenting. All this does is push away hardworking and ambitious employees.
While it’s important that companies support their staff’s wellbeing, it’s equally important to note that this is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Just as every individual is different, every workplace is different too. The first step is to consult your employees – find out what drives them, how they rest and how the company can support them. The second step is to start putting these thoughts into practice.
Some strategies to support staff may be offering flexible hours or remote working, focusing on productivity rather than simply time spent in the office, reviewing workloads regularly, offering work perks such as childcare facilities or subsidised gym membership, encouraging time off, and setting up a mindfulness space. For managers and senior staff, it’s not just implementing support systems but also leading by example – practice what you preach!
I’ll say it one more time – your work-life balance is vital to your wellbeing and your success in the workplace. Don’t put it off any longer – start the conversation with your employer (or employee if you’re in management positions) and take steps towards achieving better balance. It may seem unattainable, but start with small steps and before you know it – you might have the balance you’re looking for!