Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important for a variety of reasons, from supporting your physical health and wellbeing, through to improving productivity and becoming a well-rounded individual. This article provides practical advice for improving your work-life balance at every stage of your career.
What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance is the equilibrium between an individual’s personal life and professional life. It considers how an individual prioritises their time and manages the competing demands of work and home. More recently, the term has been expanded to include stress management and burnout prevention.
While this definition may sound simple, it’s important to remember that the optimal work-life balance varies from person to person, depending on individual circumstances and perceptions. To illustrate this, guidance from the Mental Health Foundation emphasises the role of feeling fulfilled and content in both parts of your life, as a measure of work-life balance. Indicators might include being able to meet your work deadlines, while still being able to spend time with friends and participate in hobbies. Not worrying about work activities outside of office hours and being able to sleep properly and eat well can also be helpful indicators.
Why is it important to maintain a good work-life balance?
Overworking can be detrimental to your health. Research published in Environment International and covered by the BBC in their article; How overwork is literally killing us, reveals two major threats to health and longevity.
- Firstly, the biological toll of chronic stress can lead to high cholesterol and an elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk of contracting a number of serious illnesses
- Secondly, the behavioural changes brought about through working longer hours, such as sleeping less, having an unhealthy diet, not taking regular exercise and smoking or drinking to cope, can have serious repercussions
There are other concerns too, mental health advice provided by Mind discusses the link between work-related stress and an increased risk of developing mental health illnesses like depression or anxiety. Meanwhile, relationship support charity, Relate, highlights the negative impact that failing to maintain a work-life balance can have on our relationships.
However, maintaining a work-life balance isn’t just about avoiding illness and burnout, it’s about flourishing and living a meaningful, rewarding life. A balanced lifestyle enables you to become more productive in the workplace, grow personally and professionally and enjoy your time at work and home.
5 steps for improving your work-life balance
Now that we have discussed the importance of maintaining a good work-life balance, here is a five-step plan for helping you to achieve it:
1. Carry out an audit and prioritise your time
2. Manage your time effectively during working hours
3. Flexible working policies
4. Engage in meaningful work
5. Take care of yourself and know where to find help
All good plans start with an audit. We recommend using the following templates from Mind Tools to evaluate how your time is spent and to find out which activities should be prioritised or omitted from your schedule:
- Firstly, fill in an activity log to find out how you spend your time. Don’t worry if there are some surprises in there, this exercise is designed to help you find them!
- Once complete, apply an action priority matrix to establish which activities are most important to your personal life. Could less time be spent watching TV to free up time for a more rewarding volunteering activity?
- Now take the same approach to your professional commitments. Do you need to attend every meeting that you are invited to, or can a task be delegated, outsourced or cancelled?
With your new workplace priorities in place, it’s time to focus on working efficiently and delivering your tasks during working hours. Firstly, drafting a schedule will help you to target an achievable workload and avoid working out of hours. Secondly, advice from Psychology Today emphasises the importance of taking regular breaks for maintaining productivity, creativity and motivation during the working day. Sometimes, employees mention that they feel too busy to take a break. In this scenario, using a time management method, like the Pomodoro technique, will allow you to plan your work, give a task your full focus and feel refreshed throughout the day.
For more ideas on how to stay productive during working hours, read our 15 working from home tips for productivity and wellbeing.
Flexible working can make all the difference when you are trying to find a balance between work-life and home-life. Whether it’s more control over where you work, at what time or for how long, the flexibility can help you to balance essential activities at home with work commitments.
Advice from CIPD highlights that flexible working arrangements can be either formal or informal. While some employers may update their staff handbooks and contracts to cover flexible working policies, others may offer arrangements informally through line managers, such as working from home.
If flexible working could help you to achieve a better work-life balance, talk to your line manager and find out if there is a working arrangement that works for you and the business. If you’re on the lookout for a new role with flexible working, visit our website to browse the latest jobs and find an opportunity that meets your needs.
Experiencing a sense of purpose in your work will help you to enjoy your professional life and see it as an opportunity instead of a burden. It doesn’t matter what type of work you do, advice in Harvard Business Review mentions that purpose at work is something that you build, rather than find.
Try thinking about how you are connected to the people you serve at work and the positive impact you are having on them. Whether you are a tutor helping a young person to boost their qualifications or a senior manager at a FTSE 500 company which provides employment for thousands of people. Consider investing in your working relationships, too. Seligman’s PERMA model for flourishing emphasises the importance of building good relationships. This could be achieved by mentoring a junior colleague or simply through being a good team player. Lastly, know your reasons for going to work; is it to support your family or to travel to new places? Are you investing money in causes or experiences that mean something to you?
Lastly, don’t forget to make time for yourself. Personal time is not a luxury; without self-care it is impossible to give your best across the various aspects of your life. To help you get started, Forbes has identified the top 10 habits for practicing self-care. Whether it’s finding out how to make time for exercise, changing your transport choices, having a break from the kids or learning a new skill, there will be a new habit for you to try!
Don’t worry if finding a work-life balance is still proving difficult, there are a number of organisations and resources out there to help you:
- Working Families is the UK’s work-life balance charity, their aim is to break down the barriers that people with caring responsibilities face in the workplace. Working Families provides free legal advice, influential research and articles on topics such as returning to work after maternity leave and requesting flexible working
- Mind aims to empower anyone who is experiencing a mental health problem, whether it’s through the guidance offered on mind.org or providing urgent support over the phone
- The NHS outlines the symptoms of stress, things that you can try to help and advice on whether you should call 111, 999, see a GP or got to A&E
Last updated on 28 October 2021Share this article