What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance is about adjusting working patterns to allow employees to combine work with their other responsibilities, such as caring for children or elderly relatives.
Why is work-life balance important?
According to the Business in the Community Mental Health at Work 2017 Report, three out of every five employees (60%) have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work.
Almost a third (31%) of the workforce have been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue.
Businesses that take an initiative to address the challenges of work-life balance will benefit from a wider talent pool and a more motivated and productive labour force, as well as a lower level of absence.
What are the symptoms of an unhealthy work-life balance?
Damaging effects include a higher risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Some studies have shown that individuals who work 55 hours or more per week have a 1.3 times higher risk of stroke than those working standard hours.
Sleep deprivation has also been linked to cardiovascular disease and an increased risk of death, causing myocardial infarction and stroke. We tend to sleep less; in 1910, a “normal” sleeping schedule was considered an average of 9 hours per night, while today, this has fallen to around 7 hours.
Long working hours have also been associated with a higher risk of anxiety and depression. A 5-year study found the risk of developing depression in healthy individuals is 1.66 times higher in employees working more than 55 hours a week. The risk of anxiety was 1.74 times higher.
The Mental Health Foundation adds:
More than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems. The more hours you spend at work, the more hours outside of work you are likely to spend thinking or worrying about it, says the Mental Health Foundation.
You can also work on putting the following recommendations into practice.
- Take personal responsibility for your work-life balance. This includes speaking up when work expectations and demands are too much. Employers need to be aware of where the pressures lie in order to address them.
- Allow a certain amount of time per task – and try not to get caught up in less productive activities, such as unstructured meetings that tend to take up lots of time.
- Because our brains are sequential processors, we lose time and make more mistakes when we multitask.
- Take proper breaks at work, for example, by taking at least half an hour for lunch and getting out of the workplace if you can.
- Be aware of the cumulative effect of deciding to work long hours by keeping track of your working hours over a period of weeks or months rather than days and ensure that you use annual leave to give yourself breaks and something to look forward to.
- Take account of hours spent worrying or thinking about work when assessing your work-life balance. These are a legitimate part of work and a potential indicator of work-related stress.
- If possible, assess your work- life balance in collaboration with your colleagues and with the support and involvement of managerial staff. The more visible the process the more likely it is to have an effect.
- Try to ensure that a line is drawn between work and leisure and recognise the importance of protective factors including exercise, leisure activities and friendships. Ensure that these are not sacrificed by working longer hours, and that spare time is spent on these things. If you do need to take work home, work in a certain area of your home – so you can close the door on it.
- Take seriously the link between work-related stress and mental ill health. Try to reduce stress, for example, through exercise, relaxation or hobbies and set aside regular time each week for such activities.
- Staying present is about enjoying what is right now, instead of lamenting the past or worrying about the future. By being more mindful, you can reduce stress, capitalise on opportunities that might have eluded you, and increase your satisfaction with work and life.
- Take time and space for yourself. It doesn’t need to be much; ie say 20 minutes of exercise a day can make a huge difference to your energy levels, your emotional state and being able to cope.
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