The art of a work-life balance

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Achieving a good work-life balance has become something of a fairy tale in the modern day. Nearly a third of workers in the UK say that they feel they have a poor work-life balance, and the effects can be severe. It can cause a strain on our relationships as well as our home life, and it can also build pressure on our mental wellbeing. Take a look through our guide to find some tips and techniques to better balance your work and your home life.

Overwork and its effects

It seems that UK adults in general are overworked. Maintaining a healthy balance between home and work life seems to become more difficult as we get older, with statistics showing that the younger the employee, the less likely they are to identify work-life balance as an important part of their job. The task of juggling a family alongside a job is also difficult for many to manage with statistics revealing that 75% of working parents suffer stress and anxiety as a result of their work-life balance management.

Operating at maximum capacity may well be most business’ aims, but it can have an impact on workers. Research found that as a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness. Of course, this is no surprise. Even for those who don’t work long hours, there is still the issue of ‘switching off’ and disconnecting from what’s happened at the office. In fact, one third of European workers said that a bad day at work affected their personal life.

More time at work means less time with the people we love or enjoying the hobbies we’ve taken up. But, many of us feel as though there’s nothing we can do about it.

Work-life balance across the world

Britain’s work-life balance is the worst of all countries in Europe. What can we learn from our foreign neighbours?

Workers in other countries simply have more free time. In Belgium, employees have an average of 8.6 hours of free time per day compared to their 7.4-hour work days, and Netherlands are enjoying the shortest working week at only 30.3 hours. Denmark only spend 6.6 hours at work each day with 8.8 hours each day to spend how they wish, and Austrians are encouraged to start the weekend early with 3pm finishes implemented around the country. Many Germans are able to relax on a Sunday too, as stores are regulated so that they close on Sundays. All of these extra hours add up it seems, with Britons working 325 hours more per year than workers in Germany.

Plus, workers abroad often get to take multiple breaks through the day. The Spanish are famous for their midday siestas which began as an effort to sleep through the hottest period of the day in warmer climates. Although new laws mean that shops have to remain open without a break for naps, some workers still follow the siesta tradition. Or, they take long coffee and lunch breaks with colleagues — something that is widely accepted by employers. Finland also take on the approach that long breaks are good for everyone, and their workers enjoy extra-long lunch breaks that are one to two hours long! If you visited Sweden on business, you’d probably be invited to join them for ‘fika’ — this is a late morning coffee that offices pause to enjoy at around 11am.

Other processes that aid a work-life balance are that:

  • Belgians are able to take a full month off work to coincide with school breaks.
  • Spanish workers have a holiday allowance of 30 days.
  • France introduced a law in 2017 that gave workers the ‘right to disconnect’ from after-work emails.
  • Swedish workers enjoy 16 months of paid family leave.

What can we learn?

We can’t uphaul the country’s work regulations, but you can make changes in your office.

Ask your employer about splitting up your break. Research has proven that taking regular breaks can improve your productivity, and it therefore could be something that they will support. Split your hour break up into half an hour and two 15-minute breaks to decrease the amount of time spent at your desk at one time. Get some fresh air or spend time talking to family on the phone, taking a small action like this could reduce your stress levels.

Long commutes have been linked to depression and stress. This is one reason to propose flexi-time at your office, where you can skip the traffic at each side of your day and do something more productive. Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone. You could make your commute feel more productive though, by listening to a podcast or audio book that can reduce the stress of rush-hour traffic. Alternatively, going to a gym class near to your work can mean that you miss the bulk of the busy traffic and allows you to fit some exercise into your day as well!

It’s a hard habit to get out of, but try to leave your work emails alone when you’re at home. Think of the long-term issues that mixing home and work life can have and aim to check your emails only for ten minutes on an evening instead of an hour. This is the same for working overtime, unless entirely necessary, make sure you are sticking to the number of hours that you’re contracted to. This can not only affect your mental health but can lead to employers expecting this behaviour at all times.

Be sure to make use of your holidays. We’re all guilty of using our holidays to run errands or do something that we’ve been putting off, but this isn’t always helpful for our work-life balance. Although we need to do this now and then, annual leave should be used to recuperate, relax and enjoy time away from the office so try to focus on this.

UK workers certainly don’t have it easy. But, there are some small changes that you can make. From splitting up your break to making the most of your holidays, being conscious of finding a good split between the office and spare time is the first step to improving your work-life balance.

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