The western world in general, and Britain in particular has a problem with what is generally called “work life balance.” As work culture becomes more demanding, employees feel that in order to keep their jobs they have to work long hours (whether paid or not), keep their phones on all the time, be on call constantly and be “owned” by their boss.
Regularly working more than 49 hours a week is associated with risk of stroke, and at 55 hours the risk reaches a shocking 33%. And this is aside from mental health issues, shift work disorder (particularly bad for people on rotating shifts, but sometimes experienced just by people who get up earlier than their body likes), and the dangers of fatigue in critical operations.
Work life balance is a particular issue for women who, sadly, are still often expected to do the lion’s (or more accurately the lioness’) share of unpaid labour in the home even when working full time or longer.
Employers are obviously a huge part of the picture. Signs of poor work life balance include decreased productivity, increased time off, high rates of sickness and high levels of turnover – none of which are good for a business. And while holiday time temporarily reduces stress, most people return to their normal stress levels within a few days.
So, what can people do:
1. Schedule downtime. Make sure to have time in each week when you plan, for example, a date night with your spouse, to go out with friends, or spend time with the kids. By putting things on the schedule, they’re less likely to end up simply not happening.
2. Avoid toxic colleagues. Particularly, avoid socialising with toxic colleagues when not on the job. If you must go after work bonding, then choose to spend that time with people whose company you at least tolerate.
3. If you find you’re not getting everything done by the end of the work day, then limit your breaks and try to make fewer personal calls. You may find your life is less stressful if you limit personal activities and then leave work sooner. (However, if you’re still not getting everything done even with no personal activities it might be time to try and talk to your employer – or even look for another job).
4. Outsource household chores and errands. If you can afford to pay somebody else to do the chores and errands you find the most stressful, do. This will free up time for things you actually enjoy. Consider things such as hiring a local kid (or your own kid) to mow the lawn, or ordering stamps online. You can also trade services with friends who enjoy the things you don’t.
5. Work out. Exercise alters your brain chemistry in positive ways and is an important part of managing stress. It also boosts your energy levels and productivity.
6. If you’re struggling to justify time for a new hobby, try introducing your kids to it as well. That way you can both enjoy a fun activity and spend more time with them.
7. Remember you can turn down an invitation for no reason other than because you need the time to yourself.
8. Tell your boss and colleagues what time you are leaving the office. This helps you make the commitment to do so yourself. If you are consistent about saying you need things on your desk by, say, 3pm so you can leave on time, then people will generally abide by it. (If they don’t, then it might be time to spruce up your resume).
9. Turn off your phone. Turn it off when watching a movie, or when engaged in a specific activity. Turn it off when on a date night or dinner with friends. This will also discourage you from letting it distract you from the people right there (obviously, this may not work if you are with a group that tends to be settling arguments using the internet). Let work messages go into voicemail when you are off work and avoid the trap of being “always on call.”
10. Take time off over the holidays. Unless you’re one of those people who works in retail, you’re likely to find the office is empty for the week between Christmas and New Year. If you can’t take the time off, then at least reduce the number of hours you work and tell your boss you’re not available on Christmas Day. Or if you have to work Christmas Day, ask for Christmas Eve off work. (For that matter, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then you can volunteer to work those days to free up somebody else and then take time off a different time – and your colleagues will owe you a favour you can cash in later).
Managing work life balance can be a challenge, especially over the holidays, but setting boundaries and scheduling time for fun can make a huge difference.