Our working lives are more complicated than ever before, with the welcome (but often convoluted) rapid innovations in technology, the new processes we must adhere to, and the lines between working hours and home life becoming constantly blurred. With our smartphones, able to access work email on a 24/7 basis, and the increasingly popularity of flexible working giving us the ability to work from anywhere, including our own sofas, it’s no surprise that so many of us are experiencing a crisis in effectively managing our work/life balance.
"You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life.” ― Heather Schuck, the Working Mom Manifesto
Perfectly performing the tricky balancing act of marrying your personal life with your career is key to ensuring your mind, body and soul are in harmony. Yet, it’s a feat that alludes so many of us – just one third of Brits believe they’ve manage to strike the perfect work/life balance. Yet, there’s a plethora of reasons that the elusive harmony between work and personal lives is such a hotly discussed topic; a strong work/life balance is considered to boost happiness, improve productivity at work AND help businesses retain employees.
While the journey to obtain an impeccable work/life balance is largely an individual one, there are things we can apply to our own lives and careers, that can help us on our way.
Here are seven useful tips for a better work/life balance:
1. Leave work at work
“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” – Dolly Parton
This is often easier said than done, but it’s imperative to put boundaries in place if you’re ever going to have a happy home life. Whether it’s switching your phone off when you get home, or resolving never to bring work home during busy periods, look for ways that you can truly switch off in the evenings.
Not only should you confine work to the workplace and working hours, you should focus on creating a relaxing downtime routine for when you reach your front door each evening. Maybe reading the kids a bedtime story, or lighting a candle and blasting a chill out playlist get you in the right home mind, or perhaps you’re happiest whipping up a storm in the kitchen, or even getting on with some chores? Whatever you feel comfortable and relaxed doing, give it priority over your phone or laptop. Work can wait until your specific working hours, right?
2. Learn to say no
Most of us are people pleasers; we’re ‘yes’ people. It can be a lot more difficult to say no in practice than it is in theory. Still, it’s something we should all be practising, because if our work/life balance is completely off-kilter, we’re not going to claw back much time for ourselves by maintaining our yes person personas. The key to successfully saying no is two-fold; firstly, know when to say no. Sometimes it simply isn’t appropriate, and that’s ok.
Find the opportunities which you can turn down, or re-direct, or delay, and use those to keep your work boundaries strong. Secondly, the most important component to successfully saying no is politeness and tact. Don’t flatly refuse to do something, and don’t talk to your colleagues or superiors with rudeness. While no is a complete sentence, sometimes in the workplace, context is required for everyone to be on the same page. Explain your reasons for saying no, and be reasonable, polite but firm.
3. Consider your mental health
In the UK 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace (14.7%)
Your health is vitally important; not just your physical health but your mental health as well. Mental health difficulties are more common than many people realise, and contrary to popular belief, they can happen to anyone, of any background. Work stress is a common trigger to mental health struggles, and when not properly managed, can lead to workers having to miss large periods of work, or even leave their job altogether. Be aware of your own health, and that of your colleagues. Look for ways to eliminate or lower stress, and most importantly, look for help when you need it. Many workplaces recognise the importance of mental health, and offer initiatives such as medical check-ups, counselling services, support groups, and regular exercise classes.
4. Eat healthy
It is recommended that men have around 2,500 calories a day and women should have around 2,000 calories a day. – NHS
Food and beverages play a major part in your physical wellbeing, and a diet rich in nutrients is linked to improved concentration, energy, vitality and overall wellbeing. Many of us struggle with our diets for various reasons, but a common one is lack of time. Of course, improving your work/life balance can help with that, but eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, plenty of fibre and adequate protein to help keep your body at optimum performance level can help improve your work/life balance too! Look for quick and simple ways to slowly improve your diet – overhauling everything at once isn’t recommended, as it often leads to failure. Swap sugary, high-carb snacks for fruit and veg, cut down on sugar added to tea or coffee (or even better, eliminate it from hot drinks altogether), replace 1/3 of your dinner plate with salad and green vegetables, and consider swapping from white bread and pasta to higher fibre wholegrain versions. Small changes add up to big ones, and these should be easy enough for the majority of us to follow, no matter how much time or income we have at our disposal.
5. Form relationships
“Human beings are naturally social creatures – we crave friendship and positive interactions, just as we do food and water. It makes sense that the better our relationships are at work, the happier and more productive we're going to be.” – Mind Tools
Trust, teamwork, communication and respect are the keys to effective working relationships. Understanding who the key stakeholders are is important in any role, and forming healthy working relationships will assist you on a daily basis, and even help you further your career. Connecting with others in the workplace can also help improve your performance, as having colleagues with which to bounce around ideas and act as a soundboard for new concepts is particularly helpful. It’s also beneficial to feel that you have people around you that you can trust in; people who fully understand and experience the same setbacks or challenges that you do. Sharing the load, whether it’s delegating and dividing responsibilities, or collaborating on new projects, is good for everyone.
6. Understand the technology you use
25% of employees feel frustrated by outdated working methods – study conducted across six European countries
Technology is part of every workplace; we can’t work without it, and ensuring you understand the mechanisms of your workplace technology will make your day run much more smoothly. Ask for help whenever you need it, and look for ways that you can learn more about the tech that you’re using on a daily basis, whether that’s from online tutorials, shadowing a more experienced colleague, or giving yourself space to just play around and work things out for yourself.
If workplace tech isn’t working effectively, this can also cause individuals stress, so it’s important for everyone to feel they can contact fellow workers for help in the event that things don’t go to plan. A strong IT team is the backbone of the modern workplace, after all!
7. Work smarter, not harder
“Most people chase success at work, thinking that will make them happy. The truth is that happiness at work will make you successful.” – Alexander Kjerulf
Many workplaces struggle with the concept of working smarter, not harder. Tradition dictates that those who are first in the office and last to leave are the hardest workers, but it’s simply not the case. Business leaders would be wise not to praise those are chained to their desk, as it often creates a toxic culture where employees believe the only way to climb up the ladder and receive recognition is to be omnipresent, which can lead to falls in productivity, work stress and poor work/life balance – the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve!
Working harder, not smarter, will look different for each individual, but a general rule of thumb is to work in short, sharp bursts with extreme focus; take regular breaks, and know when to stop and go home. Prioritise your tasks accordingly, and always ask for help when you need it, and you likely can’t go wrong.
Poonam Bharj I Business Development Director I Condeco