What exactly is a healthy work/life balance?

In today’s increasingly demanding work culture, long hours, skipping lunch breaks, taking on extra work and being in constant communication is gradually becoming the norm.

But while this is happening, is it any surprise that stress induced illness is on the up and people are becoming more dissatisfied and unable to fit in their personal life?

While flexible working and instant communication can have great benefits for businesses, without careful boundaries we can easily get caught up in a tug of war between our personal lives and our desk. It’s very easy for us to eulogise the notion of a work life balance, but it is quite another to achieve and maintain one.

The tell tale signs of over work are not exercising or eating properly, waking up feeling tired and ‘forgetting’ to have fun. Research has shown that when we don’t get the balance right we accelerate a decline in physical and mental health problems such as memory loss and slower thinking. It’s ironic that the more we work the less efficient we can be.

So how can employers put a work life balance into practice both for themselves and their employees? The key is in expectations and boundaries. Working smart not necessarily long is key. Careful and tight prioritisation of tasks, structured meetings and taking regular breaks can help the time we do spend working be as effective and efficient as possible. At the same time putting careful boundaries around work and personal time is vital if we want to stop the balance tipping in either direction.

If businesses don’t encourage a healthy work life balance they run the risk of a workforce suffering under stress and anxiety, which can ultimately have devastating health consequences. It stands to reason that if a person doesn’t have time to relax and recharge, their ability to do their job decreases and their performance levels suffer. An employee that spends time with friends and family can return to work refreshed and ready to do their job.

The team is the backbone of every successful business, and it is clear that if you create a work environment where work life balance is expected, enabled and supported you will not only retain the finest employees but also get the best from them.

TEN TOP TIPS ON ACHIEVING A WORK/LIFE BALANCE

1. Set yourself strict work hours, and stick to them. Use your work time efficiently and explain your work schedule to your family so they know what to expect. Plan in and don’t rearrange family time.

2. Leave work at work – don’t be tempted to check your emails or work at night once you’ve got home. If you often have to work from home, assign a room, desk or workspace as your ‘office’, and try to avoid working in other parts of the house such as bedrooms or living areas. Turn off your smart phone or disable work emails during the evenings and at weekends, so that you’re not constantly distracted by thoughts of work during your ‘downtime’.

3. Prioritise your time. Make one list of both personal and work things which are urgent and make sure these get done first. That way if you don’t have time for everything, at least the most essential tasks will have been completed in both areas of your life.

4. You’ve heard it before but I will say it again. Make sure you find the time to relax and unwind so if you have to plan downtime into your schedule! Even on a hectic day, just 10 or 15 minutes where you can read a book, go for a walk, watch a bit of TV or listen to some music will help recharge your batteries. Step away from the desk!

5. Keep active and make time for exercise – this will boost your energy levels, improve concentration and ultimately help you get things done more efficiently. Do exercise you enjoy rather than one that is a chore so you are more likely to do it. Go for a walk with friends!

6. Learn to say no. As much as you would like to, you can’t do everything, so admit when you’ve got too much on to create healthy boundaries and avoid overworking yourself.

7. Arrange Skype or video conferencing meetings to cut down on valuable travelling time and money. We tend to get to the point quicker in these sorts of meetings too.

8. Make sure you fully enjoy the time you spend away from work, by doing things that you will really look forward to. Don’t over plan but have a social event such as a family day out or cinema trip in your diary so you feel you have done something with the feel good factor.

9. If you’re feeling stressed, talk about the issues you have to those concerned. If you feel you’re being overworked, speak to your boss. If you’re finding pressures from friends and family too great, let them know. Don’t wait until you are at breaking point.

10. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you absolutely have to miss a sports day or don’t quite get that presentation in on time, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just make up for it in the future.

Dr Lynda Shaw, a cognitive neuroscientist and chartered psychologist specialising in the psychology of ageing and business improvement.
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