The Mental Health Foundation says when it comes to work-life balance they are “concerned that a sizable group of people are neglecting the factors in their lives that make them resilient to mental health problems”. In a survey conducted by the foundation, 40% of employees reported that they were neglecting other aspects of their life because of work. The survey also found that the more time you spend at work, the more time you spend thinking or worrying about it at home.
In another survey from HSE, it would seem that social workers, teachers, and those in public administration were the most stressed out due to work. Respondents said that ‘work pressure’, ‘lack of support at work’, and ‘bullying at work’ were the biggest causes of stress in their lives.
Both employers and employees have a responsibility to ensure that a positive work-life balance is achieved and maintained.
What Can Employers Do?
It is most definitely in the interest of the employer that their employees achieve a positive work-life balance. Employees who don’t achieve this often end up taking longer periods off due to sickness. Performance can also be affected, with the employee becoming tired, losing focus, and underachieving, despite being star players early on.
The first issue to be tackled is the attitude of the senior management. Earlier this year German Employment Ministry bosses were banned from emailing or calling their staff members outside of working hours to try and help avoid burnout. This is known as ‘minimum intervention’ and is something that needs to come right from the very top of the company. Occasionally we will all have to put a few extra hours in at work but this shouldn’t be a continual expectation. Employers can find themselves in hot water for promoting this kind of culture (whether said or unsaid) and so it is best to set out a work-life balance policy as early as possible.
The primary obligation of the employer is to ensure that an employee’s job is manageable within their contracted hours. Employers should also train their managers to spot the warning signs of a poor work-life balance in employees. These include a loss of focus, a change in personality/behaviour, an increase in absenteeism, and other general stress symptoms (crying, sensitivity, irritability etc.). The gathering of feedback from employees on a regular basis is also very important. This will only work where companies have set out a culture that allows for open and honest discussion.
Another option for employers is to offer their staff members certain benefits, such as child and health care schemes, which will help them to juggle their responsibilities and stay in full health.
What Can Employees Do?
As an employee, your first responsibility is to ensure that you are managing your time effectively. Basic organisation and time management skills can very often mean the difference between getting off on time and having to put in extra hours. There is a saying which tells us to ‘work smart, not hard’. However, if you are still struggling you must speak up about the difficulties you are having with your workload or the amount of pressure you are under. Your employer won’t be able to remedy the problem if they are unaware of it. If you find yourself consistently working long hours then keep a record of it. Note the day, task, and duration so that you have a log that you can show to your manager in any subsequent discussions.
Try and set boundaries with your employer when it comes to working outside of work hours. What are their expectations for answering emails or picking up phone calls? Do not be afraid to challenge these expectations so as to achieve a solution you are both happy with that pre-empts any blowups later down the line.
Also, try and set boundaries with yourself. Make a conscious effort to enjoy your leisure time. Work may feel quite consuming at times but very often a trip to the gym or a meal out with the family can do wonders for boosting your mood. Discipline yourself to go out for a walk at lunchtime. You may feel as though you don’t have time but you will probably find that the quality and speed of your work improves after you have stretched your legs for 20 minutes. You should also watch what you eat as certain foods can really affect our energy levels. Avoid energy drinks and caffeine tablets as they are a (very) short term solution that will only mask the problem.
There can also be activities outside of work that cause you to be busier than necessary. Take stock of all your commitments and activities and ensure that they are either enjoyable or productive. Sometimes we can get bogged down with things out of habit, even if they cease to be useful to us. A lot of us are also quite bad at saying no and so easily over commit ourselves.
If someone asks you to do something reply by asking them for a few minutes to think about it as opposed to jumping straight in with a yes. And remember, what works for one person does not always work for another. Each of us have different lives and balance can look different depending on our individual circumstances. Find out what works for you and stick to it.