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How to achieve a good work-life balance

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The traditional 9-5 routine really is beginning to feel quite ancient.  I’m surprised that more companies aren’t jumping on-board quicker with more flexible working opportunities.  I’ve seen the occasional news story of companies allowing a greater flexibility and the one that sticks out the most is Richard Branson’s attitude to conventional work schedules.  He believes the key to success is a three-day work week and Virgin staff members are allowed unlimited leave and the option to work from home.

As someone who is self-employed and who has children, I definitely see the benefit in allowing staff members to work this way.  I’m lucky that I get to work for myself and I have no set schedule.  I can work in the morning, afternoon or evening.  I can choose to work when I am feeling most productive.  There are just some days when we don’t feel productive and can’t get into a motivated zone and for me this doesn’t matter.  I can choose to shut my laptop, take a couple of hours off and return to work when I am feeling more motivated to get things done.  In a traditional office setting you could not do this and must therefore simply get through the working day doing the best you can, even if you’re not feeling particularly inspired at that moment in time.

Now we have two children there are also a lot of family commitments to contend with.  There are school drop offs, school pickups, assemblies, sports days, parents evenings, appointments, sick days and so on, that we as parents should be able to attend and in some cases have to attend.  Again, the traditional, or conventional, office working day doesn’t allow for flexibility when it comes to meeting these parenting duties.  Normal office hours are 9-5, add on a commute each way and you can never make any of the school events, let alone be available to drop your kids off at school or pick them up.

My husband’s boss is pretty understanding when Ben requests time off for family related activities.  Sometimes it simply can’t be helped, for instance when one child is throwing up everywhere and can’t leave the house, but the other needs dropping off at school!  Other times it’s not an emergency, but as parent’s we should be there on sports days and for special assemblies as much as possible.  It’s good to be involved in our children’s school life and be there to support them.

Still, he doesn’t have flexible working or the opportunity to work on a regular basis from home.  I think if these things were in place then he’d have a much better work-life balance and be more satisfied in his current role.  It would also give me a better work-life balance as I do nearly all the children’s school drop offs, pickups, before and after school chores/meal making/house work, etc, as well as try and work full-time around it all.  I think we could definitely achieve a better balance of family life and work if Ben had more flexible working arrangements too.

With almost a third of UK workers feeling that they have a poor work-life balance, it’s becoming an important issue to address. Not only does it affect our relationships and home life happiness, but it can also take its toll on our mental health.   In this blog post I will investigate the best way to manage a good work-life balance and take some tips from other countries.

The current work-life balance situation

The general consensus appears to be the adults in the UK 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.

Although some businesses aim to operate at maximum capacity, this can take its toll. 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.

As we work more, we find that we have less time to spend with those we love, less time to focus on accomplishing goals that aren’t work-related and less time to pursue our hobbies and dreams. But, many of us feel as though there’s nothing we can do about it.

How do people manage in other countries?

In comparison to our western European counterparts, Britain has the worst work-life balance. What can we learn from our foreign neighbours?

It seems as though workers in other countries have more free time to spend outside of work. 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.

Unlike UK workers who often work with only half an hour to an hour break per day, foreign employees are encouraged to take multiple breaks throughout 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 regulations that help maintain a healthy work-life balance include:

  • 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 do?

Although we can’t change the regulations of our workplace, there are some things that we can do to help manage our work-life balance.

Split up your breaks

Enquire with 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.

Avoid the rush-hour

A long commute can lead to stress and depression according to one study. 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!

Leave work at work

Although it can be difficult, restrict yourself on checking emails when you’ve finished work. 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.

Use annual leave to relax

Make sure you’re using your annual holidays to recharge and spend time with family. 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.

Final word

As we can see, the current situation is not great for UK workers. 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.

This article was in collaboration with CT Shirts, retailers of men’s casual shirts



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