Work-life balance and why it matters

Work-life balance is increasingly being recognised as essential for wellbeing. What is it and how can employees achieve a better work-life balance?

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A good work-life balance is vitally important to employees. A survey by Aviva, for example, found that 41% of respondents were attracted to their job because of the work-life balance it offers, compared to 36% where salary was the main attraction.

The percentage is even higher when looking at gender, with 44% of women putting work-life balance highest on their priority list, compared to 34% of men.

While working long, hard hours may be acceptable or even satisfying to some, it’s exhausting if you never switch off, which more and more employees are now realising.

It's essential – even when you love your job – to remember that there are other things to life than working. It's also fine to create a work-life balance that allows you to enjoy your time off. And if you’re leading or managing others, it's up to you to make sure that they can, too.

So, whether it's finding smarter ways of working or just knowing when to take a break, we look at ways of striking a happy balance.

What is work-life balance?

What is work-life balance?

Work-life balance is all about feeling you have enough time for your work and your personal life, including family, friends and hobbies. It won’t be the same division of time for everyone, but having a good work-life balance means being able to fit everything in without worrying.

Why is work-life balance important?

Why is work-life balance important?

It’s no secret that we spend a lot of time at work. Sometimes we see our co-workers more than our family and friends and many of us stay connected to our work messages and emails 24/7. But change is needed.

A healthy work-life balance is important for health, relationships and performance at work. It can boost productivity and morale, improve staff retention and reduce sick days and absence.

On the flipside, a poor work-life balance can lead to disengagement – and can even be dangerous. A study by UCL found that white-collar workers who worked three or more hours longer than required had a 60% higher risk of heart-related problems than those who didn’t do any overtime.

So for greater productivity, better health and less risk of burnout, achieving a balance between work and personal life needs to be a priority.

Reasons for poor work-life balance

Reasons for poor work-life balance

Maintaining a good work-life balance is easier said than done. For some, there are a few common reasons why they struggle to balance work and home. These reasons include:

  • Boundary blur – uncertainty over when and where work ends and home life begins can be a problem, particularly for people who work from home

  • Not knowing how to switch off – if you’re used to being always ‘on’, you may find it hard to relax and may have to make a conscious effort to slow down

  • Imposter syndrome – when employees lack confidence in their abilities, they may try to prove themselves by overworking

  • Poor direction – if leaders don’t lead by example, it can affect not just them but the whole culture of the organization

6 tips for a better work-life balance

6 tips for a better work-life balance

1. Collaboration is key

Your approach to team collaboration is critical. To make sure projects and tasks get done on time and to a high standard, everybody has to pull their weight. The alternative is that some members of the team have to do extra work.

Using the right collaboration tools can help businesses to keep track of every stage of projects, including who has what responsibility and the progress of each task.

2. Prioritise tasks during the working day

Give each task on the to-do list a set length of time in which to complete it, and keep to a tight schedule, aiming to switch off your laptop at a specific time.

Setting clear priorities will help you get important jobs done, so you don’t need to log on again and carry on working into the night. Don’t forget to be realistic with your priority list though – if you’ve got a busy day of meetings, make sure your list of tasks is one that you will actually be able to get through.

3. Harness the power of saying no

A can-do attitude is important to have in a workplace – but it's not good for anyone to become the company pushover. If people think that you’ll always take on extra work without asking questions or pushing back, they're more likely to take advantage of you.

Managers need to support employees in standing their ground so they can finish what they’re working on and can leave work feeling satisfied and ready to relax.

4. Know when to switch off

It’s estimated that 39% of knowledge workers globally will be hybrid working by the end of 2023, while 9% will be fully remote.

For many of these workers, their home is their office for at least part of the week. But people working from home must take extra steps to separate and balance work and home life. It isn't a question of leaving the office and shutting off if you're working from your living room or kitchen.

Remote employees need to feel able to turn off all work notifications and their work phone at a specific time. It can also help to take a walk or leave the house after finishing work, to create a distinct barrier between work time and relaxation time at home.

5. Learn to cut out unnecessary work

Everybody falls victim to it. Accidentally overloading themselves with things to do and people to see. To improve your work-life balance, learn when to cut non-essential things out of your schedule.

That means politely declining or rescheduling that one extra weekend invitation, or cutting down on unnecessary, unscheduled meetings in the workplace. And don’t be afraid to delegate work to others if you’re managing a team.

6. Consider flexible working

Being flexible in the hours and days you work, as well as the location you work from can help with balancing work and family life. Companies can consider adopting flexible working policies to help get the best from employees.

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