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Sometimes it feels impossible to find a good work life balance.

Most people have to juggle work, commuting, family responsibilities and much more.

And then there is the added pressure that many of feel to do meaningful things with our spare time, from exercise classes to adult education to keeping up with the latest binge worthy TV series.

It can feel hard to keep up with modern life and it is all too easy to burn out.

So how can we remedy this and strike a more healthy work life balance?

What do we mean by work life balance?

There has been much written about the pervasive way our work life has crept into our home lives over the past couple of decades.

Whereas people used to be able to punch the clock at the end of the working day and not think about their job until the next morning, today’s work is much less well defined.

Even before the recent pandemic, which has seen many more people working from home, work has been creeping into our home lives, thanks to our ever-expanding access to technology.

Whether it is getting emails or texts from bosses on your personal phone over the weekend, or being social media “friends” with colleagues in the evenings, it can feel impossible to switch off completely.

And this has led to a decline in mental health1.

Symptoms of a poor work life balance

The Mental Health Foundation identifies the following as signs or symptoms of an unhealthy work life balance:

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Unhappiness about the amount of time spent at work
  • Neglecting other parts of your life, like relationships, personal development, and physical or mental health
  • Excessive worrying about work2
Not sure if you are experiencing a good work life balance? Read Could you be stressed without realising? on the Health Hub.

Importance of work life balance

On the other hand, those with who find a good equilibrium have identified various work life balance benefits, including fewer health problems and burnouts and better motivation and engagement while at work3.

Conversely, it stands to reason that cultivating healthy working lives has the potential to improve relationships, mental health and overall happiness.

The aim: Life balance

There are different camps when it comes to whether there is such a thing as a “perfect” work and life balance.

The School of Life, set up by philosopher Alain de Boitton, advises that “There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”4

On the other hand, many argue that any work balance must come as part of a wider life balance.

Many teachers, coaches, leadership programmes and counsellors use the Wheel of Life as a tool to identify areas that might be lacking5.

The idea is to achieve a good balance for you in the aspects of life that are important to you.

These tend to be areas such as:

  • Family and friends
  • Partners and significant others
  • Careers
  • Finances
  • Health
  • Physical environment or your home
  • Fun/recreation/leisure time
  • Personal growth/self-development

The best work life balance tips

There are hundreds of possible ways to reduce stress from work and improve your work life balance (the Mental Health Foundation alone offers 101 of them in a publication they have made on stress6!). Here are some of our favourites, which can work for almost anyone7:

1.      Leave work at work

This is all about setting boundaries.

Whether you disconnect your phone from your work email so you cannot get them at home or make it clear in your email signature that you keep to certain working hours, find time to be totally free from work. And make sure your colleagues know about it.

2.      Evaluate your habits

Look at your life with honesty (making a wheel of life is a great start) and think about what you could change if you were able.

The likelihood is that some of them are achievable already if you are willing to change your habits.

For example, if you are finding it hard to fit in time to exercise, could you work in a walk or run to work (or part-way)?

Many people do not realise that their diet might be exacerbating their stress levels.

Check out the article, Is your diet making your stress worse? on the Health Hub.

3.      Ditch perfectionism

Many of the best bosses are those who are able to delegate and accept that something has got to give in order to get the most out of work and home life.

If you cannot make perfectly balanced home cooked meals every night, let it go.

If your bed is not made or you start choosing no-crease fabrics so you do not need to iron, who cares?

Similarly, at work, substance is usually valued over style, so stop fixating on how to make the perfect PowerPoint presentation, and focus on how to best get your point across.

4.      Make time to stop and breathe

Whether you turn off your phone, learn to meditate, or simply go on a website like Do Nothing for 2 Minutes8 a couple of times a day, make sure to make time to be with yourself with no distractions.

Focusing on your breathing is especially grounding and can help break cycles of anxiety, stress or worry by adding perspective.

Looking for more tips? The article Try these instant stress busters on the Health Hub has lots more helpful suggestions.

Last Updated: 28th October 2020