Over lockdown, those that could worked from home. We all spent time in each other’s bedrooms and kitchens, meeting pets and kids and generally blending the personal and professional. But was the blurring of those lines actually good for work-life balance – or bad?
As workplaces continue to find a ‘new normal’ after the pandemic, blended or hybrid working look set to stay - with more people set to spend at least some of their working hours at home. So how can you make sure your work-life balance is really working for you?
Are you getting the balance right?
Digital coaching provider Ezra found that 29% of working Brits had seen work-life balance improve when they returned to work in Summer 2021.
Business review website Glassdoor put the figure slightly higher, finding that nearly half (48%) of UK employees had taken the chance to improve work-life balance – but they also found that 35% said it wasn’t possible to work differently in their current role. And one in two (52%) admitted their work was still regularly bleeding into their personal life.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that working long hours and missing out on a healthy home/leisure life doesn’t do either employees or their employers much good. But in many sectors being seen to do more is still equated with success - and that culture is deeply ingrained. Coronavirus may have disrupted that for some and allowed increased flexibility, but for others it’s just made it easier for work hours to cross into home life.
What IS work-life balance?
Work-life balance is going to look different for everyone, because people have different responsibilities, capacities for stress, and reserves of energy.
The Mental Health Foundation describes a good work-life balance as feeling fulfilled and content in both areas of life. That might look like comfortably meeting work deadlines, feeling happy to go to the office in the morning, having time to see family and friends, getting enough sleep and exercise - and being able to separate work and home.
10 steps to a healthy work-life balance
It’s very easy to normalise long hours, exhaustion, and generally running around like a headless chicken – because it feels like that’s what life is, and that’s how everyone else is doing it. But even the best jugglers need to pause every now and again, before they start dropping balls. You can’t assess your work-life balance without coming outside of it, and stopping to look at it.
2. Keep a track
A good place to start is by keeping a diary of your REAL working hours, including all the times you’re thinking about work at home, and all the home or leisure activities you’ve missed out or scrimped on because of work or work-related exhaustion. Then you’ve got some evidence to start exploring.
3. Check in with yourself
Reflecting on where you are is a really important part of the process to find work-life balance. Are you being the sort of person you want to be – at home and at work? Are you sleeping well? Are you stressed? What is currently causing you worry or unhappiness? Do you have enough time for yourself and others in your life? How does that all make you feel? Are you fulfilled, happy, angry, guilty, resentful – or just tired?
4. Work out what you want
Once you’ve been really honest with yourself about your work-life balance and how you feel about it, it’s time to work out what you WANT. Do you want to spend more evenings at home, do more school runs, travel less, book in more weekend activities, get to your book group every week, fit in the gym? What activities (or lack of activities) would improve your happiness? Make a list of your new priorities.
5. Consider your options
If you know what you want, you can consider what options you have to make changes. Can you afford to cut your hours? Can you condense hours to leave early? Can you delegate? Can you get help with chores at home? Can you turn off your emails on evenings/weekends? Can you start saying no to overtime, late shifts or extra projects? Can you cancel kids clubs to spend more time as a family?
6. Check in with your employer
Work-life balance is about your happiness, and about protecting both your physical and mental health. The Equality Act 2010 says employers must make reasonable adjustments for staff with physical and mental illnesses that substantially and adversely impact day to day activities in the long term.
If you are feeling the strain of not having your home and work life in balance, it’s really important to talk to your line manager about it, and what can be done to improve your workload and experience of the workplace.
7. Make the changes
Once you’ve decided what you COULD do, it’s time to do it. Create another To Do list, and start ticking off the actions as you complete them.
8. Adopt healthy work habits
Think about what you can do to stop your work-life balance getting out of balance again. That means adopting some general healthy habits at work. Make sure you’re taking breaks, using your annual leave, getting up to walk around during the day, leaving your computer at work and drawing a firm line between work and home.
9. Adopt healthy home habits
Introduce a family games night, set aside 20 minutes for one-on-one time with each child, make a date to call/meet a friend once a week, set an evening a week to pick up an old hobby. Even if you’re not able to create yourself more time, setting new rules or habits can help you feel more of the benefit of your leisure time.
10. Keep checking in with yourself
Work-life balance isn’t something you just do once, and it’s over. According to Harvard Business School , it’s more like a cycle than an achievement, involving checking in with yourself regularly to assess your stress levels, and consider your personal goals.