How to achieve a good work-life balance

work life balance: sleek silver laptop on grey desk with smartphone, cup and headphones.

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. Continue reading as we investigate the best way to manage a good work-life balance and take some tips from other countries.

The Current State of Events

Adults in the UK are overworked, that’s pretty much a fact. It’s getting more and more difficult to maintain a healthy balance between home and work life. It 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 has found that as a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness. Not surprisingly, really. 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.

The more we work, the more realisations we come to. The 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 tend to feel quite helpless.

What We Can Learn From Other Countries

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

It shouldn’t be a surprise that 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 people in the Netherlands are enjoying the shortest working week at only 30.3 hours.

The Danes only spend 6.6 hours at work each day with 8.8 hours each day to spend whichever way they wish. Austrians are encouraged to start the weekend early with 3 pm 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. It really is a shocking number!

Let’s Talk Breaks!

Most 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. New laws mean that many shops have to skip the siestas; however, that doesn’t stop the Spanish at all! Taking long coffee and lunch breaks with colleagues is something that is widely accepted by employers and it keeps the relaxed culture alive.

Finnish workers know that the “long breaks” approach is good for everyone. The Fins enjoy extra-long lunch breaks. I’m talking breaks that are one to two hours long! Their Scandinavian neighbour, Sweden, also values long breaks. Fika is important in the Swedish business world. This late morning coffee break in Swedish offices allows you to take a break at around the 11 am mark.

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 we can we do to Change Things

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.

Take Charge of 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. Another thing you can propose is to 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.

A long commute can lead to stress and depression according to one study. This is one reason to propose flexi-time at your office. This way 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 audiobook 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. 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. Getting home and taking off your suit or uniform is a good way to transition from work to home.

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.

As we can see, the current situation is not great for UK workers. But, there are some small changes that you can make. Remember split up your break. And don’t forget to make 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.

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