Achieving A Better Work-Life Balance…

1st – 5th October is National Work Life Week,an event run by the Working Families charity and focusing on how employees and employers can improve work-life balance.
The charity wants to create a society in which everyone can fully meet their work and caring responsibilities and has “real choice in balancing the interdependent demands of family, work and community at different life stages.”
However, this vision seems a long way from being realised. In research undertaken by Working Families, half of parents said their work-life balance was a source of stress and one in ten said they were ready to resign without another job to go to. It also revealed that seven out of ten parents worked at home in the evenings and at weekends, due to increasing workloads, lack of time for planning, organisational culture, and manager attitudes.
But working long hours is bad for our health. Research published in 2015 by Public Health expert Prof Mika Kivimäki showed that people working 55 hours or more per week have a 33% higher risk of stroke and a 13% higher risk of coronary heart disease than those who work a 35 to 40-hour week. While his study didn’t look at the potential reasons behind this link, experts have suggested that these increased risks are probably due to prolonged sitting, stress, less time for exercise and less time for relaxation and healthy eating. Working long hours can mean not enough time looking after your health and wellbeing.
So, what can employees do to achieve a better work-life balance, and what can employers do to help their staff achieve it?
Employees: Think Flexibility
The Working Families study showed that half of people in the UK want to work flexibly but currently, fewer than one in ten jobs advertised offer flexible working (even though it may be available in the role). Flexible working can become particularly important if you’re a parent or carer, but before you go looking for more flexible employment, be brave: approach your current employer. Discuss your requirements and possible solutions, such as more flexible working, changing work times, reducing your hours or working fully or partially from home.
You could also consider self-employment but be warned: this comes with its own downsides and doesn’t suit everyone. Finding and retaining work, selling your skills, doing your own book-keeping and admin, taking sole responsibility for the quality and completion of projects and having nobody else to motivate you can be overwhelming and stressful – not to mention lonely. If you work by yourself from home, you also need to think about where you will work and how you will avoid distractions, including family and friends. Some are inclined to see working from home as not quite real work, failing to appreciate that you still have deadlines to meet.
Whether you’re employed or self-employed, know when to say no and when to down tools.
Leave work behind when your hours are finished and don’t be tempted to open those work-related emails.
Get enough sleep. Working into the night is ultimately counter-productive as your memory, response time and concentration will all suffer. You’re also putting yourself at great risk of mental and physical health issues.
Prioritise tasks and break them down into smaller steps so that you stay on track, avoid being overwhelmed and have a feeling of achievement.
Employers: Listen to Your Employees
Some employers panic when employees ask for more flexibility, changes to working times, reduced hours or to work from home, but there’s no need to. It could be a positive change.
To become a more flexible employer:
Investigate how technology could help your employees work from home or while travelling for work. Cloud-based apps and services can allow workers to access real-time financial data, message colleagues and collaborate on projects online.
If an employee requests a change to their working practice, listen to what they want with an open mind, but also express any concerns you have so that they have the chance to address them. Offer a trial period so that both of you can see how this new way of working performs in practice before making any commitment.
Consider job-share options for both existing and new roles.
You should also consider the well-being of your employees and ensure you’re meeting your legal obligations to them.
Do your employees get the breaks they’re entitled to in a place away from their workstation – and your queries?
Do you signpost or offer mental and physical health services, such as counselling or lunchtime exercise activities?
Do you ensure that the equipment they use is positioned correctly to avoid physical strain and fatigue?
Are employees encouraged to speak up if they feel the demands placed on them are too great?
Do you encourage working smart, not working long?
Research shows that happier, healthier employees are more productive and likely to stick around and that millennials are increasingly looking for more flexible employers, so practising flexibility and caring about employee wellbeing is not just altruistic – it makes good business sense as well.
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