More balance, less burnout
More balance, less burnout – The term “work/life balance” ought to be scrapped! It is totally misleading if you come to think of it. It is placing WORK in juxtaposition to LIFE, and that can’t be right? Surely there is lots of life in work and lots of work in life and that’s OK!
What we should be talking about is balancing or, better still, INTEGRATING all the different aspects of our lives – at work, at home, in social settings, in time spent alone, in time spent at play and in meditation or at worship, in time spent expending energy and in time spent replenishing it.
And there is no template – it will be different for everyone from the 22-year-old single mum, to the 45-year-old father of 3, to the 65-year-old executive whose kids are all grown up, to the young couple starting out with their own business.
Balance for one will feel like hell for another!
And what is also true is that there do seem to be different generational perspectives on what balance is or is not.
So, where do we start?
The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population.
The cumulative effect of increased working hours is having an important effect on the lifestyle of a huge number of people, which is likely to prove damaging to their mental well-being. The Mental Health Foundation is concerned that a sizeable group of people are neglecting the factors in their lives that make them resistant or resilient to mental health problems.
One in six of us will experience a mental health problem in any given week and our mental health awareness day research this year suggests that a majority of Britons have experienced some kind of mental health problem. Young adults were found to be particularly open about this when surveyed.
What’s clear then is that in our workplaces and in our circles of friends, there are people living with mental health problems, or just keeping themselves afloat, whether we know it or not. Work related stress already costs Britain 10.4 million working days per year.
The human costs of unmanaged, work-related stress extend far beyond this. A key way to protect your mental health against the potential detrimental effects of work-related stress is to ensure you have a healthy work-life balance.
A recent Mental Health Foundation survey found:
One third of respondents feel unhappy or very unhappy about the time they devote to work
More than 40%of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems
When working long hours more than a quarter of employeesfeel depressed (27%), one third feel anxious (34%), and more than half feel irritable (58%)
The more hours you spend at work, the more hours outside of work you are likely to spend thinking or worrying about it
As a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness
Many more women report unhappiness than men (42% of women compared with 29% of men), which is probably a consequence of competing life roles and more pressure to ‘juggle’
Nearly two thirds of employees have experienced a negative effect on their personal life, including lack of personal development, physical and mental health problems, and poor relationships and poor home life.
Part of me wants to say to you that if there was but ONE REASON why you should join us on the next “Power of 10” workshop, it would be for you to join in our discussion on this very matter of living a truly integrated and balanced life. But in the meantime:
HOW CAN WE, AS LEADERS, HELP?
- Promote the messages about balance to individuals in the workplace
- Develop policies that acknowledge the association between work related stress and mental health. These policies should also describe the roles and responsibilities of employees at all levels in the organisation in promoting mental health, and describe mechanisms to support staff who experience mental health problems
- Encourage a culture of openness about time constraints and workload. Employees must feel able to speak up if the demands placed on them are too great
- Give better training to managers so that they can spot stress, poor work-life balance and its effects on the individual. They should also be trained to develop better systems to protect everyone in the workplace
- Promote a culture of ‘working smart, not long’, as outlined above ensure that employees’ jobs are manageable within the time for which they are contracted
- Audit their work environments to identify elements of practice, policy or culture that may be detrimental to a healthy work-life balance
- Regularly monitor and evaluate policies against performance indicators such as sickness, absence and improvements in staff satisfaction
- Allow staff to attend counselling and support services during working hours as they would for other medical appointments
The following actions may help:
- Take personal responsibility for your work-life balance. This includes speaking up when work expectations and demands are too much. Employers need to be aware of where the pressures lie in order to address them.
- Try to ‘work smart, not long’.This involves tight prioritisation – allowing yourself a certain amount of time per task – and trying not to get caught up in less productive activities, such as unstructured meetings that tend to take up lots of time.
- Take proper breaks at work, for example by taking at least half an hour for lunch and getting out of the workplace if you can.
- Try to ensure that a line is drawn between work and leisure. If you do need to bring work home, try to ensure that you only work in a certain area of your home and can close the door on it.
- Take seriously the link between work-related stress and mental ill health. Try to reduce stress, for example through exercise, relaxation or hobbies.
- Recognise the importance of protective factors, including exercise, leisure activities and friendships.Try to ensure that these are not sacrificed to working longer hours or try to ensure that you spend your spare time on these things.
- Watch out for the cumulative effect of working long hours by keeping track of your working hours over a period of weeks or months rather than days. Take account of hours spent worrying or thinking about work when assessing your work-life balance. These are a legitimate part of work and a good indicator of work-related stress. If possible, assess your work-life balance with your colleagues and with the support and involvement of managerial staff. The more visible the process, the more likely it is to have an effect
Written by Rob Gee | Senior Partner of The Living Leader | Power of 10