Career Advice: Achieving Work-Life Balance - Myths vs Realities
Work life balance is a hotly debated topic and an increasing focus in the modern workplace. Many of us are working harder than ever before, with the idea of a 9 – 5 no longer a realistic representation of the average working week, particularly amongst the millennial generation.
However, rising stress levels caused by the demands of our busy lives can take its toll, having been linked to heart disease and stroke – and as a result many companies are recognising that a healthy work life balance leads to happier, more productive employees.
Policies from gym subsidies and yoga at work, to flexible work schedules and productivity trackers have been introduced to address this. Before we look at how you might be able to create a better work life balance, let’s address some of the common myths…
Myth 1: Your job is 9-5, Monday to Friday.
For many of us, the idea of working 9 – 5 is practically laughable: Morgan McKinley found that 73% of professionals surveyed worked more than their contracted hours. People in London work 3 weeks more on average over the year than the rest of the UK, driven by higher paid jobs, more full-time work, and a higher concentration of industries with traditionally long hours, like financial services. Technology has allowed us to blur the line between work and home; 40% of UK workers check work emails 5 times or more daily outside of working hours, and half of us have admitted to checking work emails on holiday.
Myth 2: Working more hours means you get more done
We’ve all been there: pulling a late shift at the office to finish something that has to be done by the next day. But how productive were you as the hours slipped into the evening? Research shows that for most our, weekly productivity declines after 50 hours a week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours, with workers who work 70 hours getting virtually the same amount done than someone who works 15 hours less. You’re better off training yourself to work efficiency and avoid burnout.
Myth 3: Sleep less, achieve more.
It’s tempting to cut out sleep to fit more in your day. Although Margaret Thatcher famously claimed to only need 4 hours a night, most adults require seven to nine hours per night for optimum alertness and health. There’s a whole body of medical evidence to suggest a healthy sleep pattern will boost your immune system, protect against heart disease and stroke, reduce obesity, combat anxiety and depression, and yes, enable you to be more productive. So before you think of staying up all night to work, remember that someone who has been awake for over 18 hours is equally as incapacitated as someone over the alcohol limit for driving.
5 Ways to Achieve Better Work Life Balance
So, given the above, we’ve put together some simple steps you can take to improve your overall productivity and well-being (even if you’re not lucky enough to work at a company that supports work life balance initiatives!)
1- Set aside time for you
Many of us find it difficult to switch off from work, but it’s important to find down time. Whether that’s spending quality time with family, exercise, reading, or simply a relaxing bath, then schedule time each week for it, and do your best to stick to it.
2- Just Say No
Don’t commit to deadlines that you’ll struggle with just to please others. If someone asks you to do something in an unrealistic timeframe – explain you need time to do the job properly, and suggest a compromise. You’ll gain more respect from colleagues and clients for being honest than overpromising and under-delivering because you’re too busy or stressed to perform a task to the best of your abilities.
3- Prioritise sleep
We can’t stress this one enough. It can be so tempting to burn the candle at both ends, and although maintaining a healthy sleep pattern can be difficult (particularly those with young children or gruelling travelling schedules), as we saw above, losing out on sleep won’t achieve more in the long run.
4- Leave work at work
You might need to occasionally work on the weekend, or pull a late evening at the office, but don’t make it a habit! You may be surprised at the freedom you feel from turning off your work emails off over the weekend or evenings.
5- Strive for excellence, not perfection
Perfection is an unachievable goal, and can lead to increased stress, anxiety and overwork. Instead, strive to complete everything to the best of your abilities, while accepting that it’s OK if not everything turns out perfectly all the time; it’s simply a chance to improve next time.