National Work Life Week
The importance of having a healthy work/life balance has long been recognised, but since the pandemic arrived this has been harder to achieve. Many of us have been working at home while juggling childcare and other responsibilities. The line between work and personal time has blurred, with people home-schooling around calls with colleagues and answering emails in the evenings. During lockdown the number of employees working flexibly shot up to 84% according to workingfamilies.org.uk.
National Work Life Week (12-16 October) aims to ‘make work work for all’, by providing opportunities for us to think about our wellbeing at work and how we can improve our work/life balance. Normal rules continue not to apply, six months on from lockdown, and it looks like disrupted work patterns and home working are still here for some.
Working too much, or being too focused on our job, can lead to stress – which is when there are more things on our plate than we have (or believe we have) the resources to handle. The first step to a healthier balance is to identify whether work is taking over too much. How much time do you spend doing it? Or thinking about it? Do you put your mobile and laptop away in the evenings, or are they always on in the background?
By tuning into what works for you, and what doesn’t, you can identify what might need to change. Spend a week writing down everything you do, and how long you spend doing it. You may not think you’re working many extra hours, but it soon adds up. At the end of the week, look back at what you’ve recorded. How did each activity make you feel? Was it a good mix for you? If not, can you change how much you do, or when you do it?
There might be a practical solution – such as asking your employer if you can change your conditions or hours. According to a Working Families survey, 97% of employees want their workplace to retain flexible working after coronavirus, while almost half of parents and carers (48%) plan to make permanent changes to work more flexibly. The Working Families organisation has toolkits for employers that might help you to make your case.
Re-establish boundaries. Some people’s routine has returned to something resembling normality, if the kids are back at school and they’re back in the office, for instance. If this is you, you may want to restore the line between work and home life, which could be tricky if colleagues and clients still expect you to be online at all hours. Similarly, your family might think it’s ok to interrupt you when you’re working!
You might need to be assertive – clarifying and reinforcing boundaries and setting expectations. Tell colleagues when you’ll be logging off, and stick to it. You could even note your working hours in your email signature, or set out-of-office notifications. At home, set hard start and finish times for work and tell the family not to disturb you. Try and have your own ‘office’ space, with a door you can close.
Keep to a routine. If work, social and family time are still intermingling, and this isn’t working for you, adding structure to your day can help. Book different activities into your diary as commitments, and follow the plan. If you’ve planned to go for a run at 7pm, close your laptop and go!
If you’re still on furlough, or have lost your job, following a daily routine can help to support your mental health. Keep doing the activities that are important to you. You could spend your previous working hours searching and applying for jobs, and updating your CV or LinkedIn profile, then shut down the computer and do something different.
Recreate the things you enjoyed before. If the pandemic has left you unable to pursue the hobbies and activities you used to love, it’s understandable if your job ends up playing a greater role in your life.
We all need a mix of activities in our lives to feel ok, for example:
- those that give us pleasure
- those that are routine – such as work and household chores, and
- those that are necessary – like paying bills or getting the car serviced. If we’re not spending enough time on one of these areas we can experience problems. A lack of social interaction or creativity can leave us feeling down, for instance.
Think about the activities you’ve lost and what you most valued about them, then try to find alternatives that will bring you the same benefits. For example, if you loved swimming, it might be the exercise you most miss, or the time to yourself, or the social aspect if you went with friends.
We recognise that making changes will sometimes be difficult – if you’re worried about losing your job, for example. If this is the case for you, or if the feelings you’re experiencing are having a significant impact on your day-to-day life, you might benefit from seeking support.