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5 Mins

National Work Life Week: setting healthy boundaries

October 3, 2022

More than three-quarters (78%) of people who worked from home in the pandemic said it gave them an better work/life balance, according to the Office of National Statistics. Almost half reported improved wellbeing (47%). During Covid, many people experienced the benefits of flexible working patterns – such as less time spent commuting, and more time with the family. Employers also discovered that allowing greater flexibility can boost their employees’ productivity and satisfaction.

The focus of this year’s National Work Life Week (10-14 October) is on increasing access to flexible working, and finding the ‘flex’ in every role. In the UK, all employees have the legal right to request flexible working hours – and the Working Families organisation has an employer toolkit to help you make your case if you want to do this.

Of course, changing work schedule or conditions simply isn’t possible in every job role. Here are some ways you can achieve a better work/life balance, whatever you do for a living, by taking stock and putting boundaries in place where necessary.

How are things right now?

The first step to achieving 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. 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?

What is the right balance?

This will look different for everyone: no two people’s life and family situation is the same, and we all have our own idea of fun! But generally speaking, every one of us needs a mix of three types of activity in our lives to feel happy and fulfilled:

  • those that are routine – such as work and household chores
  • those that are necessary – like paying bills or getting the car serviced, and
  • those that give us pleasure.

If we spend too much or too little time on activities in any one of those three categories we can experience problems. It’s worth spending some time working out what the perfect balance is for you – and where your needs might not be being met.

Set clear boundaries

To create the time and space you need to introduce more of the activities you’re lacking in, you might need to be assertive – clarifying and reinforcing boundaries at work 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.

Get better at saying ‘no’

Some of us don’t find that word easy! Taking on everything that others want and expect us to do is seen as a virtue, and in the workplace people who do this are often referred to as helpful, supportive, and a good team player. However, saying no is something we need to learn to do to avoid getting overloaded, or doing things we’re not comfortable with.

This article in Psychology Today suggests a number of techniques to try, including:

  • practicing saying ‘no’ in small, unimportant situations
  • pausing to breathe before saying ‘yes’, to give yourself space to assess and respond to your own needs
  • asking yourself how bad the feelings of guilt or anxiety, for example, might be if you don’t do what’s being asked of you. Can you tolerate them? Is it worth doing that thing in order not to feel those feelings?
  • assessing  the fallout. How bad will it be? Again, is it worth it to give in? Or better not to?

Keep to a routine

If work, social and family time are still intermingling following the pandemic, 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!

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. 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. Find out how online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) from ieso can help to address the symptoms of stress here.

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