Work-life balance is about how an employee can balance their working life and career with their family life, social life and ability to ‘switch off’ at the end of the working day. In an increasingly technological age the distinction between work and home life is becoming more and more difficult to achieve. Gone are the days where the end of the working day was signified by the physical act of leaving the office, with mobile technology allowing work to invade more and more of our time out of work. Working hours are becoming a thing of the past with more and more employees feeling pressure to check email as they ‘relax’ at the end of the day. The psycho-physical barrier between work and home has become blurred and this has important potential impacts on our health and well-being.
Being able to ‘switch off’ from work at the end of the day is important in our body being able to manage stress as we produce the chemicals necessary to counteract cortisol (the stress hormone). Stress is not limited to being a psychological condition and long-term chronic stress through being unable to truly take time out from work literally stresses the body physically as well as psychologically. Over time we feel tired, lacking in energy and motivation and can suffer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Our sleep suffers and we succumb to more and more minor ailments – colds, flu, headaches, back and shoulder pain – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Long-term effects of being unable to relax out of work are much more devastating.
Inability to achieve work-life balance also puts strain on relationships with family and friends and we are unable to really be with our family and friends even when we are with them as our attention is split between what is going on around us and the distraction of the office invading our off time through mobile technology. And it is not just mobile technology that causes problems – feeling overwhelmed at work can just as easily carry over into home life. Similarly, insufficient notice of shift patterns for shift workers means that people are unable to plan in time with family, time to invest in health, holiday time and time to socialise – all vital elements of a healthy, balanced life both physically and psychologically.
Our lives become overshadowed by when we may or may not be working and we feel as though we are at the ‘beck and call’ of the company with no control over when we might plan in those activities we enjoy outside of work. Our lives become increasingly small and focused around work to the exclusion of many other aspects of a healthy, balanced life.
So what do we do about this?
Check out your companies’ policies around mobile technology and expectations around taking time out of work. Being clear on what is expected helps to set the standard and reduce perceived pressure to be constantly ‘on-call’ – some organisations even disable mobile technology outside core hours (which may or may not be possible depending on role and function). If your company has yet to clarify its expectations – start the conversation.
Giving shift workers clarity around shift patterns and notice of when they will be working so they can plan their time out of work is also an important factor. Yes we do have to satisfy business need, but if we do this at the expense of employee well-being we leave our people feeling undervalued and this can result in decreased turnover, reduced productivity and increasing sickness absence levels.
Switch off at least two hours before bed. The ‘blue light’ from mobile phones activates parts of the brain that disrupt our ability to relax and sleep well. Even if you switch off the ‘blue light’ (which is possible with some devices) you are still setting your brain going when it needs to be slowing down.
Schedule in your out of work activities so they are a part of your calendar week. It is all too easy to plan in the work activities and forget that our personal growth, health and well-being are vital to functioning effectively at work. So, set them in your schedule to ensure they happen.