Work well, play well: striking the work-life balance
In most roles, effort = reward. But in a competitive working world, how do you max out your effort without compromising your home life?
Burning the midnight oil, dedicating yourself to your job, going over and above to please your boss… these cliches are reeled out by advocates of career advancement and mental health professionals alike, but each from a very different perspective. The former sees long hours and intensified efforts as a way to raise yourself head and shoulders above others in the workplace, a rite of passage for progression. The latter views overwork as a stepping stone on the path to burnout, anxiety and a difficult home life. With a recent Mental Health Foundation finding that more than 40 per cent of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life due to work, it seems that Britain’s workforce is feeling the pressure.
Achieving your potential at work is obviously important, and most people would argue that short-term pockets of stress or heightened workloads are an expected part of most jobs. But when the pressures become unending, do you know how to handle it? Below we’ve done a deep-dive of four of the most valuable problem-solving strategies, based on expert advice.
1) Say something
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But in practice, speaking up to your colleagues or boss can be one of most difficult things you can do. In some workplaces, there’s a stigma of inadequacy to contest against for workers who ‘can’t keep up’ – even when workloads are assigned entirely arbitrarily, or colleagues are expected to take on extra duties following company redundancies or reshuffles.
Despite these issues, reporting overwork to a manager remains one of the most effective things you can do – from both a professional and legal standpoint. The most obvious argument is that your manager simply might not know how overworked you are. Generally duties tend to be accumulated by employees over a long period of time, and your manager may not have noticed your hours creeping over and your workload stacking up. In this case, it could be effective to list out your duties and go to them with an action plan. It could be that some of your work could be shouldered by someone else within the team, or you may even find that some of your tasks have become outdated and are not necessarily needed any longer (producing reports for another department is often a key culprit). At the very least, if your manager can’t find any way to help you ease your workload, making them aware that you’re feeling the strain might prevent them from turning to you next time there are more tasks to be divvied out.
2) Breaktime means breaktime
Put down the laptop, step away from the mobile – one of the keys to successful stress management is the ability to break fully from work outside of office hours. Unfortunately, thanks to our hyper-connected modern world, getting that complete mental break is more difficult than ever. Many employees are connected to their work networks from home, connected to workmates via social media, and even plugged into work email 24/7 via their mobiles.
If this is you, then you can take steps to keep your work life contained. Steer clear of work-based social media like LinkedIn outside office hours, while on Facebook you can unfollow colleagues without unfriending them, meaning they don’t show up in your newsfeed. If you consider it a necessity to have email on your mobile, consider whether you could switch off notifications, so you can at least check it at your own behest.
While these are practical tips to give you space from work, don’t neglect putting in the effort to get some mental headspace, too. Find hobbies outside work that force you to focus, to give your mind a break. Crafts and sports are two great examples of these – you want to feel challenged, but not mentally exhausted upon completion.
While it’s great to have friends from the office, be mindful that socialising with them does leave you on standby to talk office news and gossip – or maybe even becoming embroiled in it. Keeping a social group that’s totally separate from work is a great way to give yourself a natural break come the end of the working day. If you do have office friends, be mindful of the company you keep, and don’t let them constantly revisit your working day.
3) Boost your efficiency
This is one of the first defences unscrupulous managers will reach for – are you working unproductively? But before you dismiss the idea, step back and take a dispassionate look at your working day. If you can accept the premise that no one is 100 per cent efficient, there is most likely at least one or two small actions you can take to help improve your efficiency – and by proxy manage your workload and stress.
If there’s a task you particularly struggle with that eats up the hours, consider asking for training. It doesn’t have to be formal – you can shadow someone else as they do the task, for instance – but in training you could find a time-saving shortcut, or at least the confidence to make decisions more quickly.
A second suggestion might be to look at your recurrent meetings. Are you needed at every single one? Are your contributions valuable to the team – and theirs to your role? There’s a culture around meetings that’s akin to social invites – people would rather invite someone surplus than risk causing offence. Don’t be afraid to pipe up if you think your time would be better spent elsewhere.
4) Examine your own mental health
We live in an age that’s waking up to mental health and its debilitating effects on the sufferer. Depression, anxiety, OCD and a slew of other conditions are now rightfully getting the medical attention they deserve, and society is moving to destigmatise those who speak up about mental issues. While talking about mental health issues is never easy, it is at least easier than it was – but it’s up to you to be alert as to your own condition. Read up on the signs of mental illness (the Mind mental health charity is a good place to start), and reach out to family, friends, HR or your GP if you feel overwhelmed or like you’re struggling to cope.
Keeping the work-life balance is a necessary tightrope walk, but one of the best steps you can take is simply to become aware of it. Don’t blindly agree to work without considering its holistic impact, don’t keep company with toxic workmates, don’t accept that it’s ‘just the way things are’ when you’re finding it tough to stay afloat. With a mindful approach and proactive mindset, managing your personal and professional should become easier – and you may even inspire others to re-examine their own work habits, too.