According to the most recent Labour Force Survey, stress, anxiety and depression were responsible for 15.4 million lost working days in Great Britain between 2017/18.
The same survey has shown a marginal increase in this number over the past few years. It’s not surprising when the UK has one of the longest standard working weeks in Europe and awareness and understanding of stress and physical and mental wellbeing has never been more widespread.
But it’s not just at work where people may be feeling the pressure; our personal lives can often be just as demanding. At some point, all of us will have had to face challenges outside of our worklife too – and taking the time to acknowledge and manage these challenges, no matter how busy we are, is key.
What is work-life balance?
At its simplest, work-life balance is used to describe how individuals are splitting their time between their professional life, including commuting and time spent picking up emails and phone calls outside of work, and their personal lives.
But importantly, it’s a concept used to highlight how spending too much time focused on our work lives, often leaves us with too little time to dedicate to a fulfilling existence in our personal lives.
And it’s when we’re not coping well with these competing responsibilities, between the challenges being faced both at work and at home, that we could be said to have a poor work-life balance.
How to balance work and family
Working parents are particularly susceptible to these challenges – where the new demands in their personal lives begin to make managing both commitments a source of stress and anxiety.
In fact, a recent survey showed that three-quarters of working parents said they suffer from stress and anxiety as a result of their work-life balance management.
Our family care commitments are one of our most important responsibilities. And when sickness, school holidays or anything unexpected crops up, things only get more difficult – particularly if you're not able to rely on someone else or your resources don't allow for alternative arrangements to be made.
So to help you get the #BeBalanced Farillio Feeling, we've compiled 6 of our favourite and most-effective tips for maintaining a positive, healthy work-life balance – be that for yourself, your family or your business as a whole.
Our favourite work-life balance tips
1. Flexible working
Fortunately, more and more businesses have gotten to grips with the understanding that employees who don’t have a good balance between their responsibilities at work and their personal commitments are more likely to suffer from a poor work-life balance.
Flexible working is a way for employers and employees to come together to form an arrangement to vary part of the way they work, in a way that suits the employee while still being acceptable to the business.
Employees have a legal right to request flexible working if they've worked for the same company for 26 weeks or more.
And while every request should be taken on its own merits, including the business case for making the change, flexible working is often credited with improving employee retention, motivation and productivity, amongst other things.
2. Audit your work environment
If you or your team are struggling to keep up, overworked and stressed you may want to have a closer look at what elements of their work environment may be contributing to a poor work-life balance.
Are there overcomplicated or unnecessarily frustrating practices or policies in place that are leading to pain points? Is the culture one of presenteeism or competitive overworking?
Your employee's jobs should be manageable for the time they're contracted and paid for. While sacrifice is something of a necessary evil in self-employed, freelance and startup culture, it’s not something that’s sustainable indefinitely.
Promote the positive message of a work-life balance in the workplace – and if you can’t find any areas of improvement in your audit, develop new policies to further encourage employees to take their wellbeing more seriously. For one thing…
3. Do not disturb – the holiday
Few people know the value of a good holiday more than small business owners and freelancers. Unlike your employed counterparts, time spent away from work literally costs you money.
So, it’s far from ideal when the people you leave in charge have to interrupt that precious time away to drag you back into the work mindset.
Obviously, no one does this lightly. Sometimes there’s knowledge locked away in your head that your team absolutely can't do without. Sometimes, if you’re on your own, or have a very small team, then this situation can be somewhat unavoidable. But you can still do your best to mitigate the chances of this happening to you or your team.
If you’ve got the right people in place, you must be able to trust them to handle big things in your absence. The same goes for the people who report into them.
It’s essential that we’re allowed to get away from work entirely. Not only does this usually result in a productivity boost when people come back well rested, but it also gives valuable experience to those who have had to step up when their managers and/or department heads have been away.
4. Commute smarter
Commuting: the no-mans-land of the work-life balance battlefield.
While some people can use the train as an extension of the office, plenty of others are either herded on to busy carriages, stuck in barren Wi-Fi and 4G wastelands or simply too busy behind the wheel of a car to be able to do anything productive – work or otherwise – with that time.
If this sounds familiar, you probably won’t be surprised to know that research has found there is a link between commuting – particularly long commutes of over an hour – and higher levels of stress and depression.
But with the increase in flexible working, more and more of us are already picking and choosing start and end times that are better suited to fit around our lives. For example, coming in a little later so you’ve had a chance to do a school run in the morning, or leaving the office early to miss rush hour.
And where flexible working may not be feasible, people are still managing to take positive steps against stressful commutes. Steps such as coming in early to eat breakfast at work, delaying the commute home to visit the gym or even walking or cycling some or all of the way to or from the office.
5. Stress relief
This is probably the most important 'tip' on this list. Tip in inverted commas here because, really, it’s something we should be all doing and taking very seriously – and that’s the link between ours and our employees' wellbeing and level of work-related stress.
It’s this stress that – over a prolonged period – leads to the high number of absences and working days lost we mentioned at the beginning of this blog post.
In turn, these absences not only lead to lower productivity and impact on your bottom line, but they also do serious damage to your workplace culture, making it difficult to retain and recruit talented people.
One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is to make the time to exercise, relax and enjoy your hobbies. Make these as much of a priority in your personal life as you would take responsibility for the important things when you get to work.
Make sure that both you and your employees recognise this link and ensure that efforts at stress relief aren’t being eroded by the demands being made, either on them or on yourself. How? Well, our final tip should go some way to help…
6. Work smarter, not longer
If you’re finding yourself swamped and struggling to see the wood for the trees, it may be time to take a step back and look at reprioritising your workload.
Deciding what is and what isn’t worthy of your time and attention is a challenge in itself, but it's one that’s both far more productive and rewarding than blindly ploughing on and letting yourself be overwhelmed by things that aren’t worthy of your full attention.
In an earlier blog post, we covered a whole host of our favourite time management tips to help you with getting the #BeFocused Farillio Feeling. If you can take the time to implement some of these, you’ll be able to diagnose what aspects of your role are having the most detrimental impact on your work-life balance, where you might need a little extra help and what you should focus on to get the most out of the time you spend at work (or on the train).
And remember, all Farillio members get access to a whole host of knowledge to support with areas like this when running a business – including the guides to family-friendly working, working time, handling flexible working requests. To access all of that and more, simply sign up or sign in to your Farillio account.