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How to Improve your Work-Life Balance

Last updated on 20th December 2023

The working culture in the UK is becoming increasingly demanding. Employees are expected to work longer hours, take on additional responsibilities and consistently perform well in high-pressure jobs. The increased demands of working life are resulting in an unequal, and unhealthy, work-life balance.

Achieving the perfect work-life balance involves equally dedicating your time, focus and energy to the demands of your career and your personal life. Achieving this perfect equilibrium is becoming more difficult in a society where people are often encouraged to prioritise their careers, take on additional hours or responsibilities at work and even be contactable on evenings and weekends.

The average person in the UK works more than 3,500 days, or 85,000 hours, across their lifetime, and this figure is only increasing. Once you factor in commuting time, time spent working from home and overtime or unpaid hours, it becomes increasingly easy for your work-life balance to tip dramatically in favour of work. Having an unfavourable work-life balance can negatively impact a person’s physical, emotional, and mental health and wellbeing.

A poor work-life balance may cause exhaustion, stress, or anxiety, which may lead to more serious long-term, mental health difficulties. The physical symptoms of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and burnout are something that both employers and employees should be concerned about.

Physical symptoms of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and burnout

  • Low energy.
  • Headaches.
  • Insomnia.
  • Being more susceptible to colds and other common illnesses.
  • Stomach pain, nausea, or diarrhoea.
  • Chest pains or a rapid heartbeat.
  • Inability to concentrate, forgetfulness or disorganisation.

If having a poor work-life balance can have such a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of employees in the UK, it stands to reason achieving a more harmonious balance is in the best interest of all parties.

A poor work-life balance and an increase in responsibilities and time spent at work can result in employees developing work-related stress, anxiety, or depression. This can be defined as a harmful reaction that an employee has to the pressures and demands of their job or workplace. For more information about work-related stress, consult our knowledge base.

Below are some statistics affiliated with work-related stress, anxiety, or depression, that are often associated with having a poor work-life balance:

  • Health and Safety Executive reports that 17.9 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, anxiety, or depression in 2019/2020.
  • There was an increase of 347,000 new cases of work-related stress, anxiety, or depression in 2019.
  • Depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related health issues and 55% of the total working days that were lost in 2019/2020.
  • A survey completed by Perkbox found that 79% of British adults in employment commonly experience work-related stress. This is a significant increase of 20% since 2018. They also found that only 1% of adults in employment say they never experienced stress at work.
  • According to the Office for National Statistics it is estimated that in 2018, 141.4 million working days were lost as a result of sickness or injury in the UK.
Engineer struggling to manage his work-life balance

These statistics suggest that work-related stress, anxiety, or depression is becoming increasingly prevalent in the UK. Not only will this have a negative impact at work, but it can also have negative implications in our personal lives.

Stress and anxiety from work can easily transfer to an individual’s home life and have negative implications away from work. Too much time spent working usually results in less precious time spent with family and friends. You may also find that you have less time for hobbies, or to relax and indulge in self-care.

Improving work-life balance will not only have a positive impact on an individual’s productivity and success at work but will also allow extra time and energy to be spent on other things that are important in our personal lives.

How to Know if You Are Lacking Balance

Having an unequal work-life balance can quickly become the norm, and an individual may not realise their work-life balance is skewed until it is too late.

Some common signs that you have a poor work-life balance include:

  • Feeling constantly tired or your sleep being affected – Not being able to sleep or lying awake worrying about work are common signs that you have a poor work-life balance. Those who are working extra hours or regularly taking on overtime may also find that they are going to bed later or waking up earlier, which may also impact their sleep. Sleep is crucial to your overall health and if you are not getting a sufficient amount of sleep, you are likely to be more susceptible to colds and other illnesses. Poor sleep can also result in an inability to focus, increased forgetfulness and more mistakes made.
  • Having less time in your personal life – Having an unequal work-life balance may mean you have less time in your personal life to do the things you enjoy. This could be spending time with friends and family, doing hobbies, or attending social events. Some people even find that they have less time for personal care and exercise, such as attending the gym or getting their hair cut.
  • Feelings of stress, exhaustion, anxiety, or burnout – Working too much, or thinking about work when you are at home, can be incredibly stressful. Many people who have a poor work-life balance may also experience feelings of guilt that they are spending less time with their family. It could also be that having less time to do chores and important tasks at home, causes even more stress. Long working hours can also result in exhaustion or burnout. Changes in your emotional state or feelings of anxiety or dread when you think of work could indicate that you have a poor work-life balance.
  • You never stop thinking about work – If you find yourself frequently thinking about work when socialising, spending time with your family or trying to sleep, your work-life balance is likely skewed.
  • Difficulty making or maintaining relationships – If you find it difficult to meet new people or struggle to find time in your schedule to socialise because of work, you are likely working too much.
  • Repeated illnesses or infections – We already know that stress and exhaustion can have a negative impact on the immune system, making a person more susceptible and likely to catch colds and other illnesses. If you find that you catch bugs easily and fall ill frequently, this could suggest your immune system is being compromised.
  • Changes in eating habits – You may find that you are eating less or have no appetite. It could be that your busy schedule means you are eating more fast food to save time on cooking. It could be that an increase in your stress levels is causing you to eat more unhealthy food or not to want to eat at all. Whatever the changes in your eating habits may be, finding the root cause is important. Some people with a poor work-life balance lose or gain weight because of their busy schedules or stress levels.
  • Feelings of failure – If you feel like you are constantly failing – at work, at home or in your social life – you may be overwhelmed. Taking on too much responsibility or additional hours may result in you having too much to do and beginning to miss deadlines or produce work that is not up to your usual high standard. In some cases, people may feel that they are failing, even when this is not the case.

Having a poor work-life balance can also have some serious health consequences. People who consistently work too many hours or experience long-term stress or exhaustion may experience serious physical or mental health implications.

This may include:

  • People who work long hours are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular issues, such as coronary heart disease and strokes. Medical News Today reported that individuals who work 55 hours a week or more are 1.3 times more likely to suffer a stroke.
  • Long working hours have been associated with higher incidences of anxiety and depression.
  • In a study done by Benenden, 27% of employees who worked longer hours reported feeling depressed, 34% reported feeling more anxious and 58% reported feeling more irritable.
  • More than 60% of people who worked longer hours reported that they experienced a negative effect on their personal life.
Woman struggling with burnout, unable to manage her work-life balance

Scheduling Your Life

For anyone who is struggling with their work-life balance, it may be beneficial to schedule your time more effectively. Although creating a schedule may sound like it requires more work, it enables you to ensure you are dedicating enough time to the things you enjoy and the things that are important to you outside of work.

It also allows you to be more aware if work begins to consume your time and allows you to make the appropriate changes to achieve the perfect equilibrium between your work life and personal life.

Having a set time each week that is dedicated to your hobbies or exercise may ensure you stick to it. It may also be beneficial to plan time in your schedule to see friends and socialise. Dedicating adequate time to your personal life and the things you love and are passionate about can not only help to improve your emotional and mental health but can also encourage a healthier work-life balance.

Creating a set time when you finish work and stop responding to any work-based communication can improve your productivity. It may encourage you to work smarter and help you to prioritise work that is more important or has a deadline. Unproductive time spent at work is likely to reduce and you are likely to work more efficiently and effectively.

Ways to Improve Your Work-Life Balance

Making a permanent change and improving your work-life balance can help to improve both your work life and personal life, and result in you being happier and healthier overall. It may not be easy to make the changes, especially if you are accustomed to working longer hours and accepting additional work and responsibilities. However, the short-term and long-term positive implications will be worth it.

Improving your work-life balance can be done in a number of ways and the changes you make may depend on your job role, your working hours and your family schedule.

When deciding how best to improve your work-life balance, you should try to think of changes that are sustainable long term. It isn’t advisable to make short-term changes that help you to achieve an equilibrium between work and home, that will stop after a period of time and result in you being in a similar situation later, whereby you once again have a poor work-life balance.

Actions and changes you can make

To help you achieve a great work-life balance, below is a list of actions and changes you can make:

1. Take personal responsibility – This includes making your employer aware if your working hours or the demands of your job become too much. Think about what you want your working day to look like to ensure balance and have an open conversation with your employer in order to achieve this. Learning how to say no can also be extremely beneficial. Know your limits and don’t accept any additional work or responsibility outside of these limits.
2. Set expectations about acceptable communication – Many employees find that they frequently receive work calls and emails outside of their set working hours. Set boundaries regarding your contactable hours and make it clear that you will be unavailable outside of these hours. You could even turn off your work phone or email at home to ensure you will not be disturbed.
3. Take breaks at work – Many people work through their lunch break and eat at their desks or don’t stop at all. Although workers may think this is a more efficient way to work, it is more likely to reduce productivity. It can be extremely beneficial to switch off your brain, rest or leave work, even if only for a short period of time.
4. Prioritise your personal life – Ensure you create time in your life to see family and friends and do the things you are passionate about. Socialising, exercising and doing hobbies should never be neglected in favour of work. You should also make sure you have time to rest and relax.
5. Prioritise your health – Looking after your health and wellbeing is essential. If you are ill, ensure you rest and don’t force yourself to work. If you find that you fall ill regularly, consider talking to your doctor or think about any changes you can make that will help you stay healthier.
6. Create a ‘no work’ rule – Many of us become friends with our colleagues and socialise with them outside of work. This can blur the lines between home and work even more, and you may find yourselves discussing work at dinner or in a bar. Creating a rule where you cannot talk about work will help you to completely switch off and separate the two parts of your life more easily.

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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.

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