Work-life balance. It’s a phrase that’s familiar to all of us. We know that we WANT a healthy work-life balance, but most of us don’t know what it is, what it looks like or even how to achieve it. Consequently, it seems impossible to achieve – at least, not long term. And, so, we remain in a perpetual state of ‘imbalance’, achieving success in one or two (if we’re lucky!) areas of our life, and falling short in others.
Unfortunately, without balance, we become stressed, unhappy, unhealthy, less engaged, and less productive in our work AND our home lives, and we may even burn out altogether. Indeed, a 2022 survey conducted by LumApps, reveals that 88% of UK employees have experienced at least some level of burnout over the last two years, with ‘lack of work/life balance’ being cited by 8 out of 10 as the main cause.
As a result, many are re-evaluating their careers as well as other areas of their life, in search of the ever-elusive work-life balance – resulting in phenomena such as ‘the great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’.
So, what does this mean for companies invested in engaging and retaining their top talent? As more and more people are realising the need to have more balance in their lives, companies must find a way to help their top talent navigate the mental challenges of stressful, highly demanding, and fast-paced environments AND be successful, happy, and healthy, if they want to retain their people.
Of course, when one thing is out of balance, it leads to an imbalance in another. There are always competing priorities for our time – and if you factor in several years of global pandemic, political and social unrest, and huge economic uncertainty – which shows no signs of stopping in the foreseeable future – it’s easy to understand that work, and earning a living, becomes our highest priority. And this means that other areas of our life – like family, health, friends, hobbies, sleep, self-care etc – inevitably become deprioritised.
To compound this effect, since 2020, working from home has become the new normal for many people and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate work from our personal lives. Our kitchen table – or some other designated area of our home – has become our office, we work (or think about work!) in the evenings and at weekends when we’re with our family and friends, and we check emails 24/7, just in case there’s something important that can’t wait until tomorrow, or there’s an urgent request from a customer or colleague in a different time zone.
Not only that, we don’t have the time or headspace to think or be present in our lives. We move from zoom call to zoom call (other varieties of virtual meeting ‘hangout’ are available!) simply by clicking on ‘end call’ and ‘join call’. We don’t move from our seats or grab a water or coffee and chat to our colleagues whilst walking from meeting room to meeting room. And, for many of us, it takes a lot more energy to be present in a virtual environment than in person; not to mention the isolation and lack of connection we experience when we’re working alone in our homes. And lunch hours? They’re a distant memory from the past along with office hours and the daily commute.
As the lines between work and life become blurrier and blurrier, the ever-elusive ‘balance’ seems even more impossible to achieve. So, we end up feeling guilty, inadequate, worn out, stressed and miserable, which ultimately affects the quality of our life AND our work. How ironic it is that prioritising work over everything else causes us to be less focussed, less motivated, less engaged, and less productive at work! And we’re ruining our health, relationships, and quality of life in the process!
Whatever it is we’re doing, it’s clearly not working. So, what we can we do instead?
One thing that can really help to shift the balance is to create boundaries between work life/space and home life/space.
Boundaries in the Workplace
As a clinical psychotherapist and high-performance coach, I can tell you that boundaries are fundamental to living a happy and healthy life. Boundaries help to protect our time, energy, and resources, allow us to do our best/most productive work without feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or burning out, and help us feel safe. They also help us to create routine and habits, which increase our productivity and focus, make us feel more in control of ourselves and our lives, and reduce stress and overwhelm.
A boundary is defined as a “line which marks the limits of an area” and can be usefully implemented to mark clear lines and limits between our work and home life, and professional and personal life – rather than the blurry lines we have today – and help us to achieve the nirvana of work-life balance.
Of course, ‘work-life balance’ is likely to differ from person to person based on our preferences and circumstances, and we all have different ideas of what a ‘perfect’ lifestyle looks like. And let’s be realistic, it’s unlikely that work and life will always be fully balanced because we all have periods in our lives when our work or home life demands a little (or lot!) more of our time and attention. But in general, work-life balance is more achievable than impossible.
As an employee, what boundaries can I put in place?
Before setting boundaries, it’s important to first think about what your priorities are. For example, if you know you have to drop your children at school in the morning, or you have an evening class one evening a week that’s important to you, etc. – then factor this in. Understanding your priorities helps you decide which boundaries are non-negotiable and which you’re willing to compromise on.
For example, do you need flexibility around your start or finish times? How many hours a week are you willing to work – is there a limit? Do you need to be able to take holidays during half-term and school holidays? Are you prepared to work at weekends? Is family time in the evenings non-negotiable? How often will you take breaks away from your desk and how long for? And so on.
You might also want to consider workplace boundaries around taking time off (e.g., actually take holidays!), workload and when to ask for help or delegate. And if you work from home, think about creating a physical boundary for your workspace (e.g., a separate study, or area of a room).
It’s also important to consider your physical and mental health, self-care, relationships, social activities, hobbies, and other aspects of your life that are important to you when you’re factoring in your priorities. For example, you may want to schedule self-care and exercise into your diary – because we know that if something isn’t scheduled, it doesn’t happen!
Most importantly, once you’ve set your boundaries, you need to stick to them! Make sure you also communicate them clearly to your work colleagues and learn how to say ‘no’ when someone tries to push one of your boundaries – as they inevitably will. It might be challenging at first but remember why you initially put boundaries in place. If you want a better work-life balance, you need better boundaries.
By the way, this might sound daunting if you’re not used to boundaries, so start with small steps. For example, you might agree ‘no work after 7pm’ or ‘no checking email at the weekend’ etc. Once you’ve nailed this boundary, add another. They might feel like small steps, but they’ll have a huge impact on your work-life balance.
As an employer, how do I facilitate a better work-life balance for my people?
Companies who are invested in the wellbeing of their people have given thought to their overall culture and the flexibility they offer around working time, etc.
For example, many companies now offer flexi-time, job-share, fully remote or hybrid roles, and self-care benefits and services such as gift vouchers to spend on wellbeing, wellness days and specialist coaching or training. Some forward-thinking companies are also giving their employees intentional space in their diary during the day or week – for example, designating one hour on Friday mornings as ‘wellbeing’ time.
In terms of boundaries, it’s important to set and communicate clear priorities, goals, and expectations for your employees, with continuous feedback. Additionally, you’ll want to set boundaries around how you facilitate an inclusive culture – one in which people feel safe to speak up and share feedback without fear of ridicule, embarrassment, or prejudice. And consider boundaries around open-door policies, behaviours in the workplace, dress-codes, and so on.
Of course, if you’re a business leader, by setting boundaries for yourself and your team and leading by example, you can ultimately influence the greater workplace culture for the better.
In conclusion, whilst work-life balance seems impossible to achieve, putting some clearly defined boundaries in place can help. More and more, we’re realising that if we want to be successful in all areas of our life without compromising our health, happiness, and relationships, balance in our lives is a necessity, not a luxury.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is key for preventing stress and burnout, and for creating engaged, happy, healthy, productive, and high-performing people. And companies must find a way to help their employees navigate the mental challenges of stressful, highly demanding, and fast-paced environments AND be successful, happy, and healthy, if they want to engage and retain their top talent.
To learn more about how I can help you create engaged, high performing AND healthy teams, please get in touch.
Dr Marcelle Crinean, PhD is a highly respected Clinical Hypnotherapist & Psychotherapist, Mindset Coach & Certified High Performance Coach™. Marcelle focuses on helping driven, ambitious high-achievers perform at their highest level and accelerate extraordinary success in all areas of their work and life – without compromising their health, relationships or happiness. She offers high performance coaching and stress-management & wellbeing training to individuals and companies all over the world. In her capacity as founder and owner of Brain Reframe, she also mentors small businesses and offers courses and workshops in overcoming imposter syndrome and avoiding burnout.