5 ways to improve your work-life balance

Although a good “work-life balance” is something we insist on trying to strike, many of us still struggle to put it into practice. The United States ranked 30th in a work-life balance study of 38 countries conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, revealing that 11% of American employees work very long hours—sometimes reaching over 50 hours a week. Evidence suggests that this may impair personal health, jeopardize safety, and increase stress levels. Comparatively, just 0.5% employees in the Netherlands—which ranked 1st for work-life balance—reported working long hours.

Workplace pressures and the desire to succeed in our careers can often come at the expense of our health and happiness. Unsurprisingly, this is a surefire way to trigger a burnout. You can still be an invaluable employee without giving everything to your job. However, if you think you still have some way to go until you’ve achieved harmony, follow our tips to start improving your work-life balance.

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1. Add flexibility to your working week

PowWowNow’s 2017 flexible working survey revealed that while 58% of workers are offered flexible working, 24% of them don’t make use of this. These employees are missing out on perks including the opportunity to work from home and set their own hours.

While you may feel happy with a more conventional work pattern, a little flexibility can really help bring more balance to your life. Remote working, for instance, has been found to make staff happier and less stressed. This is hardly surprising when you consider that working from home allows you to ditch a potentially long, stressful, and expensive commute. Similarly, setting your own hours could mean more sleep, or the chance to plan your working day around family commitments, social arrangements or hobbies.

Many companies already offer flexible working options to employees, but if yours doesn’t, you should consider setting up a meeting with your boss to discuss how the arrangement could benefit both of you. With 65% of workers claiming a remote work schedule increases productivity, they have just as much reason to encourage the practice.

2. Incorporate breaks into your schedule

Taking breaks during work has been found to boost energy and performance, as well as replenish the psychological energy spent on hard work. However, a recent survey found that seven out of 10 employees typically take less than an hour for lunch, averaging at 31 minutes. Approximately 18% of those surveyed felt they had to follow the lead of their other colleagues who were working through lunch, while one in four reduced their break times so they don’t lag behind or miss a deadline.

In spite of our reluctance to take time-outs, they are incredibly important. Almost 90% of North American employees feel refreshed and ready to get back to work after their lunch period while taking regular two-minute breaks increased productivity by over 11%.

There are many positive activities worth taking a break for. For instance, you could clear your mind through meditation, increase blood flow to the brain by taking a brisk walk, or boost your energy levels with a healthy snack.

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3. Enjoy your time off

Though weekends and vacations should be the time for relaxation, too many of us are still stuck in work mode. One survey showed that over 62% of Americans make a point to check their work emails and/or voicemail messages while they’re vacationing, while another study saw 63% of respondents claim that their employer expected them to put in work over the weekends.

It will be impossible to achieve anything close to a work-life balance if your weekends, workdays, and vacations become indistinguishable. Allow yourself to switch off thoughts of work during time away from the office, and focus only on unwinding and having fun. Ultimately, these periods will let you return to work recharged and focused on the tasks ahead.

Ensuring you take as much time off as possible will also do your mental health the world of good in the long run. According to a report by The American Sociological Association, a larger number of vacations lead to a decline in psychological distress.

4. Unplug electronic devices when possible

Relying too heavily on your gadgets could be disruptive to both parts of the work-life dichotomy. Research by Ofcom revealed that users are dependent on smartphones after finding that people check their smartphones every 12 minutes, on average, throughout the day. Of those surveyed, 71% never turned their phone off at all, while 40% checked them within five minutes of waking up.

Being distracted by your phone, music, or television will hamper productivity and potentially harm the quality of your work. Similarly, a preoccupation with technology will also stop you from focusing on situations you find yourself in outside of the workplace, whether that’s eating, socializing, or simply getting ready for sleep.

Societal pressures and the brain’s increasing ability to multitask means it’s harder than ever to be present in the moment, and at the expense of time, emotion, and life satisfaction. However, excusing yourself from technology could make this significantly easier to achieve. Consider leaving devices in another room or in your coat/bag when you need to be free from distractions, and leave anything unessential at home.

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5. Make health a priority

Your health should always be your most important concern and you must be prepared to reschedule work or social commitments for the sake of your mind and body to avoid burning out. This can have a huge impact on your own health, as well as on the health of your company—the cost of burned-out employees costs between $125 billion to $190 billion per year in healthcare spending alone. By simply leaving work early to attend a therapy session, or scheduling at least 30 minutes of exercise into your day, you could avoid this strain on the healthcare industry, and avoid jeopardizing your own health.

Prioritizing your health means you will miss less work overall by avoiding sick days, and therefore become a better and more productive employee. A healthy lifestyle will also make you a happier person outside of office hours as there are strong correlations between a healthy body and a healthy mind, which will do wonders for your overall wellbeing both in and out of work.

While it’s good to show ambition and go above and beyond in your job, a sensible work-life balance means that you can snag that promotion while still enjoying life away from the office to the fullest.

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