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Work-life balance: is it improving and how can we promote it?

By Fi Darby

How's your work-life balance ratio? Do you always feel busy, even during your "down time"? Most of us feel like we live and work in an increasingly pressurised world. Although it is widely acknowledged that a stressful lifestyle is bad for our health, levels of worker stress don't really seem to be improving.

If you feel this way, it's not just you - According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, an average of 3.2 days per worker a year are lost to workplace stress related illness. The problem is not just national either, but worldwide. So what can you do to improve your work-life balance? 

What are the statistics on work-life balance? 

It's interesting that data available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that the average number of hours an Australian works a week has remained steady since the late 70s, at around 33 hours per week when you average out all jobs (full-time, part-time and casual) across all industries. However, when broken down into full-time hours, Australians are working much harder and longer.

The study asks, "Are Australians working more than ever? How many hours do we work, especially during times of economic downturn? These are questions often posed in relation to work-life balance and overall labour market performance." Another factor to bring in is "time spent off the clock" where people are increasingly checking and engaging with work outside the homes, due to email and social media.

In fact, some countries have thought this such a problem that they have outlawed unpaid overtime outside working hours. Our modern understanding of the constructs of ‘career’ and ‘ambition’ seems to be leading to reduced work-life balance as we fight to cram ever more into decreasingly available time.

Work-life balance is not a modern idea

The issue of work and lifestyle balance was discussed as early as 350 BC in Ethics and Politicswhen Aristotle said, ‘The whole of life is further divided into two parts, business and leisure, war and peace, and of actions… some aim at what is necessary and useful, and some at what is honorable.’ 

Aristotle acknowledged, as many have since done, the dependence of one element of work-life balance on the other. In other words, we cannot often have the lifestyle we desire without working for it but find ourselves unable to do our jobs properly without adequate relaxation time.

Career ambitions are leading to overwork, becoming a global issue

In recent years the Japanese government has become so concerned about the increase in deaths and illness related to overwork that they have published statistics suggesting that 20% of the Japanese workforce are at risk of death related to overwork through stress, heart attacks and strokes. As a reaction to these ‘karoshi’ statistics the government in Japan has recently published a list designed to shame those employees who have breached labour laws related to employee overwork. Sounds extreme? 

Work-life balance is being reconsidered to suit the technical era in which we live

In the self-help book ‘Working Mom Manifesto’ Heather Schuck refers to work-life balance insisting that, ‘You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life.’ However more modern thinking suggests that with the increase of technology and the blurring of the lines that demarcate home and work time, we should start to recognise that ‘work’ can be a positive contributory factor to happy living and that ‘life’ can be enhanced by an enjoyable career. Life Coach Daphne Scott suggests that a more realistic description would be that of ‘seasons’.

The phrase "work-life balance" implies that you're either at work and dead, or you're living… By recognising that there are seasons in life in which one role or area of responsibility may require more attention than another, we are also able to take responsibility for the choices we make in any moment.’

A poor work life balance could be caused by a number of factors

Despite efforts by some organisations to improve the work-life balance of their employees, there is still a large percentage of the Australian workforce (62% according to a 2017 job trends report) who says that fitting in work and relaxation hours is becoming increasingly difficult. This is caused by a variety of factors but the main culprits are:

  • Increasing expenses against static salaries
  • Longer working hours
  • Increased family requirements (including children and elderly parents)
  • Increased responsibilities at work

Work-life balance can be improved

Finding a correct work-life balance is not solely the responsibility of either the employer or the employee. Society expectations and education are both also important factors. Work-life balance can be improved by:

  • Legislation that recognises the potential for harm of an overworked workforce
  • Flexible working hours that allow for family responsibilities and leisure time
  • A company policy that encourages exercise and team building
  • Email hours policies that restrict company email checks to reasonable times of the day
  • The encouragement and the time to develop ‘smart’ working practices
  • The inclusion of work-life balance in employee review discussions
  • The discouragement of ‘presenteeism’ – the practice of attending work when unwell

Assessing your work-life balance is a great first step

In order to ensure that you have an acceptable work-life balance you need to ask yourself a few key questions:

  • What would the correct work-life balance look like if you had it?
  • How do both your work life and your home life fit in with your current values?
  • What is the impact of your work life on you and your family?
  • What is the impact of your home life on you and your job?
  • Which aspects of each are ‘needs’ and which are ‘wants’?

Take steps to improve your work-life balance as soon as possible

Ignoring a problem never makes it go away, so if you feel that your career is overshadowing your home life or that your ambition is being stifled by family commitments, there are a few simple tips that you can try.

  • Talk to someone. Be it your boss, your partner or your children, explaining your concerns can go a long way to helping you to overcome them
  • Take regular exercise. Exercising always helps us to think more clearly and has added health benefits that can reduce workplace-induced stress
  • Write down daily tasks and rank them according to importance. You may find that you can miss some off your list altogether
  • Take regular time for yourself and do something you really want to do
  • Set a time each day by which you will have finished work (even if the work isn’t finished!)

Balance your work, balance your life 

One great way to take time out for yourself whilst still benefiting your career is to study something that you are interested in.

Upskilled has a whole range of online study courses at many qualification levels, from degrees to certificates and more. Get in touch with an expert team now for some advice about which flexible study course might be right for you.

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