According to the World Health Organization, work environments that increase employee anxiety and depression cost the global economy an outstanding $1 trillion per year. These issues tend to arise due to a lack of work-life balance.
What Is Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance describes the balance in the amount of time you spend doing your job versus the amount of time you have for yourself. This synergistic blend of our professional and personal responsibilities is extremely important. When work demands more of your time, you have less time to handle your other responsibilities or passions, which can be detrimental to various aspects of your life.
Difficulties Due To The Pandemic
With boundaries between work and personal life being dissolved due to cell phones and super-smart tech, creating a distinct divide can be difficult. Previously, taking work home was fairly difficult, and sometimes impossible. This allowed one to create a clear distinction between personal and professional. However, this conversation has changed with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a Stanford report, only 5% of the typical U.S. workforce worked from home before the pandemic. Currently, about 30% of employees work from home, with the number skyrocketing to 61.5% at the onset of the pandemic.
Difficulty Maintaining Boundaries
When you work from home, the boundaries that should exist between your personal and professional life can be blurred, or completely overwritten. Your cell phone can make it accessible to your coworkers and managers 24/7, and your laptop might make it to the kitchen table when you’re eating dinner.
Forbes lists this as one of the challenges faced by professionals: the expectation of being “always on.” In our digital age, it’s become easy to communicate with coworkers and employees outside of business hours. There is also increasing pressure to respond to these messages and emails, blurring the lines of balancing your professional and personal life.
Repercussions of Not Having A Work-Life Balance
According to The World Health Organization (WHO), work pressure can lead to excessive and unmanageable stress. This ranges from growing demand to shifts in the working environment. This is known as job/work stress. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines job stress as the harmful physical and emotional responses that take place when job requirements don’t match one’s capabilities, resources, or needs of the employee.
The Stanford Graduate School of Business found that approximately 5%-8% of annual healthcare costs, and over 120,000 deaths per year are associated with workplace stress. According to the University of Massachusetts Lowell, early warning signs of job stress include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- A short temper
The University of Cambridge also cites the following signs, split into different categories:
- Physical: Gastrointestinal upset, headaches, hyperglycemia
- Emotional: Anxiety, depression
- Intellectual: Lack of motivation, loss of memory, poor decision-making, loss of concentration
While work pressure can be a motivator, it can cross that line and lead to stress once it becomes excessive and unmanageable. This stress not only affects various aspects of your health but can also lead to burnout, another repercussion of not having a healthy work-life balance.
In 2019, the World Health Organization included burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). It was listed as an occupational phenomenon. According to ICD-11, burnout is defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Essentially, experiencing work stress for prolonged periods of time can lead to burnout. This occupational phenomenon is typically characterized by three main dimensions:
- Feelings of reduced professional ability
Signs of burnout typically include:
- Shortened attention span
- Suicidal ideation
- Anger and irritability
- Poor immune function
- Lack of enthusiasm
Burnout essentially reduces your productivity and leaves you feeling depleted, helpless, and even resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give. These negative effects eventually spill over into every area of life – including your home and social life.
Not having a healthy work-life balance leads to you overworking. The traditional workweek is typically 40 hours. However, this is quite unrealistic these days. Many people have a workweek that can go beyond this threshold, whether it be due to an overload of emails, or having a tough time setting boundaries when working remotely.
The WHO and the International Labour Organization (ILO), supported by large working groups of individual experts, conducted systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the health risks associated with longer working hours. Their research found that people who worked 55 or more hours a week showed a 35% higher risk of strokes, and a 17% higher risk of dying from a heart attack, compared to those who worked 35-40 hours per week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also conducted research, which indicated that working 61-70 hours a week increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 42%, and working 71-80 hours increased it by 63%.
Symptoms of being overworked manifest both mentally and physically. These include:
- Anger and irritability
- Poor sleeping patterns
- Tension and migraine headaches
- Lack of concentration
Overworking Affects Your Productivity
Working too many hours doesn’t just impact your health, but also affects your productivity. A Stanford University study found that productivity begins to decline sharply once people work more than 50 hours a week. After the 55-hour mark, productivity dropped to a point where putting in any more hours was viewed as pointless.
However, this is a vicious cycle, with an overworked culture being so ingrained in society. Long hours and constant exhaustion have become markers of success. It’s so severe that the BBC reports that studies estimate that globally, people are putting in an average of 9.2 hours of unpaid overtime per week.
So How Can You Achieve A Healthy Work-Life Balance?
Whether you’re working from home or the office, achieving a work-life balance is possible. The first thing that should be noted is that a good work-life balance is highly individual, and dependent on your career. So the first step here is to identify your individual goals, responsibilities, and what balance is for you. Once you’ve done this, you can move to create a realistic schedule, not a perfect one. Below are three things you can implement into your life to establish a healthy work-life balance.
1. Creating Boundaries
This is important whether you work in the office, from home, or hybrid. Creating strict boundaries ensures that you don’t feel as though you’re constantly “at work”. If you work at the office, avoid thinking about upcoming projects, deadlines, or answering work emails when you clock out. If you’re working from home, determine when to begin and stop working. Working from home can lead to you working beyond your typical hours, without even realizing it.
2. Plan Effectively
Our work-life balance can be negatively impacted if the responsibilities of one role (e.g., work) conflict with those of another. Planning your day-to-day activities at work helps you prioritize your actions according to the importance of a specific task.
Having a realistic, well-laid-out plan not only saves you time and boosts productivity, but also allows you to schedule time for things outside of work. In order to do this, you need to prioritize time management, which is an important aspect of a healthy work-life balance.
3. Prioritize time-off
“No days off”, is a phrase used to encompass hard work with no time off. Having a busy schedule can cause employees to not use their vacation days or days off. However, these days need to be used to help you find balance and decompress. Whether it be taking vacations (which can be very beneficial for your overall health and well-being), using your paid leave, or ensuring that your weekends don’t involve any work, it is very important to disconnect.
What Can You Do As An Employer?
Responsibility cannot be placed solely on an employee, or employer, as this is a team effort. The employer needs to ensure that they create a work environment that fosters a healthy work-life balance. The following are ways that you can encourage this:
- Offer flexible and remote working: It is important to note that this only applies to jobs where remote working is possible. The reality is, in some industries, you cannot work remotely. Sage polled 3,500 employees and found that 81% of them placed importance and value on flexible working. Sage notes that it is important that an employee feels valued and trusted enough to still get their job done while being given the opportunity to manage when, where, and how they work.
- Encourage breaks: A study found that 39% of employees who took their lunch breaks reported a better work-life balance. ezCarter’s The Lunch Report found that 40% of employees said taking a lunch break reduced stress, and 39% reported feeling more productive after a break. However, 1 in 5 don’t take breaks because they wish to finish their work as quickly as possible.
Work is Just A Single Aspect Of Our Lives
Work is just one aspect of our lives, which we need to consider alongside other facets. However, if it consumes you and begins to trickle into your personal life, it can become a problem, affecting your mental and physical well-being. Work-life balance is the sense that you’re able to meet your obligations at work while still having time to enjoy your hobbies and interests.
The only way this can be prioritized is through effective planning and open communication. Both employers and employees need to work together to ensure this, as all parties benefit from this. Remember to individualize the process as not all companies and their structures are the same.