This article has been contributed by our partner Relationships Australia WA.
The holiday season is nearly over and we're now faced with settling back into our weekly work routines. A lot of us would have made a new year's resolution for a healthy work-life balance in this new decade - but reality can sometimes put pressure on this goal. There will be times throughout the year when your workload increases or your stress levels at work rise. Relationship Australia WA’s senior educator Sue Aspin said there is no set equation for an ideal work-life balance – it depends on the individual and will change from person to person and perhaps at different stages of life.
"Your workload may increase at different times of the year, or your boss might ask you to stay back extra hours in order to complete certain tasks and projects. While we may need to exert extra effort at times to get a particular job done, it’s also important to recognise that consistently working overtime, or on our days off, can be unhealthy and damaging to our well-being.
“When we have a balanced work-life schedule we tend to feel more energetic, motivated and hopeful and to have a more general positive attitude,” Sue Aspin said.
Benefits of balance
Having a balanced work-life schedule helps us to maintain our general health, good sleeping patterns and enjoyment of engaging socially with people. We are also less likely to turn to alcohol, coffee, tobacco or other addictive substances in an attempt to reduce stress.
But when the balance starts to tilt heavily in favour of work we may feel frustrated or burnt out, have a lack of energy and motivation, and develop a generally negative attitude as well.
We may also withdraw from our friends and family, experience sleeplessness, have frequent episodes of ill-health and increase our use of substances like alcohol, tobacco and caffeine.
When we notice signs of imbalance Ms Aspin suggests the first thing we should do is take the time to identify our values and what we desire from work and life.
“If we map out our schedules, it becomes clearer how we are spending our time and whether that matches the values we have identified,” she said.
“Ask yourself, does the balance tilt heavily into the ‘work’ category? If it does, consider what changes you can make to restore the balance to more how you would like it. There may be some things that can’t really be changed at the moment, but there are likely to be other adjustments that you can make.“It’s important to make sure your work life doesn’t encroach too much on your family or personal time.”
Eight tips for maintaining work-life balance
- Develop rituals that separate work and home – for example, when you get home from work, change out of your work clothes or uniform and take a shower to wash off the day.
- Take your designated breaks during the work day. Not only will this help you de-stress or relax, it can also make you more productive when it comes to completing your work. Getting up from your desk and moving regularly is also good for your physical health.
- If you are asked by your boss to spend extra hours at work or to give up part of your weekend, consider whether this is a one-off intrusion into your private time, or whether it is part of a regular pattern. Has your boss shown flexibility in previous situations by allowing you time off for your private commitments?
- Take time to unwind and relax before or after work:
- drop into the gym
- go for a walk
- have a coffee
- listen to music, a podcast or a favourite radio program
- read a novel, or
- potter in the garden.
- It’s important to realistically review your work-life balance on a regular basis. As we grow older, start a family and pass through different stages of our life, the parameters of our ideal work-life balance and priorities are likely to shift.
- Discuss with your significant others about how they feel about your work-life balance. It can be good to get someone else’s opinion.
- Make sure you have time to do the things you love – whether it be reading, playing a sport or other activities. If you can’t fit these things into your life due to work commitments, you are likely to be over-stretching yourself workwise.
- Sit down and plan a schedule – mapping out your commitments and plans makes it much easier to determine what you are spending most of your time on and whether you are achieving an ideal or healthy balance.
Balance and our relationships
"Finding some balance between work and life is also important for your relationships," says Fiona Bennett, manager and counsellor at the West Leederville branch of Relationships Australia WA.
“What we know is that when one partner is more focused on work or their professional life more than the other, the other person feels like they don’t matter,” she says.
“What we notice when that balance starts to change is their partner starts feeling like they are important, and that connection that grows again is very fulfilling for both partners in the relationship.
“Likewise with friends; we all have times we need to cancel because something has come up at work, but when that becomes the usual pattern, the other person can think that something is not quite right,” she adds.
Fiona says it is important to have conversations about finding a balance between work and life with your partner. “Often the partner will respect the other person’s professional life or their job and have an understanding that to do the job well takes time,” she says.
It's important to have patience because what is “balance” to you will change as your life moves into different stages.
“You enter a new relationship, or you have children or children leaving home, so it is important to bear in mind it will be a continuum over time. You think you are in some balance for a while and then suddenly it isn’t working as well.
“Give yourself that time to step back and access how that balance or integration is working. It is a continuing check-in with yourself when you ask: ‘Is this working for me at the moment?'", Fiona concludes.
Relationships Australia provides professional relationship support services throughout Australia. It is a not-for-profit, non-aligned, community-based organisation with partial funding from the Federal, State and Local Governments. Relationships Australia operates Australia-wide.
Keystart is proud to be working with Relationships Australia WA on tailored customer and staff assistance programs.