Careers Advice: The secret to a better work-life balance

Written by: Jeremy Money
Published on: 6 Nov 2017

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For most people, juggling the demands of a career and a personal life is an ongoing challenge. Achieving the elusive “work-life balance” can often feel like an impossible goal. Can you reach your potential professionally and personally, or does one suffer to achieve the other?

Everyone’s idea of a work-life balance will differ at different stages in your life. As your responsibilities grow in your personal life, the balance will inevitably shift. In the era that we live in, we are seemingly always available. Why is it that every time-saving app does not seem to create any spare time? Technology is a good servant, but a bad master. The lines are increasingly blurred as to when we are working and when we are not. Does checking and responding to emails over an evening with one eye on the TV constitute working or are you just easing the workload tomorrow? Either way, you are not properly detaching yourself from your work and giving yourself genuine time to invest in your personal world.

Over my many years in the industry, I have been involved with a whole range of organisation types and have seen so many different attitudes to work patterns and expectations from employers toward their staff. The last few years have seen a welcome shift with employers seemingly more aware of the health and wellbeing of their workforce. Avoiding stress and mental health issues brought about through the pressures of work is getting much more attention these days.

Firms are seeing the huge benefits of improving their attitude to flexible working. Evidence suggests it encourages a healthier work force, reduced absenteeism, reduced staff turnover, improved appeal as a potential employer and of course greater productivity. However, there are still many firms where people are still working excessive hours and are expected to be largely office based. They adhere to age-old beliefs such as;

  • If you can’t see your staff working, how do you know what they are doing

  • Being in a team environment means everyone is focused and accountable.

  • Poor performance can be identified quicker.

Whereas the flip side of this can be; the office environment can be full of distractions, considerable time wasted travelling to work and the feeling of being micro-managed prevents innovation.

When people are assessing their career options, one thing motivating a move is often the lack of flexibility. Staff who are not sufficiently empowered to deliver their work in the most effective way to suit them often feel disenfranchised. Conversely, people who work for a firm who offer flexible working covet this benefit above almost anything else.

Focus on evolution not revolution. If what you are hoping for does not currently exist at your firm, then you are going to need to tread carefully. Here are some simple suggestions to improve your work-life balance without drastically shaking things up

  • Read up on the company policies on flexi time and home working. Are you entitled to more than what you currently take?

  • Have a definite distinction between your work and personal life. Don’t mix the two. When working, focus entirely on the job in hand. Dipping in and out of work makes you ultimately unproductive.

  • Start saying no. Respectfully decline additional work and give a valid personal reason

  • Ban technology at certain times, so you can focus on your personal life without distraction.

  • Reduce the amount of times you check your email a day. Switch off and use well-crafted automatic replies so that people know if the matter is urgent they need to call you.

  • Allow yourself some clear head space. Going for a walk to clear your head at lunchtime, can make you twice as productive in the afternoon than working straight through.

  • Change your working hours to give you some quiet time in the office. Early mornings, people are often at their most productive, especially if there are few distractions

When approaching the situation with your boss, approach it from a position of strength. If you are doing a great job for your company currently, then highlight this first. Then emphasise why a change in your work pattern will ultimately make you even more of a star performer.

Jeremy Money is managing director of recruitment consultants JSM Associates