We cannot ignore the fact that almost a third of UK workers feeling they have a poor work-life balance. Not managing the balance can take its toll on our mental health, our relationships and our happiness at home. We have taken a look into the best ways to deal with our work-life balance and take some tips from other countries.
The situation in Britain
It seems that in general, adults in the UK are overworked. Maintaining a healthy balance between home and work life seems to become more difficult as we get older, with statistics showing that the younger the employee, the less likely they are to identify work-life balance as an important part of their job. The task of juggling a family alongside a job is also difficult for many to manage with statistics revealing that 75% of working parents suffer stress and anxiety as a result of their work-life balance management.
It can also take its toll, as some business attempt to operate at maximum capacity. Research found that as a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness. Of course, this is no surprise. Even for those who don’t work long hours, there is still the issue of ‘switching off’ and disconnecting from what’s happened at the office. In fact, one third of European workers said that a bad day at work affected their personal life.
As our hours increase, we have less time to spend with our family and friends and also gives us less time to pursue our hobbies and dreams and focus on accomplishing goals that aren’t work-related. But, many of us feel as though there’s nothing we can do about it.
The situation abroad
When compared to our western European counterparts, Britain has the worst work-life balance. What can we learn from our foreign neighbours?
From what we can see, workers in other countries are given more free time to spend away from the office. In Belgium, employees have an average of 8.6 hours of free time per day compared to their 7.4-hour work days, and Netherlands are enjoying the shortest working week at only 30.3 hours. Denmark only spend 6.6 hours at work each day with 8.8 hours each day to spend how they wish, and Austrians are encouraged to start the weekend early with 3pm finishes implemented around the country. Many Germans are able to relax on a Sunday too, as stores are regulated so that they close on Sundays. All of these extra hours add up it seems, with Britons working 325 hours more per year than workers in Germany.
Enquire with your employer about splitting up your break. Research has proven that taking regular breaks can improve your productivity, and it therefore could be something that they will support. Split your hour break up into half an hour and two 15-minute breaks to decrease the amount of time spent at your desk at one time. Get some fresh air or spend time talking to family on the phone, taking a small action like this could reduce your stress levels.
In the UK, we tend to get one break per day, usually 30 or 60 minutes. Whereas, foreign employees are encouraged to take multiple breaks throughout the day. The Spanish are famous for their midday siestas which began as an effort to sleep through the hottest period of the day in warmer climates. Although new laws mean that shops have to remain open without a break for naps, some workers still follow the siesta tradition. Or, they take long coffee and lunch breaks with colleagues — something that is widely accepted by employers. Finland also take on the approach that long breaks are good for everyone, and their workers enjoy extra-long lunch breaks that are one to two hours long! If you visited Sweden on business, you’d probably be invited to join them for ‘fika’ — this is a late morning coffee that offices pause to enjoy at around 11am.
Other regulations that help maintain a healthy work-life balance include:
- Spanish workers have a holiday allowance of 30 days.
- Belgians are able to take a full month off work to coincide with school breaks.
- Swedish workers enjoy 16 months of paid family leave
- France introduced a law in 2017 that gave workers the ‘right to disconnect’ from after-work emails.
How can we change?
Even though we are probably unable to change regulations within the place we work, that doesn’t mean we can’t make positive changes to improve our work-life balance.
Some find it hard to switch off from work once they get home and are tempted to reply to emails from home but you should restrict yourself even if you are finding it difficult. Think of the long-term issues that mixing home and work life can have and aim to check your emails only for ten minutes on an evening instead of an hour. This is the same for working overtime, unless entirely necessary, make sure you are sticking to the number of hours that you’re contracted to. This can not only affect your mental health but can lead to employers expecting this behaviour at all times.
Try to use your annual holidays to recharge and relax and spend time with family. It can be easy to use your holidays to do things you’ve been putting off on a weekend, or to run errands but this isn’t going to be helpful when to your work-life balance. Although we need to do this now and then, annual leave should be used to recuperate, relax and enjoy time away from the office so try to focus on this.
As we can see, the current situation is not great for UK workers. But, there are some small changes that you can make. From splitting up your break to making the most of your holidays, being conscious of finding a good split between the office and spare time is the first step to improving your work-life balance.
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