Why a healthy work-life balance matters

Balancing your work and home life can be tricky, especially if you work from home or you’re in a pressurised role that demands regular out of office hours. Mental Health Prevention Lead Gosia Bowling and Head of Emotional Wellbeing Brendan Street have combined expertise to tell us all about the challenges we face trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

What does good work/life balance look like?

We all work well when we ensure there are sensible boundaries in place. It’s understandable that we must work late into the evening from time to time, however where possible we should look to enforce boundaries and keep our work and home lives separate.

Turning off the work phone, resisting the temptation to monitor emails and completely checking out of work when on annual leave all help us recharge and refresh when we’re away from the office. If we don’t, the stressors of work slowly start to seep into the home.

Top tips for better work/life balance

If you understand the importance of leaving work in the office but are unsure of how to do it, take a look below:

  • Establish clear boundaries: when you start a job, make sure you know what’s expected. Leave work in the office and use your free time to relax and recharge without thinking about work
  • Maintain good sleep habits: sleep is where the mind and body rest and recharge. Sleep deficiency has been linked with an increased risk of developing chronic health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, stroke, and diabetes
  • Incorporate wellness into your schedule: make sure you’re making time for your five-minute office stretching session or meditation break. Scheduling in little wellbeing breaks throughout the day means you work more effectively when you return to your desk
  • Create a healthy meal plan: if you work from home, use your lunch break to prepare lunches ahead of time so your healthy eating routine doesn’t suffer
  • Take regular screen breaks: wherever you work, it’s important to get up and move around. It’s recommended you take a five-minute break for every thirty minutes you spend sitting down. This might mean stretching away from your desk or walking about the home or office.
  • Designate a workspace: if you work from home or to a hybrid model, make sure you have a designated workspace. If you’re lucky enough to have an office, keep everything work related in there. If you don’t, you can still practice healthy habits. Keep work off the sofa and out the bed. Purchase yourself a good quality desk and office chair instead.

What’s the danger of poor work/life balance?

When we take work home with us, we can’t fully rest and relax. If you are unable to forget about work and enjoy life away from the office, your personal relationships with friends and family will start to suffer. You will also start to lose interest in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy and may find that stress relief outlets like exercise and relaxation no longer have the same effect.

Working more than we should is also linked with burnout. We may feel like once this project is wrapped up, we will have achieved what we wanted and then we can rest. However, the reality is often very different. We spend little time celebrating our successes and continue to work on the next project at the same pace with an inevitable crash at some point further down the road.  

When to talk to a professional

If you’re struggling with work, talking to a professional can help. At Nuffield Health, our professional counsellors and therapists offer a range of treatments that can help you manage your work and personal life in a way that works for you.

Reviewing your work day and why it's important

Often, we leave work in a hurry without taking time to reflect and wrap things up. This can mean ideas, thoughts, and plans hanging over into the evening when we should be enjoying time away from the office.

Take time to think about your day before you leave your workplace. You can do this mentally – it doesn’t have to be written down. 

Review what went well and any challenges you faced. Think about what was difficult, review this challenge and let it go. Then, note three things that went well. Celebrate the successes from the day and be proud of what you achieved, no matter how small they may appear.

Monitor working relationships

Before you go home, reflect on your colleagues. Are they okay? If you manage a team, did you give them enough of your time today? If not, see them before you leave or set time aside to catch up with them tomorrow.

Thinking about work relationships is a serial offender for people who find work/life balance difficult. If something is playing on your mind before you leave for the day, make sure you sort it out, or set time aside for the following day to do so. Chances are, the other person isn’t thinking about it as much as you are.

How mental checkpoints can help

Make sure you mark when and where work finishes. This can be difficult if you work a demanding job, however the long term benefits are there for you and your employer.

For some, this is simply leaving the building at the end of the day. For home workers this might mean shutting your laptop, switching off your work phone and closing the door on your work room.

Whatever the end of the day looks like for you, it’s an important ritual that can help solidify the transition between work and pleasure. Once you move past this checkpoint you can shift your focus onto rest and relaxation. 

The challenge of working from home

Some of us struggle to switch off after work due to blurred boundaries between work and relaxation. Others may find themselves catching up on work outside of contractual hours, or even using annual leave to complete work tasks. All of these can impact your sleep, increasing the chance of stress, burnout, and health problems. 

An added complication is that our bedroom has sometimes doubled-up as a workspace, with some of us also engaging in “bedmin” (doing work admin in bed). These combined factors can result in disturbed body clocks, interrupted sleep, and further stress.

How to maintain your new work/life routine

Many companies now recognise the benefits of allowing employees to work from home. This includes less time spent commuting, more flexible hours, and better work-life balance. Many of us now take advantage of the extra time to pick up habits and hobbies that can help to reduce stress, such as running, yoga, and gardening. 

If you now work a hybrid model, this can lead to some apprehension about going into the office at all. However, it’s important to remember that socialising and working in the office have their benefits too. Whether you work from home or in an office, maintaining a healthy work/life balance is for our long-term health and the quality of our work.

Last updated Monday 11 March 2024

First published on Wednesday 21 April 2021