What is work-life balance and how to improve it?

a scale with the words: work and life.

Balancing your work life with your own personal life can be extremely challenging, but it’s essential for many reasons. 

It is expected that work takes priority over many things in our lives, and we get caught up in it.

Many people are just so professionally ambitious, and their desire to succeed can push them aside from their very own well-being. From the moment your work starts negatively impacting your life, that’s when you know you need to create a healthy work-life balance. 

Creating a harmonious work-life balance will allow you to not only be in a better physical position but also in a better emotional and mental place, letting you be a better professional but also a better person.

But first, what exactly is work-life balance? And why is it so important?

What is work-life balance, and why is it so important?

According to Business News Daily, “work-life balance is the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life.”

A poor work-life balance can have a more significant impact than just a lack of time for hobbies, interests, and time with friends and family. Employees who work long hours or struggle to find a balance between personal and professional lives:

  • Have a high risk of burnout
  • Have a high risk of anxiety and depression
  • Suffer from fatigue
  • Have stress-related health issues

It is also vital to understand the importance of work-life balance now that many people work remotely or hybrid.

Being at home makes it trickier for employees to separate work and home lives. It’s common for many people to stay longer hours, take meetings while having lunch, and not take breaks, as they would at the office. 

man spending time outdoor - mountain

Why is the work-life balance important?

Here are the top 5 reasons why we believe that work-life balance is the answer to success and happiness.

1. Less stress

Most people think they don’t have a choice regarding work stress, but that’s not true. You often have the power on your side, even though you don’t see it.

For example, you’re creating more stress for yourself by agreeing to take on more work when you don’t have the capacity or not delegating work that could be delegated. Excessive workload is one of the main causes of stress at work.

In these types of situations, you should address your manager and set your own boundaries when it comes to working. You can achieve that by saying no to things that aren’t priorities, by delegating as much as can be delegated, or by choosing to do things that are priorities (and letting go of non-priorities).

Prioritizing your well-being is valid! The result is a more manageable workload and more time doing the things that are important to you and your own personal success. That’s going to significantly decrease your stress and anxiety levels. 

Having boundaries can sometimes feel scary (especially since enforcing them means saying no to people, which can be super uncomfortable). But it can and should be done without you feeling bad about it! 

Did you know that stress can affect your work productivity?

Exhausted person because she's unproductive

2. Improves your mental health

One of the biggest reasons why work-life balance is important but many people don’t realize it relates to your mental health.  

It’s unnatural to feel stressed and under pressure all the time, and our brains don’t really work well under those circumstances. By creating more balance in your life, you’re giving yourself more space to think, to be creative, and just generally be happier!

To do it, you can use regular exercises that are designed to help increase self-awareness and process thoughts and feelings appropriately, such as meditation.

3. Allows you to have a better physical health

Part of creating balance for yourself includes taking care of your physical health. Things such as eating healthy meals, reducing sugar and alcohol intake, having good sleeping habits, exercising regularly, and others, contribute immensely to your success. 

Most professionals are chained to a desk most of the day and can’t get off their couch at night because of how exhausted and stressed they’re at the end of the day. That means that you’re rarely moving, often sitting, and rarely outside.

In the long run, it can negatively impact your health and, therefore, your success. Physical activity and spending time outdoors generate endorphins, which are hormones that make you feel more positive and good about yourself, allowing you to rest better, have more energy and feel more positive.

a team of 5 people celebrating

4. Improve your relationships

One of the big reasons why work-life balance is so important is for your own happiness and fulfillment, as well as keeping good relationships with the people around you.

Working too much means less time with those you love, as well as less quality time too. 

A balanced lifestyle means more time with high-quality family and friends, feeling your best, and not being overwhelmed.  

And this also applies to your co-workers. Having a balanced lifestyle means developing deep connections with your colleagues as well.

5. Increases engagement at work

When employees are happy and feel motivated by their job, there’s a bigger chance they’re engaged. Being engaged is about feeling committed and doing your best, feeling enthusiastic about your work.  

A less stressed, mentally, and physically healthy employee who feels connected to co-workers is more likely to be motivated to work harder. And that increased motivation means that you’re going to perform at a higher level and be more involved. Even better is that increased engagement results in better workplace morale, more accountability, and better communication.

Read our article and learn how to be a top performer at work.

For these reasons and probably many others, it’s super important that both managers and employees understand how important work-life balance is and how much of an impact it can have in your life. But how can you achieve this perfect work-life balance? Is there a perfect recipe to make it all work? Let’s see!

How to achieve work-life balance

Unfortunately, no particular prescription will fit everyone and every job.

Trying to find balance every single day may feel stressful and frustrating, but it may be easier to expand your timeline to a week, for example. This way, it gets much easier to determine the best balance for you with your own inner compass. 

One word of advice: start small. Even though it gets extremely overwhelming, and you just want things done right, it’s a process like many others. It takes its time and cannot be done overnight.

As creatures of habit, it is impossible for us to change abruptly when we have been used to doing things a certain way for months or even years. However, there are ways to improve it.

Combine activities

Try to combine work activities with leisure, social, or fitness activities. If you find yourself with many meetings back-to-back, try taking them while you go for a walk or to a nice café, whatever makes you feel more comfortable.

You could also take a call outside or invite a friend over to co-work with you so you don’t feel so alone. Also, if you’re a manager, set an example for your team! Take meetings in a more chill way, while taking a walk, for example, or just outside.

Productivity hacks

Embrace the way your brain works and be as productive as possible.

Use productivity hacks such as time blocking to organize your day according to your own personal needs and focused bursts. Have a time when you check (and respond to) e-mails, a time when you take meetings, and time to do mentally intensive work.

It helps to anchor these tasks around when you are personally more productive. If possible, avoid all distractions at work to increase your productivity.

Set boundaries

Force yourself to end work at a particular time. You must control the time you clock off, especially if you’re working from home. With remote working, it’s easier to let work time spill over personal time.

Fight this by setting a timer to turn your computer off and power down all work-related devices. Also, try to schedule things right after work, such as drinks with friends or time with family. It will force you to leave on time.

If you’re leading a team, your role is vital here. Don’t encourage your team to work outside their working hours. Do not schedule meetings before or after work hours; check in with every employee you consistently see working after hours.

Go for a walk or lunch

Try leaving the office, when possible, to get some fresh air. Go out for lunch or enjoy it with co-workers or friends. Even working from home, you can go out for your lunch break or connect with colleagues. The change of pace and surroundings will be refreshing and keep your mind stress-free. 

If you’re a manager and wish to help, people socialize, organize virtual happy hours, or just make random calls to discuss non-related work topics, such as movies, TV series, favorite books, or music. 

Have a break

Take time off, even if you work from home. People often try to work through illnesses, and that’s not a great habit.

Take time for yourself, including sick time, but also personal time to take care of things you may need, vacations, whatever it is to nourish your personal well-being.  

Managers, this is to you too! Practice what you preach. Set the example and do it yourself, or at least remind your employees that they’re allowed to be sick and not work if necessary.

happy people having fun at the office

Hobbies

Besides working out, which is already great for your personal well-being, there are also other things and activities that can help you relax and accurately separate work time from personal time. 

Mindfulness is becoming more and more popular and makes imbalance hard to ignore. When you practice mindfulness techniques, like meditation or breath awareness, you become in tune with your emotions and physical sensations. 

The idea is to find something you love to do outside of work to engage in. If you have something you’re excited about doing after work, it will make it easier to disconnect and get you excited to leave even.

Our hobbies boost our energy and vitality. By feeling creative, happy, and free, we bring our fresh selves back to work and work with a totally different mindset. Try finding something that meets your taste and enriches you!

Communicate

Communication is key. Speak to your manager if you’re feeling overwhelmed and if you wish to change things.

Sadly, poor work-life balance is often exacerbated by the fear that we’re not doing enough. Talking to your leaders can help you prioritize where to spend your time and take that weight off your shoulders.

If there really is too much to do, it might be time to talk about hiring additional help, for example. Make sure you identify when you have too much on your plate!

To be a good team leader, you must make sure your team feel comfortable addressing these issues with you. Make time during your check-ins to ask about your employee’s well-being.

You may have to read between the lines for what’s not being said. Missed deadlines or a lack of responsiveness can indicate overwhelm and lack of motivation.

FAQS

Why is work-life balance important? 

Although work-life balance looks different to everyone, having enough time for work and your personal life is essential for your well-being and can lead to a more fulfilling life.

Why is it hard to balance work and life?

It depends on each person, but primarily because of increased responsibilities at work, working longer hours, or increased responsibilities at home.

Which country has a good work-life balance?

The right answer differs depending on your source, but it’s proven that Nordic European countries dominate, as they constantly rank as the happiest countries in the world, such as Finland. 

Which companies have a great work-life balance? 

There’s no right or wrong answer here; it varies from person to person. However, companies such as Dropbox, or Timeular, respect their workers, are flexible, and ethically, provide great work-life balance for their employees.

What is the difference between work-life balance and work-life harmony?

Even though they sound similar, they are not synonymous. Work-life balance refers to how people manage the time they dedicate to work and the time they spend on personal activities. On the other hand, work-life harmony involves incorporating work into the rest of your life in a way that promotes happiness both at home and in the office. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is no special recipe that you can follow to achieve work-life balance perfectly. Critical steps in this process include identifying stress causes and understanding whether personal sacrifices compensate for the rewards of longer work commitments.

Changes to work hours, shifting task responsibilities, and determining flexible deadlines are all actions that could be taken. Establishing boundaries at work, such as knowing when tasks are complete, is another option.

Balance is an ongoing process, so do not put too much pressure on yourself. Step-by-step, you’ll be able to set your own boundaries and define precisely what you wish your work-life balance to look like. 

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