Most people will have periods at work when they struggle to get out of the office on time. Sometimes it’s also difficult to avoid taking work home with you.

But when not being able to switch off from the office becomes the norm, rather than something that just comes around now and again, you may feel as if your life outside work is passing you by. In other words, your work-life balance is out of kilter.

When this happens, your health – both emotional and physical – can suffer. Here’s how to find out whether or not your work-life balance is in good shape, and some tips on how to improve it.

Recognise the signs

Start by asking yourself these questions:

1.    Do you find it difficult to relax when you’re not working?
2.    Have you been neglecting your hobbies and interests because of work commitments?
3.    Is your health suffering because you work long hours?
4.    Do your friends and family complain they hardly ever see you?
5.    Do you struggle to finish work at the correct time and hardly ever use up all your annual holiday entitlement?

Answering ‘yes’ to one or more means your work-life balance needs some improvement.

Create a designated work area

If you work from home make it clear to your family when you’re at work and when you’re at home. Having a dedicated space only used for work allows you to “leave the office” at the end of the day, both physically and mentally. 

Manage your time

Honing your time management skills can help you find more hours in the day to spend on the things that matter. Start by identifying your most productive time. Are you an early bird? Or do you function better after lunch? Tackle your most pressing tasks when you’re at your best to get through your to-do list more efficiently.

Get active

Instead of working through your lunch hour, get outdoors and stretch your legs. Exercise helps relieve stress by releasing feel-good hormones called endorphins. Taking regular breaks throughout the day to rehydrate and get some fresh air will help you maintain energy, focus and productivity. 

Learn how to say no

It may not make you popular initially, but being assertive and learning to say no when you're already pushed to the max will help you balance work and your social life, improve your wellbeing and therefore your productivity.

Set boundaries

If your colleagues know you can’t be contacted outside work - even if it’s only at certain times - they will be less likely to email or phone you when you’re trying to relax. Make a point of letting them know that you’re out of bounds at specific times, and - most importantly - stick to your word.

Some examples of boundaries could be…

  • I’ll check my emails until 6 pm on Monday to Thursday, but not after 5 pm on a Friday
  • I want to pick up my children from school 3 days per week

Keep a log of how many days or weeks you stick to your boundaries to help you monitor if they’re working for you - reflect and consider if they're realistic - ask yourself what you can change?

Delegate

If you have an impossible workload that’s keeping you at work beyond normal office hours, pass some of your tasks on to a colleague. Similarly when you go on holiday put someone else fully in charge of your work. You’ll feel more inclined to switch off if a capable colleague is covering for you.

Consider flexible working

If you’ve worked for your employer for at least 26 continuous weeks, you’re entitled to ask for a flexible working arrangement e.g. flexible start or finish times, job sharing, working from home or compressed hours.

You can only put in one request for flexible working (a statuary application) in any 12-month period, so it’s important to get it right. Here’s what you need to know:

Your application must be made in writing and include the following:

1.    The date
2.    A statement explaining that this is a statutory request for flexible working
3.    Details of the kind of flexible working you’d like to do and the date you’d like to start
4.    An explanation of how the business might be affected and suggestions for how this could be managed effectively. For instance, could specific work colleagues cover your responsibilities when you’re not there, or could you offer to work extra hours in the case of emergencies
5.    Details of any previous applications for flexible working you’ve made in the past 

You’re not obliged to say why you want to work flexible hours in the letter, but most experts agree that the more information you give, the stronger your case may be.

Your employer has up to 3 months to consider your request. If they agree, they must write to you outlining the new arrangements and confirming a start date. The terms and conditions of your employment contract will also need to be updated within 28 days. 

If your employer refuses your request, they must write to you explaining why. Reasonable grounds for refusal include:

  • It would harm the company’s ability to meet customer needs
  • It would result in extra costs that would damage the business
  • It would have a detrimental effect on other staff members

If you disagree with your employer’s decision, the next step would be an employment tribunal. 

For more advice and information contact us.

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