How can UK workers improve their work-life balance

January 23, 2019
Jess

According to research, a poor work-life balance is a problem for almost a third of workers in the UK. This can not only put a strain on our relationships and cause our happiness at home to be reduced but can also have a negative impact on our mental health. CT Shirts, retailers of men’s suits, have taken a look into how Britain can make positive changes by taking tips from other countries.

The current situation in the UK

Generally, adults in the UK feel they 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.

Some businesses aim to work at maximum capacity, but this can soon take its toll. 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.

The more we are working, the less we are spending time with our loved ones. This also leads to us having less time to focus on accomplishing goals that aren’t work-related and less time to pursue our hobbies and dreams. But, many of us feel as though there’s nothing we can do about it.

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How do other countries compare?

In comparison to our western European counterparts, Britain has the worst work-life balance. What can we take from our foreign neighbours to apply to our lives?

Other countries have more free time to spend outside of the workplace. 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.

Also, in other countries they are encouraged to take multiple breaks throughout the day, whereas in Britain most people get a 30-60 minute break for the full 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:

  • Belgians are able to take a full month off work to coincide with school breaks.
  • Spanish workers have a holiday allowance of 30 days.
  • France introduced a law in 2017 that gave workers the ‘right to disconnect’ from after-work emails.
  • Swedish workers enjoy 16 months of paid family leave

What can we do to improve?

Just because we aren’t able to change the regulations within our workplace, that doesn’t mean that we cant make changes to help manage our work-life balance.

You could start by enquiring with your employer about splitting your break into shorter, more frequent breaks. 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.

It has been shown by a study that having a long commute to work can stress and depression. This is one reason to propose flexi-time at your office, where you can skip the traffic at each side of your day and do something more productive. Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone. You could make your commute feel more productive though, by listening to a podcast or audio book that can reduce the stress of rush-hour traffic. Alternatively, going to a gym class near to your work can mean that you miss the bulk of the busy traffic and allows you to fit some exercise into your day as well!

Even though it can sometimes be difficult to prevent yourself from checking work emails outside of the office, you should really push yourself not to. 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 ensure to use your annual holidays to recharge and spend time with your loved ones. We’re all guilty of using our holidays to run errands or do something that we’ve been putting off, but this isn’t always helpful for our 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. You need your holidays to recharge and spend time with your friends and family.

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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