Work–life balance is a concept including proper prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development and meditation). This is related to the idea of lifestyle choice.
The work–leisure dichotomy was invented in the mid-1801s. Paul Krassner remarked that anthropologists use a definition of happiness that is to have as little separation as possible “between your work and your play”. The expression “work–life balance” was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s to describe the balance between an individual’s work and personal life. In the United States, this phrase was first used in 1986.
Tips For A Better Work Life Balance
1. Step away from the email
Earlier this year, a report circulated that a French law banned employees from checking work emails after 6pm. It wasn’t true but fitted with our notion of the French as a nation of slackers favouring long lunches, five-day weekends and plenty of slap and tickle while les rosbifs carried on working through the night. But maybe there should be a law against after-hours fielding of bosses’ emails? “It would be impossible to enforce,” says Leeds-based life coach Melanie Allen. “But companies should think about productivity. Is this incessant checking of emails and social media by their employees adding to productivity or just pointless stress?”
2. Work smarter, not harder
There is a body of opinion that you should work more and sleep less. It often takes Margaret Thatcher as a role model: she only needed four hours sleep and look what she did to the country! These days they call it sleep hacking – training your mind and body to need less sleep. But that trend is all wrong, argues US academic Matt Might in his work-life balance blog. Think of it this way, he suggests: “The equation for work is: output = unit of work / hour × hours worked. ‘Work more, sleep less’ people tend to focus too much on the hours worked part of the equation. The unit of work / hour part of the equation – productivity – is just as (if not more) important.” In its advice on work-life balance, the Mental Health Foundation counsels: “Work smart, not long.” What does that mean in practice? “This involves tight prioritisation – allowing yourself a certain amount of time per task – and trying not to get caught up in less productive activities, such as unstructured meetings that tend to take up lots of time.” We’ve all been there, wishing we weren’t stuck in the same room as a bunch of fatuous blowhards – or, as Michael Foley puts it in his superb book The Age of Absurdity, “the colleagues who speak at length in every meeting, in loud confident tones that suggest critical independence, but never deviate from the official line”.
Clearly, though, many of us are not working smart, but – and there’s no easy way to put this – stupid. British productivity remains low while the number of hours we work exceeds that of some of our European neighbours. One result of this is the dismal array of statistics set out by the Mental Health Foundation: when working long hours 27% of employees feel depressed, 34% feel anxious and 58% feel irritable.
3. Leave work at work
Imagine you’re just about to leave your workplace, possibly for cocktails at TGI
Fridays, even though it’s actually Tuesday. Before you do, write a note to yourself listing outstanding tasks or any work things that are on your mind. “Then shut the diary, turn off your PC, store your message and leave it.” counsels Allen. “Focus on the image of shutting the diary, saving the message or turning off your PC.” If this is not possible, she recommends what she calls a stop-breathe technique. What does that mean? “Take a slow breath and acknowledge that you’ve left. If you can’t do that at the office door, when you’re getting a train or bus and the door closes, imagine that’s the end of your working day. Or if you’re in your car, sit at the wheel for a short while before you start the engine.”
Closure is a big theme among those offering tips to a healthy work-life balance: the Mental Health Foundation says that if you do happen to take work home with you, you should try to confine it to a certain area of your home – and be able to close the door on it.