The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture, combined with increased working hours, is having an important impact on the lifestyles and mental well-being of many individuals.
The Mental Health Foundation argues that a worrying amount of people are neglecting parts of their lives which make them more resilient to mental health problems, such as regular exercise and connecting with loved ones. One in six of us experience a mental health problem in any given week, which means within our workplaces and social circles, there are people living with mental health problems – whether we realise it or not.
Work-related stress already costs Britain 10.4 million work days every year. A key way to protect your mental well-being against the potentially damaging effects of work-related stress is to ensure you have a healthy work-life balance.
Signs of an unhealthy work-life balance:
Feeling unhappy or very unhappy about the time you devote to work, above your contracted hours
Neglecting other aspects of life because of work, which can increase vulnerability to mental health problems
Spending your time outside of work thinking and/or worrying about work
Increasing feelings of unhappiness as your weekly hours increase
Noticing negative effects on your personal life, including lack of personal development, physical and mental health problems, and poor relationships and poor home life.
The following actions may help find your suitable work-life balance:
Watch out for the cumulative effect of working long hours by keeping track of your working hours over a period of weeks rather than days. Take account of hours spent worrying or thinking about work when assessing your work-life balance. These are a legitimate part of work and a good indicator of work-related stress
Take responsibility for your work-life balance – speak up when work expectations and demands are too much
Try to ‘work smart, not long’. This involves tight prioritisation and trying not to get caught up in less productive activities
Take proper breaks at work, try at least half an hour for lunch and get out of the workplace if you can
Try to ensure that a line is drawn between work and leisure
Take seriously the link between work-related stress and mental health problems and take steps to reduce stress E.g through exercise
Recognise the importance of protective factors, including exercise, leisure activities and friendships. Try to ensure that these are not sacrificed to working longer hours, or try to ensure that you spend your spare time on these things
Your workplace can also contribute to improving your work-life balance.
Promote messages about work-life balance to individuals in the workplace
Encourage a culture of openness about time constraints and workload. Employees must feel able to speak up if the demands placed on them are too great
Give better training to managers so that they can spot stress, poor work-life balance and its effects on the individual. They should also be trained to develop better systems to protect everyone in the workplace
Promote a culture of ‘working smart, not long’, as outlined above
Ensure that employees’ jobs are manageable within the time for which they are contracted
Regularly monitor and evaluate policies against performance indicators such as sickness, absence, and improvements in staff satisfaction
Encourage activities that promote good mental health, for example lunchtime exercise or relaxation classes.
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