Did you know that almost a third of UK workers feel as though they have a poor work-life balance? There is no denying that it’s becoming an important issue to address. Not only does it affect our relationships and home life, but it can also take its toll on our mental health.
How does it work around the world?
You might be surprise to find that Britain has the worst work-life balance in comparison to other countries in Europe. So, what can we learn from our foreign neighbours?
Following research, that workers in other countries have more free time to spend outside of work.
In Belgium, employees have an average of 8.6 hours of free time per day compared to their 7.4-hour work days. In 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. While 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, Britons working 325 hours more per year than workers in Germany.
In the UK, it’s common to have one break per day. But, in other countries, employees are encouraged to take multiple breaks. The Spanish are famous for their siestas which were an effort to sleep through the hottest period of the day. New laws mean that shops must remain open without a break, but, 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. Their workers enjoy 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.
Some more regulations that improve 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
The general consensus
The current situation in the UK appears to be that adults in the nation are overworked. Maintaining a healthy balance between home and work life seems to become more difficult as we get older. Statistics show younger employees are less likely they are to identify work-life balance as an important part of their job. Juggling a family alongside a job is also not easy, with statistics revealing that 75% of working parents suffer stress and anxiety as a result of their work-life balance management.
It’s true that some businesses try to operate at maximum capacity, but this can be counterproductive. 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’ after work. In fact, one third of European workers said that a bad day at work affected their personal life.
Often, as people work more, they find that they have less time to spend time with friends and family and less time to pursue out-of-work goals. But, many of us feel as though there’s nothing we can do about it.
What changes can we make?
Nothing major can happen overnight, but there are some things that we can do to help manage our work-life balance.
Speak to your boss to ask if you can split your break. 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.
If you have to take on a long commute to work, this can lead to stress and depression, as this study shows. 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!
Try not to check your emails when you’ve finished working! 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.
Take your holiday to relax
Use your holidays wisely! We’re all guilty of using our holidays to run errands or do something that we’ve been putting off. This isn’t helpful for our work-life balance. Annual leave should be used to recuperate, relax and enjoy time away from the office.
It’s clear to see that 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, or being conscious of finding a good split between the office and spare time is the first step to improving your work-life balance.