The hours we work have got longer and longer. When I first started working, it was pretty much expected that you stayed behind to complete your work. Now, with mobile phones and email access on the go, we are switched on well into the evening as well as first thing in the morning. Work life balance in the UK has shifted far too much towards work. The people that suffer include our friends, family and children. But most of all, our poor work life balance in the UK harms us. In this blog, we will look at the way our shifting work life balance here in the UK affects all elements of our life. In addition, we will look at what you can do to make a change. With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at what this means.
What Is Work Life Balance in the UK?
Work life balance is defined by MBA Skool as –
“Work life balance is a method which helps employees of an organization to balance their personal and professional lives. And work life balance encourages employees to divide their time on the basis on priorities and maintain a balance by devoting time to family, health, vacations etc along with making a career, business travel etc. It is an important concept in the world of business as it helps to motivate the employees and increases their loyalty towards the company.”
Work life balance, therefore, is something that we should all strive for. Whether you are employed, self-employed, an employer or a contractor, this is vitally important to your health, wealth and happiness. As men approaching the age of 50, we should have a good understanding of where our work life balance is. And where we want it to be. We’ll look at this later in the article.
What Does That Mean?
It is said to cost the UK over 10 million working days per year. The cost to business is huge. This is a significant amount of time that we can’t get back. For every day lost, someone has to cover the tasks that the absent employee should have carried out. Then, the time it takes to get back on track delays productivity. I don’t think it is any coincidence at all that the UK has the worst work life balance in Western Europe and one of the worst productivity levels too.
We feel pressured to work longer hours. The expectations are that we eat lunch at our desk and work through most of the lunch hour. If there is a stack of work, then we stay behind or take some home. It’s very rare in most companies for a manager to say – “you don’t have much on. Take the rest of the afternoon off.” They find more for us to do. We find more for ourselves to do. And the net result? As I’ve already said, we have one of the worst productivity levels in the world. Listen to politicians and they talk endlessly about productivity. If we could raise our productivity level by a few percent ten it would make a massive difference to the national GDP.
But this isn’t a business blog. And we’re not interested so much in national GDP. Our focus is you, our reader, the man approaching fifty years of age. And the impact that an imbalance between your work and your life can have.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at this in more depth.
Work Life Balance And Health
Your health should be the most important factor as you approach the age of 50. You’re not getting any younger, as I’m sure you’ve heard countless people tell you. The body that you occupy is single use. You can’t exchange it for a new one when you reach fifty. The returns policy doesn’t exist. And that means you must look after that body of yours. Take a look in the mirror the next time you pass one. Even better, look in the mirror when you’ve just had a shower. Tell me what you see. Is it the same body that you had when you were 20? At the age of 30? Nope. The body goes through massive change at this time of life. The best way I can describe it is what a friend told me – “when you get past the age of 40, things start dropping off.” I didn’t believe her (she was a few years ahead of me) until it happened. And it does.
Your health can be hugely affected by the work life balance you develop. Spend too much time sat behind a desk, looking at a laptop and your eyesight and back will suffer. Have long hours at work and don’t do enough exercise? Your health will inevitably suffer.
Work Life Balance And Mental Health
But it isn’t just your physical health that can suffer as a result of a poor work life balance in the UK – or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Your mental health is vitally important to you as a person. There are several factors that van affect your mental health. If you suffer a trauma or go through a life-changing experience, then your mental health can suffer. What you don’t want to do is to add to this by letting your work take over the rest of your life. We work best when we’re in balance. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, ‘work hard, play hard.’ This represents what we’re talking about. The phrase isn’t, ‘work hard, fall asleep in front of the TV.’
Our mental health comes from the balance of –
- Work (using our brain)
- Exercise (using our body)
- Family and friends (happiness)
- Rest/sleep (recovery)
When you have some of all these things, your mental health is in the best possible place. You may not be perfect (who is?) but you are giving yourself the best chance of a happy work life balance. We have lost that connection here. The work life balance UK isn’t quite what it used to be – or where it should be. The focus towards eating our lunch at the desk, staying back to complete work and then working from home in the evening has taken over far too much. The bosses that kind of expect this are part of the problem. But we need to take some responsibility here too.
Work Life Balance And Family
Our family is a vitally important part of our life. How many of us have missed an important family engagement because we are working? It’s easy to dismiss the school play as something we don’t need to attend. But if we skip all of these happy moments in life, what do we have to look back on? It’s true that if you work for someone else, you can’t just up and leave easily to attend everything you want to. Flexible working can get you so far but may not be a carte blanche to do whatever you like.
Even if you are self-employed, the time pressures from the business can still pull you away from family life. Now, I’m not saying that you should cut all busines to concentrate on the family. But there needs to be a balance if you are going to be truly happy.
The Work Life Balance Test
It is good to see where you stand in your work life balance. If you don’t know where you stand, then you don’t know if you need to make improvements. Or where you can improve.
Have a look at the questions below. With each one, ask yourself if this sounds like you or not. If you agree then give yourself a point. If you disagree with the statement, then zero points for that one. Add up your score and check out the information at the bottom of the questions.
- I feel like I have little or no power over my work life
- I don’t enjoy hobbies or activities outside of work
- And I often feel guilty because I can’t make time for all the things I want to
- I regularly feel anxious or unhappy because of what is happening at work
- I don’t usually have enough time to spend with my loved ones
- When I’m at home, I can’t feel relaxed and comfy
- I never make time to do something just for me every week
- On most days, I feel swamped and exhausted
- I lose my temper at work
- And I never use all my annual leave
- I often feel drained – even early in the week
- Usually, I work right through my lunch break
- I miss out on important family events because of my job
- I regularly think about work when I’m not at work
- My family is often displeased with me about how much time I spend working
What Your Score Means
0 – 5: Things aren’t quite right – It’s time to make some pretty substantial changes to find your balance. But don’t worry – you can get control over things if you take the right steps.
6 – 10: You have some element of control, but it still needs some work. If you’re in this bracket, then you could get knocked out of balance easily. Don’t let that happen!
11 – 15: Looking good! It seems that you have a control over your work life balance. It’s important to ensure you keep things that way.
Work Life Balance UK: Speak To People
It’s all well and good testing yourself to see where your work life balance sits at the moment. But you need to take steps to bring things back in line. Our work life balance in the UK has gone out of line because of the pressures of holding down a decent job. More and more is expected of us. But employers are now seeing the benefits of reducing the pressure on their employees. The next step is to reduce the pressure on yourself. Here are our tips on how to manage your work life balance in the UK or anywhere else in the world for that matter –
Speak to your employer: You will find that employers have a much better attitude towards work life balance than they ever did before. The last thing a decent employer wants is for their team to burn out, becoming unproductive. If you have any concerns at all then your employer is probably the first port of call. If you work for a larger employer, then there will most probably be a policy regarding work life balance if you’re in the UK. And this policy will give you a god outline on what is expected of you. Then you could speak to HR about the way you feel and how it’s affecting you. They will treat your concerns confidentially and help you to manage things. If you work for a smaller employer then you will most likely have to go to the owner, speaking to them directly about your concerns.
Speak to your family: The other people that are massively affected by the balance between your work and home life are your family. Find out from them what they want from you. These can be quite frank discussions, so be prepared for some home truths. Your family ant the best for you – and they want to spend time with you. Ask what they want, see what you can give and start to make changes this way. There’s no point in making changes without finding out how it might affect others. For example, you might decide to finish work early on a Wednesday to spend time with the family. But if you find out that your kids have football practice that night and your wife uses the peace for her pampering night then your efforts won’t be as effective as if you find a time when you can all be together.
Speak to yourself: You need to sit down and ask yourself what you actually want from this. Again, there is no point in making decisions if they don’t enhance your life. Look at the situation now and find out where you want to spend more time at home. Decide what would make you happy or happier. Look at the time over the course of a regular week to see what and when you want to have more time away from work.
Speak to your GP: In extreme cases, work life balance in the UK can end up with health issues. And that’s the last thing you want. We work to live – not the other way around. If you find that you can’t sleep, feel unwell all the time or suffer from depression or stress then you need to seek medical help. Now I’m not one to advocate the use of antidepressants but I do recommend that you speak to a GP if your work life balance causes issues. You can access counselling through a GP, although the waiting lists can be quite long. Talking to someone outside of the situation can be a useful way of resolving any issues you have there without vested interests having an influence.
Speaking to others is a great way to ‘bottom out’ the situation and find out how good or bad things are. But the next step is to do something about it. But what does that look like?
Practical Ideas For Work Life Balance UK
Now we know the signs that things aren’t quite in balance and who to speak to, it’s time for some practical ideas on how to achieve work life balance in the UK. We are what we do. Putting something into our routine can make a huge difference to how we achieve balance. So, let’s look at some practical ideas –
Stop or reduce working while at home. It happens more and more now when we can access work emails on our phone. Working from home can have its benefits. We’ve all seen a big chunk of this over the coronavirus epidemic. Bit working from home when you’ve already put in an 8-hour shift or longer at the office isn’t good for your work life balance. Your family need you. Stop working from home in the evening. It will allow you to enjoy the finer things in life. I’d suggest having a work phone and a personal phone. Switch the work phone off at a certain time of the day.
Take up a new hobby (individually or as a family). Doing something is so much better than doing nothing. One of the things that draws us back to work is just sitting around on the sofa watching the TV. It prompts you to pick up your phone to see what’s going on. Emails and texts from work take up some of this time and upset that balance again. A hobby where you have to concentrate is a great way of taking you away from work and placing you firmly at home. There are loads of things you can do here, and this blog would be hundreds of times longer if I outlined every hobby you could possibly take up. But doing something will help you to relax and enjoy all the benefits of being away from work.
Get some ‘me time’. As men we don’t do enough of this. Women are great at taking themselves away from it all, relaxing in a nice bath or reading a book on their own. As men, we need to learn the value of ‘me time.’ Time with just your own company is relaxing and can be rewarding too. You get to take a break from everything and just be in that very moment. Don’t think about work, football or anything else. Just be. A walk in nature is a good way of making this happen. Just open your eyes and ears – see and listen to the world around you. It’s an amazing place to spend time.
Work Life Balance UK
So then, what’s your work life balance like? If you’re like most men approaching the age of fifty then you could probably do better. There are many different ways in which you can monitor the way you live – and make improvements. As people, we try to get better all the time. Steady improvement day after day adds up to significant improvements over a longer period.
I urge you to look at this part of your life. The work life balance you establish changes many things. It helps you to be more grounded, relaxed and helps take care of your health.
If you have any questions at all about work life balance, then drop us a line. We’re always here to give you the benefit of our experience – and to learn from your experience too. After all, we’re all in this together.