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21 Work Life Balance Tips and Techniques for a Better Life
Achieving Work Life Balance Series, Part 1
Summary: In this article, we will discuss several work life balance tips and techniques. Topics include: why creating balance is important to your mental and physical health; why work life balance should matter to employers; the benefits of leading a balanced life; and practical ways to implement these tips and techniques at work and at home.
Did you know that the United States has been given the nickname, “no vacation nation”? Americans are often overworked, over stressed and they don’t take the time off they need to rejuvenate. What many of us don’t know is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. While it takes setting clear boundaries, expectations, communication and efficiency to achieve work life balance, it is possible to feel like you have a life outside of work. You don’t have to be married to your job in order to succeed at work. The following work life balance tips and techniques will help you find the balance you are looking for.
What is Work Life Balance?
Before we discuss work life balance tips and techniques, let’s define what work life balance really means. The truth is, it means something different to everyone. There used to be clear boundaries between time at work and time at home, but now-a-days smartphones have blurred those lines. The first thing you should do is evaluate your relationship with work.
Are you checking your email multiple times a day over the weekend? Do you get work notifications on your phone while sitting at the dinner table with your family? If you are constantly chained to your desk, putting in 70+ hours of work each week and feel like you have little time to do anything else, it’s time to balance your life.
Employees who spend most of their time working will also feel like they are neglecting other important parts of their life, including family, friendships, time to relax, time for fun and time to take care of themselves both physically and mentally.
A work life balance is achieved when you feel like you are productive and efficient at work, and still have time to take care of and enjoy other aspects of your life.
The Importance of Work Life Balance on Your Health
Did you know that, according to Mental Health America, one in four Americans describe themselves as “super stressed”. Stress is the reaction of the body and mind to everyday challenges and demands. A stressor is anything that causes stress. We all have stressors in our lives, and work may be at the top of the list for some of us. What many don’t know is how prolonged stress can impact both your physical and mental health.
How Stress Impacts Your Physical Health
Chronic or long-term stress is one of the most common health issues in the workplace environment. Chronic stress can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure), digestive disorders, pain and heart disease. It also weakens the immune system, making us more prone to acquiring illnesses such as the common cold and flu. As stress increases blood pressure, it’s possible for chronic stress to double the risk of a heart attack.
How Stress Impacts Your Mental Health
Mental health is also affected by chronic stress and presents a higher risk of depression, anxiety and insomnia. As our stress levels go up, productivity drops. Stress impacts concentration, can make us irritable or depressed, and take a toll on our relationships.
The key to managing stress is creating balance in our lives.
21 Work Life Balance Tips and Techniques
Avoiding all stress in our lives has proven to be an impossible task. That’s why it’s important for us to know how to, not only decrease stress, but learn how to manage it too.
Next we will discuss 21 work life balance tips and techniques to decrease and manage stress, both at work and home, to achieve a healthy work life balance.
9 Work Life Balance Tips to Decrease and Manage Stress at Work
Tip #1- Set Daily Manageable Goals
Start with high priority tasks and make a list of your goals for the day. If your high priority task is difficult or overwhelming, sometimes it helps to complete a few easier tasks first. Check those off your list and move to the higher priority tasks. There’s nothing wrong with ramping up with easier goals and then tackling more difficult ones.
I like to write down my daily goals each morning, pen to paper, so that I can think about and visualize what I need to accomplish. When I finish a task, I get to physically check it off on my list. I don’t know about you, but this gives me a feeling of accomplishment and gives me momentum to keep rolling through my list of goals.
Tip #2- Be Efficient with Your Time
If you’re at work, work! Learning to become efficient with your time at work will get you out of the office sooner and give you more free time. You may find that you are able to complete all the items on your to do list in less time, simply because you’ve set a boundary to leave work on time everyday.
Tip #3- Ask for Flexibility
More and more companies are offering flexible schedules to their employees. Research indicates that employees with more flexible schedules are more productive and loyal to their employers (more on that later).
Tip #4- Take a Break
Most people can only sustain maximum concentration for 90 minutes or less. After 90 minutes, concentration and productivity levels decrease.
Tip #5- Listen Up
Listening to music can reduce stress and stimulate creativity. Listen to music that calms you down, or pumps you up, or let’s you relax or makes you happy. Whatever works for you! If you can’t listen to music at work, listen on your break, over lunch, or to and from work.
Tip #6- Communicate
Most of us have probably heard co-workers complain about their manager, not enough flexibility or feeling overworked. But how many of those co-workers actually communicated their discontent with the boss? Oftentimes, simply communicating with your boss about practical alternatives to areas of discontent can make everyone’s work life better.
Tip #7- Leave Work at Work
During my first year of teaching high school, I was amazed at the number of teachers who would stay well past contract hours or take a huge stack of papers to grade at home over the weekend. At faculty meetings on Monday morning, I’d frequently hear complaints from teachers about how they spent the whole weekend grading papers and tests. Even as a first year teacher, I quickly decided that if I was going to keep my sanity and be a great teacher, I needed to leave work at work.
So I decided to use every spare minute during the school day to grade assignments and prepare my lessons for the next day. I sought out responsible students to be my TA’s to help with miscellaneous tasks. I asked other more experienced teachers how to streamline grading tests using different technologies to save time. Because I was so determined to have a life outside of work, I became as efficient as I possibly could.
Tip #8- Reduce Email Access
In this age of technology, we have access to almost anything via our smartphones. While that’s great, for so many reasons, it’s also become an added stressor. Make a rule to only check your email while on the clock, never after a set time in the evening, and maybe only once per weekend. Communicate your availability with your manager and establish boundaries that work for both of you.
Tip #9- Minimize Interruptions
When you’re in the middle of a task and are interrupted, it takes double or triple the time of the interruption to regain concentration on your task.
12 Work Life Balance Tips to Decrease and Manage Stress at Home
Tip #1- Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and well-being. Individuals who consistently get less than 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night are at a greater risk for developing diseases. Sleep helps reduce stress, inflammation in the body, increases alertness and improves memory.
Tip #2- Eat Healthy
With all the added sugars, fats, salt and processed meats and refined grains in food today, it can be hard to find the time and energy to eat a healthy diet. There are five common diet related diseases: 1) heart disease; 2) Type 2 Diabetes; 3) certain cancers; 4) stroke; and 5) hypertension. Achieving work life balance can give you more time to make and eat healthy food.
Tip #3- Unplug
While technology is great, it also allows for an expectation of being available 24/7. Make quality time. By not reacting to updates from work, you will develop a stronger habit of resilience. Resilient people feel a greater sense of control over their lives,” says Robert Brooks (professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School – The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life), while reactive people have less control and are more prone to stress.
Tip #4- Learn to Say No
Learning to say no to people when you need to is a great technique to balance work and life. But if you’ve become a “yes” person and feel spread too so thin, you are probably not performing the way you want to in all aspects of your life, including work and relationships. Prioritizing what’s most important in your life and saying no to the things that aren’t a priority, will keep you balanced.
Tip #5- Get Support
A few months ago, two of my good friends who were getting married asked if I would make them a map of the world on a wood background to display at their wedding. Of course I was more than happy to, and of course I procrastinated until 2 days before the big day. I was panicking and stressed that there was no way I was going to get this thing done in time. Like many others, I have a hard time asking for help because I don’t want to burden or bother someone. This time I had no choice but to ask for help. Thankfully, two very nice friends stepped in and helped me finish in time. It turned out great and the best part was that we made a night out it and had fun doing it.
Tip #6- Exercise
One of the first “free time” activities we give up is oftentimes exercise. And it’s one of the best things we could do for ourselves. Exercise is a proven stress reliever. It releases endorphins throughout the body, which helps boost your mood. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can also put you into a meditative state. Which leads us to tip #7…
Tip #7- Meditate
When I was teaching health to mostly 15-year-olds, we started each of our classes with a short meditation session. I explained the value of taking a few minutes to slow down and meditate. I was received with almost no buy-in from students, but after several weeks, I could see them really take to it. By the end of the semester, I had handfuls of students express that one of their favorite parts of the semester was the time I gave them everyday to meditate. Learning how to calm down and take a few minutes to yourself through deep breathing exercises or meditation will help create balance in your life.
Tip #8- Make Time to Relax and Have Fun
Setting aside some time every day to relax or do something you enjoy is key to finding balance in your day-to-day life. Plan a dinner with friends on a weekday to help break up the week and give you something to look forward to.
Tip #9- Get Help
If you’re finding it difficult to create that work life balance and are feeling overwhelmed, consider getting some help. I’m a big believer in counseling and seeking professional help from an unbiased third party. Simply talking through concerns and struggles with someone whose job is to help sift through the challenges in life and give ideas from a different perspective to achieve the balance you’re looking for. If you’re unsure where to find a counselor, consider asking your HR department for resources. More and more companies are offering access to free counseling to their employees.
Tip #10- Limit Time-Wasting Activities and People
Make a list of the most important things in your life. Now, lay out strict boundaries to devote quality time to these activities and people. Once you’ve determined your priorities, it will be easier to look at how you’re spending your time and who you’re spending time with, and decide where you can drop things from your schedule.
Set a time limit on surfing the internet or social media to minimize wasted time.
Tip #11- Change Up Your Daily Structure
Sometimes the mundane 9 to 5 work schedule causes us to get into a rut. Just because you do some of the same things every single day, doesn’t mean you can’t switch things up to make life feel less routine. It may be time to change the habit.
Tip #12- Start Small. Build From There
We’ve all set super ambitious New Year’s resolutions where we can’t remember most of them come March. The same concept applies in working toward your goal of achieving work life balance. Start small, like exercising for 30 minutes twice a week. Or committing to making a homemade meal and putting the phones down for dinner once a week. Set yourself up to succeed by starting small and that feeling of achievement will give you the momentum you need to build from there.
Why Work Life Balance Should Matter to Employers
Fears of job loss incentivize employers to work longer hours. In a Harvard Business School survey, 94 percent of professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and almost half said they worked more than 65 hours per week.
Too much stress over a long period of time leads to burnout. This causes fatigue, mood swings, irritability and lower work performance.
Employers should be concerned with burnout of employees. Individuals experiencing burnout often have psychological and physical problems, costing an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare in the United
States., according to Harvard Business Review.
In a recent study performed by Kimble, a company trying to improve business practices, showed that almost half (47 percent) of American employees did not use all of their vacation days last year. 21 percent said they had more than 5 vacation days that they didn’t use. 27 percent of employees said they had too much work, or fear of the amount of work when they return (13 percent). 19 percent of employees say they feel pressured by their managers with 7 percent afraid their time off request won’t get approved.
Nearly 60 percent of employed, first-time mothers in the United States go back to work within 12 weeks after giving birth.
The responsibility to correct this problem of burnout belongs to both the employers and the employees. Nobody’s perfect. And that’s ok. Avoid burnout by letting go of perfectionism. Instead strive for excellence.
When employees are balanced, they are generally happier, more productive, take fewer sick days and more likely to stay at their job long-term. Both workers and businesses reap the rewards.
Benefits of Work Life Balance for Your Business
Employees who believe they have a good work life balance work 21 percent harder than those who don’t (50,000 global workers polled), according to the Corporate Executive Board.
Reduces Turnover and Recruitment Costs
A study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that 89 percent of HR professionals said they saw an increase in employee retention after implementing more flexible work arrangements. High turnover results in productivity losses, hiring and training costs.
Increases Employee Engagement
When you think about your best employees, they are probably the individuals who are the most motivated, productive, creative and loyal. Engaged employees take fewer sick days, are less likely to leave, and best of all, they likely promote your business to others.
Lowers Medical Costs and Absent Employees
Stress experienced by employees can be very costly for businesses. Insurance claims for stress related accidents cost almost twice as much as non-stress related accidents. Employees who report high levels of stress are more likely to get depressed, sick, and develop medical conditions.
Improves Brand Perception and Loyalty
A business that supports work life balance for their employees improves brand perception. It can also help attract talented workers wanting to work for you. Balance can help increase revenue, reduce unnecessary expenses and improve the company’s reputation.
How to Create Work Life Balance For Your Employees
Offer Flexible Schedules
Offering flexibility to employees increases job satisfaction, gratitude, and decreases stress. A recent study with 18,000 employees across 96 international companies found that 70% of employees work remotely once a week and over 50% are spending half the week away from the office, according to the International Workplace Group.
A Gallup poll of almost 10,000 U.S. workers shows that remote workers who come in at least once a week are the happiest. These employees also report a higher rate of engagement.
More and more businesses are offering flexibility and options to work remotely, because they’re seeing the benefits for them and their employees.
More Time Off
Employers should offer sick days, vacation time and personal days off. Managers should also encourage their employees to use all of their PTO. Many companies trying to appeal to the huge number of Millennials entering the workforce by offering unlimited time off – with the understanding that it’s not taken advantage of and the employee consistently produces and gets their work done on time.
Set Limits On Mobile Device Availability
Technology allows us to contact anyone at anytime of the day or night. And while that’s great and super convenient, it doesn’t mean you should be emailing or texting employees when they’re off the clock. Make sure clear boundaries are set regarding work-related communication outside of working hours. It will decrease stress on employees and help them feel like they can leave work at work and aren’t a slave to their jobs.
Child/Pet Care Options
Offer low-cost childcare options in the workplace. Not only does this relieve the stress for parents to find someone to watch their kids, it also provides peace of mind with their child in close proximity. Another workplace perk is to allow employees to bring their dog into the office. Amazingly, this can lower stress help build friendships among coworkers.
Whether you have employee or family events once a month, quarterly, or a couple times a year, this is one of the best ways to build relationships, trust and strengthen team cohesiveness. It’s definitely worth the cost because it shows you are investing in your employees and are interested in not just their work productivity, but their home life and families as well.
Now is the time to commit to implementing these work life balance tips and techniques. Making sure you achieve balance in your life from both a work and life perspective should be a top priority. If you’re thinking your success at work is more important than your life away from work, I’d like you to consider, at what cost? What is it going to take before you prioritize your home life at the same level as your work life? A heart attack? A mental breakdown? Take the time to put these tips and techniques into practice. You’ll be a more productive, efficient and happy employee, because you’ve made taking care of yourself a priority.
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