6 Tips for Work-Life Balance as We Return to the Office
When the pandemic first hit, it fundamentally changed how we work.
It eroded the boundaries between work and home, and for the first time hundreds of thousands of people found themselves answering emails, writing reports and attending meetings from their beds, sofas and kitchen tables.
But now, as more people are vaccinated, and the country begins to get back to normal, we need to readapt to working from the office.
With that in focus, here are 6 tips for work-life balance as we return to the office!
1. Take your breaks
A study by TotalJobs found that 51% of workers never take their full lunch break.
That’s fine, right? What harm could come from taking a shorter break?
Well, in the short-term, probably not much apart from making you feel more tired (although this in itself could be a big problem if you’re in a safety-conscious role where staying alert is a necessity).
In the long-term though, you’re storing up a world of trouble and risking burnout: emotional and physical exhaustion.
It goes without saying that one of the best ways to prevent burnout and to improve work-life balance is to take your full breaks.
The UK has strict rules about the amount of time that you can work without a break. The TUC (Trades Union Congress) has a useful booklet that outlines your rights at work. If your working day is longer than six hours, you’re entitled to a 20-minute break.
In general, most employers offer at least a 30-minute break for an 8 hour day. Some more generous employers might offer a full hour.
2. Log off from your screen at the end of the working day
Remote work, and portable devices, have blurred the boundary between our work life and our domestic life. During the pandemic, when huge numbers of people have been working from home, many of us have thought nothing of staying an extra 30 minutes to finish off that report at the end of the day, or haven’t questioned the fact that we’re still answering emails on our smartphones at 9pm.
But this blurring in boundaries can be problematic because it means that we never really have time to completely switch off from work. If we’re always working, we’re never really resting.
Numerous studies have shown that blurring work and life can increase the risk of stress, burnout and even mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
In fact, the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive found that at least 828,000 workers had been diagnosed with a work-related mental health problem in 2019/20 and that 17.9 million work days had been lost because of it, raising concerns about the impact of mental health at work on employee wellbeing and productivity.
As we return to the office and get used to working in a physical environment around other people again (imagine – real people!), it’s important that we rediscover the boundaries that we had between work and domestic life before the pandemic for the sake of our mental health.
One of the best ways you can do that is by making sure that you only work during the hours you’re actually contracted for!
Of course, if there’s an emergency, you might need to work beyond the hours you’re normally expected to, but during a typical workday there’s no good reason to keep working beyond your contract-specified time. Your mental health and productivity will thank you.
3. Lose the martyrdom complex
Do you ever feel a sense of shame when you take time off rather than prioritizing your job?
You could be suffering from workplace martyrdom.
A phenomenon that Business Insider describes as when ‘someone puts their job first, always, and wants everyone to know it to prove just how painfully hardworking they are’, being a workplace martyr can harm your work-life balance by disrupting your free time, and allowing the pressures of work to encroach on your domestic life.
It can wreak havoc on your wellbeing, productivity and relationships with others, affecting your work-life balance drastically.
You can address this by drawing firmer boundaries between your work life and domestic life, by delegating tasks to others, and by sharing how you’re currently feeling about your workload.
4. Stop being a perfectionist
Perfection is an illusion.
Perfectionism – the trait of not being satisfied until something is completely how you envisioned it in your mind – can be useful at times, but it also has a darker edge that can make it very damaging on your wellbeing if you don’t keep it in check.
If you’re always striving after perfection at work, you’ll probably find that the balance between the time you spend at work and your free time is skewed, with your work hours eating into your free time as you try to keep life perfect at work. Trying to tone down your perfectionist streak can be a useful way to improve your work-life balance overall.
If you want to get philosophical about it, the very aspects we enjoy about nature – the strange diversity of colours and shapes, all seemingly arranged randomly and without symmetry – are the complete opposite of perfection, yet they work well and look stunning.
Here are some tips for curbing the inner perfectionist in you:
- Set more realistic targets and expectations for yourself
- Disrupt your inner critic by not recognising the legitimacy of negative thoughts
- Take regular breaks
- Don’t hold yourself and others to impossible standards
5. Move regularly!
Do you move enough at work?
We’re not talking about flexing your feet under your desk or doing the occasional stretch whilst you’re poring over the latest spreadsheet from Linda. We’re talking about actually getting out of your seat and walking around.
When we make a conscious effort to move at work, we essentially reset our brain and remind ourselves that we’re humans rather than just machines that eat and sleep. It’s a form of break and studies have shown that it can work wonders for our mental and physical health.
Some researchers, like Alan Hedge, professor of ergonomics, at Cornell University recommend that you spend at least 10 minutes every 30 minutes standing – of which at least 2 minutes should be moving.
6. Don’t eat lunch at your desk
When you’re in a rush and you’ve got a to-do list as long as your arm to complete, you’ve probably been tempted to save time and just eat lunch at your desk whilst you’re working.
Even if you aren’t staring at the computer whilst you eat, sitting in the same place for eight hours a day without a change of scenery is going to seriously affect your concentration, productivity and the quality of the work that you complete.
There’s a reason your workplace has an employee kitchen and dining area – use it!
Have these work life balance tips helped you feel more prepared for a return to the office? We hope you feel equipped to set some boundaries and sort out your work-life balance for the better.
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