Before the dawn of the digital age, maintaining a work-life balance was straightforward. You’d head to a workplace, do your job, and then head home. There was a clear line drawn between when you were ‘on the job’ and when you weren’t. Sadly, those days are over. Smartphones, social media and continuous email-chains mean that — even when you’re not physically at work — you might feel as though you are.
It’s no wonder that one in four Brits report that they feel exhausted, miserable or stressed because of their work. Living in a world that’s always connected means that getting some time away from your work can be difficult. However, achieving a work-life balance in the digital era is possible, so long as you’re willing to make some changes. Here’s what you need to know and how you can revamp your lifestyle for the better.
Why Is It Hard to Maintain a Work-Life Balance?
If you find it hard to mentally ‘switch off’ from work, there could be a few reasons at play. The digital age has brought with it a wealth of fantastic advantages from flexible working arrangements to overall more convenience. Despite this fact, the same advancements could be preventing you from having a defined work-life balance. Here’s why:
You work extra hours to stay ahead
You might be contracted to work 40 hours per week, but how much time do you actually end up working? One in four British professionals over-work by ten hours per week or more, according to statistics from CIPD. Whether you’re a teacher trying to get ahead on class planning or a salesperson generating more leads, that overtime could be playing havoc with your work-life balance and, as a consequence, your well-being.
The digital age means that you have access to your working materials 24/7. Sneaking a few extra hours of work into your day could be as easy as opening your laptop and logging in. However, doing so could be more dangerous than you imagine. Working long hours increases your risk of health problems, such as strokes, according to the latest research. Aside from that, you need down-time at the end of the day so you can recharge.
You’re checking emails outside of work
However, it’s not merely working over-time that could be causing you stress and anxiety. If your boss expects you to check your emails during your free time, that could be a real problem. Research from Virginia Tech suggests that this expectation has a negative impact on your well-being and that of your family. The study found that the impact was the same even if no work was done as a result of checking these messages.
Put simply, that means that maintaining a work-life balance in the digital age can be staggeringly difficult. Since most people now own smartphones which have emails on them, the temptation to look at your work mailbox is tough. Despite this fact, it’s important to set boundaries so that you can distinguish between your free time and work. Avoiding looking at work-related messages when you’re at home is essential.
You connect with colleagues on social media
When you come home from a long, hard day at work, what do you do? The chances are you eat something, watch some TV and perhaps spend some time scrolling through social media. If you have your co-workers (or even your boss) as a friend on your social channels, though, you might not be getting the break you deserve. Staying up to date with your colleagues during your free-time could prevent you from switching off properly. When you see an update from another worker, your mind is pulled back into your workplace.
The answer is simple enough. Avoid connecting with your colleagues on these sites. In fact, 40% of British workers say that they will never add their co-workers on social media. Choosing to create a distinction between your work-life and your home-life could make a major difference to how you feel. The fact of the matter is that you deserve personal time, in which you don’t have to think about your work at all. Taking this small step could help you to improve your work-life balance and also impact your mental health.
Tips to Take Control of Your Work-Life Balance
If you’re worried about your current work-life balance, it’s time to take action and do something about it. Every professional has the right to control over their free time. Should you feel that your work-life is impacting the rest of your life negatively, you need a plan. Here are some tips that will help you regain your control and improve your lifestyle.
1. Set boundaries ahead of time
While your manager may expect you to check your emails or respond to calls outside of work, that doesn’t mean that you have to. Remember, you are contracted for a certain amount of hours each week. That means that you are under no obligation to be available outside of that time period. It’s that simple. Should you feel as though the lines are getting blurred, set some boundaries and make things crystal clear from the start.
Speak to your manager about this issue and be polite, yet firm. Explain that you won’t be available outside of your allotted working hours and that you will deal with any requests as soon as you are at work. Letting your manager know where you stand on this issue should deter them from trying to contact you during your free time. While it may be an awkward topic to raise, asserting that you deserve a private life is vital to your well-being.
2. Avoid accessing your emails at home
Do you have your work emails on your smartphone? It’s time to disconnect the account for good. When you have spoken to your manager about setting appropriate boundaries, you have to do the same. Remind yourself that nothing is more important than your well-being. The messages you receive outside of work hours can wait until first thing the next morning.
If you’re worried about keeping people waiting, there’s a simple solution to that problem. Set up an automated email response for your non-working hours. The reply doesn’t have to be long. It should state your office hours (e.g. 9am until 5pm) and explain that you will respond to their enquiry during that time period. This straightforward message lets the emailers know that you’re not ignoring them and assures them they will get an answer.
3. Take a break from the digital world
The digital world can be a loud, over-stimulating place. When you’re not at work, you might want to treat yourself to a break from it. Research suggests that you should avoid using your smartphone when you need a mental break. While you may be in the habit of surfing the net when you’re at home, choosing to do something else could be the secret to a better work-life balance. For example, you could join a club or hit the gym instead.
In the digital era, we should all be aware of the impact that social media and the internet has on our well-being. Using these things in moderation may be fine. However, if you’re continually connected to your phone or computer, that could have a negative impact on your mental and physical health. Taking some time away from a screen is essential.
4. Try mindfulness or meditation
Have you ever tried mindfulness or meditation? If you struggle to detach from work when you come home, these approaches could be the answer. One study from the British Psychological Society found that online mindfulness helped reduce people’s tiredness and their work-related stress. There are plenty of apps — such as Calm and Headspace — to get you started on your journey. Simply follow the steps online to get started.
Alternatively, if you would prefer to work with a teacher, you might want to take up a meditation class. It could be worth looking for sessions in your area and giving them a shot. Regardless of the type of mindfulness that works for you, learning to be in the moment will help to lower your overall stress levels. This simple intervention could help you to maintain a stronger work-life balance and improve your well-being.
Ready to make a positive change? Living well in the digital era can be a difficult feat. The future of work will depend on technology and online facilities. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to compromise your work-life balance. Take note of the tips we’ve provided here and do your own research too. There are plenty of small, yet significant changes you can make. You owe it to your mental and physical health to make this a top priority.