Why is a good work-life balance important?
Finding the right work-life balance is essential for anyone but never more so than for managers and practitioners working across children's services. Stress levels are on the increase, while the lack of balance between work and home life is one of the main causes of mental health problems.
The Health and Safety Executive estimates that 11.3 million working days were lost in the UK in 2013/14 because of work-related stress, depression and anxiety.
Lack of a work-life balance can put us under pressure. When we exceed our personal capacity to cope, it leads to stress. Stress has many symptoms including lack of concentration, loss of objectivity, shorttemperedness, headaches and overreacting, as well as the use of stimulants.
It can be especially worrying if, as well as on colleagues, these symptoms have a negative impact on young people with whom professionals work.
What challenges do professionals face?
The 24/7 culture in which we work, coupled with advancements in technology, can make it increasingly difficult to switch off.
Working in children's services, whatever the particular field, can mean that we carry our connection and responsibility for others with us throughout all hours of the day.
In addition, working long and irregular hours or shifts will throw out the body's natural rhythms for rest and recuperation, shutting out the possibility of resolving issues before finishing for the day.
What are the key elements to achieving a good work-life balance?
We all need to maintain our personal wellbeing in order to perform our professional responsibilities effectively. This can vary from person to person. The key is to know what suits you and then ensuring that one area does not have a negative impact on another.
Keeping personal resilience levels up requires not only the mental stimulation of work. We need physical exercise to keep our endorphin levels up; plenty of water to flush out the toxins; and a healthy diet for increased energy and health. Keep stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and alcohol in check, as an increased dependency can indicate that your stress levels are creeping up.
Sleep is essential to our body and mind regenerating. Rest, relaxation and hobbies are fundamental for switching off our thinking brain and adding creativity.
Is it okay to take work home if you cannot fit everything in during office hours?
Keeping the personal balance between home and work is a personal choice. If there is an urgent one-off task and you are happy to take work home, then that is fine.
If this becomes a habit you will not be making time for other things in life. After a while this will start depleting your reserves. Your energy levels will drop, your ability to concentrate will decline and you will find yourself consumed by unfulfilled deadlines with an ever-growing "to do" list.
Set yourself goals, manage your time, and check email periodically - do not be distracted from the task at hand by the "ping" of another email reaching your inbox. Keep a written "to do" list. Trying to retain it all in your brain takes up space that could be used for the task at hand.
Where can professionals get advice about achieving a good work-life balance?
Many of us do not realise we are tipping into a state of stress until we are already there.
If you feel you have tipped out of balance, then evaluate all areas of your life. What is missing? What makes you happy that you want more of? What is getting in the way?
Make sure you keep the good bits and set yourself goals to rectify things that are leading to levels of dissatisfaction. If you feel you are on a "slippery slope", seek help. You may need to see your GP, or could benefit from a business or life coach in order to reclaim your mental, physical and nutritional balance. The important thing is to not keep it to yourself or - worse still - ignore it.
- Work-life balance is personal so find what works for you
- Mental stimulation of work must be balanced with other things for you to stay healthy
- Set goals and manage your time
- Exercise regularly, drink plenty of water and reduce stimulants
- Have a healthy diet to boost energy and concentration
- Find time for rest, relaxation and hobbies
By Janice Haddon, founder and managing director of leadership development and coaching company Morgan Redwood