A recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) attributed long working hours to heart disease, strokes and even death. So, it is now more important than ever to slow down and cultivate a more sustainable work-life balance. But, what exactly does a sustainable working life entail and why should we prioritise it?
The Dangers of Overworking
Overworking means consistently being ‘on call’ and missing out on family and leisure commitments due to time spent on work projects, in the office or attending meetings. The aforementioned WHO study found that repeatedly working over 55 hours or more a week accounted for a third of all work-related disease. Out of 745,000 individuals, those who worked longer hours had a 35% higher risk of stroke and were 17% more likely to die of heart disease.
As well as these alarming physical ailments, overworking also has a multitude of mental health implications. Overworked employees are more likely to suffer from burnout or stress, as well as high levels of anxiety. Time spent away from family members and friends can also increase feelings of loneliness and isolation.
So, how can these issues be overcome, or even avoided altogether?
Firstly, redefine what is meant by a working day. Maintain clear start and end times, being sure not to overstep these. The increase in remote working following the COVID-19 pandemic has made many workers liable to check work emails or respond to queries out-of-hours, but be firm in finishing work at a certain time each day. It only takes 21 days to form new habits, meaning that within 3 weeks it may feel unnatural to respond to work issues once the working day has concluded.
If working from home, try to introduce additional measures to separate work life from home life. For example, use different devices for work and leisure – save your laptop for work but have an iPad or tablet for entertainment, games, reading or online shopping. Designate a particular area or room in the house as a ‘work zone,’ too.
Sometimes, when an important deadline is on the horizon or a new project requires ample time, working longer hours unfortunately cannot be avoided. Make these temporary measures, and seek professional help if needed. A therapist or industrial-organisational psychologist can impart tips and techniques to avoid feelings of being overwhelmed, or aid treatment of anxiety and stress.
Outside of professional help, speak to others within your organisation – your manager and colleagues are well equipped to understand your position and may even relate. Friends and family can also be helpful sounding boards. Apps like Headspace and Calm are another option to help you switch off from work and take a few minutes for mindfulness or meditation during the day.
Make Time for Yourself
Another way to pursue a more sustainable working life is to prioritise yourself. Ultimately, if you are not making time to rest and recharge your batteries then you will not be able to perform to your fullest potential in the workplace.
Making time for yourself can involve anything from getting a full eight hours’ worth of sleep to booking a spa day or weekend retreat. Even catching up on your favourite television show or spending an evening with some chocolates and a book can do the world of good!
Finally, find things to motivate you outside of work to help create a sustainable balance between work and leisure. Whether it’s setting goals at the gym, engaging in a new sport or pursuing an artistic outlet; scheduled, post-work commitments serve as the perfect excuse to pull yourself away from the computer!
Hopefully these tips can help you think about how to lead a more sustainable work-life balance.