We live in a society where a work-life balance is somewhat, unbalanced. Being ‘so busy’ rolls off the tongue a bit too easily, and is a standard response when asked how we are. The pressures to perform and keep up continue to rise. We end up eating, sleeping (or not) and breathing work.
Although this subject is nothing new, health in the workplace has become a major challenge. Caused by prolonged periods of extreme stress, burnout is now recognised as a medical condition, leaving its prey emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. Our insane work culture requires a shift in attitude.
On the plus side, trends such as working from home, flexible hours and a four-day week (providing you’re not cramming five days’ work into those four) continue to address the issue. Wellbeing at work programmes are being rolled out across the country and National Work Life Week https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/nationalworklifeweek/, which takes place from the 7th-11th October, gives companies and their employees the chance to make this a priority. Although it is a Working Families initiative, millennials are under immense pressure to succeed and progress at work, whilst managing personal life and finding time (let alone the mental capacity) to wind down. Even if you’re on a high salary, it’s more difficult than ever to get on the housing ladder, so a continuous strive for the next promotion can lead to an unhealthy work ethic. Regardless of your age or career, establishing a balance is essential for your physical and mental health.
Set healthy work boundaries
Setting boundaries is a great place to start. Unless your company has a strict policy, or you’re dealing with a timely issue, 12-24 hours is an acceptable email response time. Prioritise so you don’t miss anything important. Taking breaks and leaving on time go without saying; your mind and body need to recover. Leave your work in the office and use the commute for some much-needed headspace. Your boss/clients/colleagues will soon understand, and respect, that you are only available during office hours. In an ideal world, your boss would encourage it.
When I began my first PR job on Oxford Street – a bit too close to Selfridges for my starter salary – smartphones didn’t exist (ok, I’m showing my age again). I took the bus, more through sheer laziness, as the conveniently located bus stop outside my flat made it more appealing than the 20-minute walk uphill to the tube. Perhaps I didn’t fully appreciate the involuntary time it gave me to just be. I watched London wake up and wind down, dramatically changing through the postcodes. I was, in fact, unintentionally practising mindfulness; something we now have to schedule into our crazily busy diaries. How many people do you see looking out of a bus window today? Most will have their heads down, absorbed in the not-so-present world of technology. And I now need to have a very strong word with myself before subconsciously reaching for my iPhone at any given opportunity.
Overcome impostor syndrome
As women, will we ever feel good enough? We set unrealistically high expectations of ourselves. We fear judgement but judge ourselves. And if we’re not giving ourselves a hard time, someone will be waiting in the wings to do it for us; our boss, a colleague, a client or someone you’ve never met on social media. They’re all ready to push us to the limit and challenge our self-worth, if we willingly oblige. Remember those boundaries.
It’s important to keep reminding yourself that you deserve to be in your job. You were employed for a reason. Have confidence in your abilities, trust your decisions, follow your instincts (they don’t let you down) and grow at your own pace. Let go of perfection and accept that your best really is good enough. And everyone has an off day.
Stay on your path
It’s all too easy to look at others, lose focus and change direction. Don’t worry about what your colleagues are doing; stick to your goals and use your strengths to achieve them. Comparing yourself to others will only knock your self-esteem and hold you back.
All too much?
If you’re stuck on the treadmill and feel like you’re heading towards breaking point, it’s important to speak out. Talk to your boss. Does your company have any wellness at work initiatives? It’s not only in your interest to stay healthy; it’s in your company’s. Reach burnout, and you’re no good to anyone. If you’re happy and healthy, you’ll be more productive. It’s quite a simple formula, in theory.