Thoughts On: Work Life Balance

Today I really want to talk about something pretty close to my heart – Work Life Balance. I know it’s a bit of a buzzword these days. My inbox is filled with press releases encouraging a work-life balance. Even the ultimate lifestyle company Google’s CFO gave up his 7 day working week to take an early retirement and see his family more often. I am acutely aware of all of my #girlboss Instagram pieces generating quite a buzz on my Facebook page from people that I actually know who envy my lifestyle. But you know what? It was a choice and it’s not always a glossy, walk-in-the-park photo op.

A year and a half ago, I quit a very stressful, not brilliantly-paid, full-time job that included a lot of travel and a LOT of workplace stress. And honestly, I have never looked back. I struggle with a different kind of work-life balance now. I have no set routine, sometimes I work too much, sometimes I don’t work enough. Sometimes, I get a bit worked up about that. BUT when people ask me how I feel about my life, I say I LOVE IT. And I really mean that. I love that I have a life that I am in control of. If I fancy a lie-in, I have one. I’ll write a blog at the weekend anyway. If the hairdressers can only do 4pm on a Tuesday, that’s fine by me. Why? Because I can get a bit of work done when I get back that evening. For the past two years, I have escaped the British winter and gone to South Africa for a month, working and travelling all at the same time. It’s a different kind of work-life balance but one that I am so grateful for.

work life balance

Do you live to work or work to live?

Despite the ongoing buzz and shareable articles about work-life balance, stats and facts are showing that unfortunately not many of us are actually managing it. According to the latest Labour Force Survey, stress, depression or anxiety account for 39% of all work-related illnesses*. 39%. We are literally stressing our days away. We spend the majority of our waking week working. It should be something that we enjoy and that doesn’t affect our social time or our health. When I was in South Africa this time, HomeAway sent me this video which really resonated with me because I used to live to work – and now? I work to live.

Did you know that a third of people in the UK did not take their full holiday allowance in 2015?  The stats in the US are even higher – over half of workers choose to not take time off. $224 billion is credited back to companies to cover unused vacation time. This may seem like a shocking statistic but we can often come up with many excuses why: ‘I’ve got so much to do’, ‘I feel guilty for leaving the office’, ‘I can’t afford to travel and I don’t want to waste my holiday days’. I was definitely guilty of that last one in my previous life. Why take a holiday day to reorganise your kitchen cupboards, get your hair cut or see your parents? That’s what weekends are for, right? Basically, if I didn’t have a flight booked, I wasn’t taking a holiday.

The average holiday allowance in the UK is 28 days. That doesn’t apply to me anymore in the traditional sense, although to be honest I doubt I do actually take 28 full work-free days given the fact that I work in social media and feel like I don’t really have a choice about needing to be online sometimes. But it is worth noting that 28 days really isn’t that much – so let’s take ALL 28! The question is how? Well, Teletext Holidays recently did some research to work out the best way to spend your annual leave. With the help of the ONS National Happiness Index3, they analysed how the happiest people in the country (i.e. those who score 9 or 10 on the happiness scale) spent their annual allowance to produce the ‘Ultimate Holiday Combination’ as follows:

Beach-based Holidays = 23% of your annual leave
City Breaks = 16% of your annual leave
Duvet Days and Personal ‘Staycations’ = 19% of your annual leave
Family Time and Days Out = 18% of your annual leave
Energetic/Active Holidays = 11% of your annual leave
Spa and Wellness Breaks = 8% of your annual leave
Life Admin (e.g. waiting for tradesmen etc.) = 5% of your annual leave

So, if you do have 28 days to spend, this equates to the following:

  • 6.4 Beach Days
  • 4.5 City Break Days
  • 5.3 Duvet Days
  • 3.1 Energetic/Active Days
  • 5 Days with the Family or on Days Out

The remaining 3.7 days should be allocated to wellness breaks and general life admin (hello, long spa weekend!). The biggest shock to this, for me, is the sheer number of recommended life admin and personal days – almost a quarter of your annual holiday time should be dealing with your day-to-day To Do’s and just chilling out at home. But thinking about it, I think this exactly is the reason why I’m so much happier these days. Working for myself means that I can stay on top of laundry so that it doesn’t take up my weekends. I’m around for deliveries and to let the plumber in. I often do the food shopping during the week to get a bit of fresh air and to get out of the house. I’m now a firm believer that we should make sure that we take ALL holiday allocated to us and enjoy it – even if it’s just for a duvet day or to deal with personal admin. I work from home and I’m still all for a duvet day without a computer in front of me. It’s your mind that needs the rest sometimes. That’s what will cut down on that shocking 38% that I mentioned earlier.

work life balance holiday days

My 5 takeaway tips for work-life balance:

  1. Have a job you love.
  2. Take all of your holiday days.
  3. Get active.
  4. Take days off to DO NOTHING.
  5. Hit the spa.

*Aviva UK have also backed this up by releasing their Top 10 Tips for achieving a work-life balance with the help of Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind UK. They include: ‘Take a Holiday‘, ‘Get Active‘ and ‘Leave Work at Work‘. Read the full list here.

How do you maintain a work-life balance? Or where are you going wrong? Let me know in the comments below!