Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, traditional business hours have gone out the window as has the prospect of working at business premises. Instead, professionals are often working at home, and in many cases working around their families too. With their usual routines turned on their heads many people have reported their work life balance when working from home as worsened.
With mental health for many suffering, the need to find a good balance is now more important than ever. In this article, we look into how to manage your life and work in 2021.
Work-life balance in 2021
Working from home; it’s the new normal. Or perhaps not quite so new. Even in 2019, before COVID-19 hit, around 8% of workers worldwide were already working remotely – that’s 260 million people. First coined in the 1980s, the term ‘work-life balance’ has become a familiar one. Put simply, it’s all about making sure you balance out the time you spend working with the time you spend enjoying everything else in life; your family, your friends, and your hobbies.
Across the globe, 7.9% of workers were home-based in 2019
These days, some people in your company are probably online in the early morning, while some are online late into the evening, and others, much of the weekend. This may make you feel like you need to be online all the time to accommodate all of these schedules, and to be available for communication at all hours.
But the pandemic has turned a gradual trend into an overnight phenomenon. What was previously a considered lifestyle choice is now a necessity for lots of us. It’s had us scrambling to form makeshift ‘offices’ in bedroom corners, juggling childcare with emails, and wondering what the correct attire is for a Zoom call (shirt and tie above the desk, PJs and slippers below?).
Why is a good work-life balance so important?
Whilst working from home can be great, there are challenges to navigate too. It’s always a good time to step back and think about how best to keep everything in equilibrium.
Technology makes workers accessible around the clock. Fears of job loss incentivize longer hours. The stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness. Work-life balance means something different to every individual, but here health and career experts share tips to help you find the balance that’s right for you.
Getting that balance right has lots of great benefits not least for your personal wellbeing. We’ve highlighted the key advantages of finding your optimum work-life balance:
- It can reduce stress – Avoiding too much focus on work – whether at your desk or even mulling over tomorrow’s meeting as you brush your teeth – can reduce stress, which of course has other knock-on advantages for your physical and mental health
- It’s likely to boost productivity – both at work and in your personal pursuits
- You’ll feel more motivated – when everything’s in harmony, you’ll feel more motivated not only at work but you’ll find yourself more able to enjoy your time off too
- It’ll help boost your creativity – With renewed motivation and less stress you can foster greater creativity
- You’ll feel more in control – Perhaps most importantly, a proper work-life balance will help you feel more in control. And when everything’s in order, most of us tend to feel calmer
Finding that happy state means prioritising what’s important to you, and making sure you’re dedicating enough time and energy to it, rather than sacrificing it at the altar of work.
Work-life balance for expats
Work-life balance is often about perception – what’s right for one person might not be right for another. And the realities of work and life can differ from country to country, too. If you’re an expat working from home, you’ll have your own set of challenges to think about.
Seeking a better work-life balance is one of the main reasons expats move abroad in the first place, with 40% citing it as their motivation.
And it seems many find what they’re looking for. According to research in 2019, nearly half of people working overseas say their work-life balance has improved – with a striking 61% of expats in the UAE reporting a better balance than they’d had in their home country.
Expat work life balance facts
In May, we surveyed over 1,100 expats around the world about their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. We found out that:
- 38% feel their mental health has deteriorated
- 44% say they would have preferred to be in their home country during the pandemic
- 33% have doubts about the professional mental health support where they’re living
For some, the key is working fewer hours. In the Netherlands, ranked by the OECD as the number one country for work-life balance, only 0.4% of workers spend more than fifty hours a week at work.
What’s more, the Dutch population devote over 16 hours a day on average to ‘leisure and personal care’ (including eating and – all-important – sleeping). And, interestingly, before the pandemic, the Netherlands had the highest proportion of people working from home in Europe5 – a figure that has only increased since.
But for many expats, a good work overseas balance isn’t just about spending less time working. Quality of life plays a big part too, and so do work-related issues like job security, career prospects and employee benefits.
A survey of over 12,500 expats ranked the Czech Republic, for example, as the fourth best country for work overseas balance, despite the fact that working hours there are slightly above the global average. That’s because expats were particularly positive about their job satisfaction, chances of progression and job security – with many homeworkers valuing the flexibility they were offered.
How to get a better work-life balance when working at home
Whether in the UK or abroad, finding the right work-life balance when working from home means both businesses and employees taking positive action. Here are our top tips on how each can play their part in promoting wellbeing for homeworkers.
What businesses can do to improve work-life balance?
- Encourage employees to use their annual leave
Working from home is no holiday, and a proper break will mean employees return refreshed and motivated.
- Be flexible
Where you can, allow employees to fit their working hours around important commitments, like childcare.
- Review workloads regularly
Make sure no one’s suffering in silence at home
- Offer perks for homeworkers
The free fruit in the office isn’t much use any more – what can you offer employees in their new environment?
- Recognise that every employee is different
Some may relish working at home, but others may be struggling
- Provide their employees with health insurance to promote health awareness among their staff.
What employees can do to improve work-life balance?
- Set ‘physical’ boundaries
Create a dedicated work station if you can, separate from your normal living space – and take lunch breaks away from your desk.
- Set ‘mental’ boundaries
Try to switch off after working hours, and focus on your mind on leisure time – whether that’s exercise, Netflix or spending time with the kids.
- Be open with your employer
If you need help, ask. Your employer is still there to help, even if you’re sitting at home.
- Don’t always feel the need to be busy
Relentlessly pursuing the next task on your list will take its toll. Spending a few minutes relaxing isn’t ‘lazy’ – it’s actively boosting your wellbeing.
Take positive steps for happiness – at work and at home
When done right, working at home is full of benefits – for you, for your employer and for your loved ones.
So whether you’re at home or abroad, take a step back and review your own work-life balance. Is everything in harmony? Or are there some positive steps you can take to nudge things back in the right direction? A few small tweaks can make a world of difference – both at home and at work.