Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

By Shailen Lakhani - Last update


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Time flies when you re having fun goes the adage. Time also flies when you re very busy but rather than having fun, you can soon find yourself stressed out in a way that affects not only your mental and emotional wellbeing, but your physical health. When there isn t enough time in the day, something has to give: but is it to be your work or your personal life Achieving a balance has become one of the burning issues of the day.

Here are some of the main reasons why more and more people are addressing the topic of work life balance:

More women joining the workforce means more demands on parents to juggle job and family.
More people living longer means more workers with the care demands of elderly relatives.
More pressure and longer hours at work on account of modern technology (for example, overflowing inboxes, Internet information deluge, and ringing phones) mean people burning out younger.

The broad argument for greater balance and flexibility at work is that greater satisfaction among employees will lead to fewer stress-related illnesses, less time taken off for sickness, lower staff turnover, and higher productivity. People with a good balance between their work and other responsibilities and interests tend to be more motivated and productive: in other words, happy people work better.

What is work life balance

Work life balance is about modifying the way you work in order to accommodate other responsibilities or aspirations in other areas of your life. Although there has been much attention of late on making things easier for parents of young children or people who care for dependents, quality of life is important for everyone, and achieving a happy work life balance is an important part of that.

I don t know if my boss cares about my work life balance. Do the people in charge really take it seriously

Thankfully, growing numbers of businesses are becoming aware of the importance of allowing their employees to strike a balance between their work and personal lives, and hopefully your boss will wake up to this. If you want to talk to him or her about it, explain that flexibility in the workplace is actually driven by a business need working cultures and attitudes are changing in many parts of the world, and employers are beginning to see that they have to adapt to this if they are to recruit and retain their number one asset: their people.

I m worried that my boss will begrudge me if I ask about flexible working. How can I get what I want without jeopardising my current position by being side-lined

A popular way of approaching negotiations of any type is to draw up a wish-list for your successful outcome that contains an ideal solution, a realistic one, and an absolute minimum. If you show that you re prepared to be flexible, your manager may be willing to meet you half-way. Be realistic but also be ready to compromise.

If you re worried that your boss may disapprove, find out if your organisation will allow you to bring a union representative with you to a meeting to discuss your application. If you do invite one along, make sure he or she has read a copy of your application and any related documents from your place of work so that he or she is up to speed. Part-time working should be attainable without becoming side-lined in the organisation or losing benefits, such as sick pay and holiday pay. If you re concerned about this, you can find out more about your rights as a part-time employee by visiting www. employmentrights. ie.

Make It Happen

Assess your work life balance

Planning is essential in order to gain a perspective on how your current lifestyle fits in with your ambitions and requirements inside and outside the workplace. Reflect on your work situation where you are in terms of your career, how fulfilling you find it, how much of yourself you put into it and then set yourself some career aims, giving yourself a realistic time scale in which to achieve them.

You also need to consider your personal life. What are the most important elements Who are the most important people to you How much are you getting out of it By asking yourself these profound but crucial questions, you can work out what s lacking in your life and what are unwelcome infringements upon it. Decide what you d like to spend more time on, what you d like to spend less time on, and then plan how to do it.

It s only once you ve established what your aims are and the length of time needed to achieve them, that you can address how changing your work patterns may help you get there.

Be aware of the options

Employees now have the right to take periods of paid maternity, paternity, and parental leave, as well as the right to take time off (either paid or unpaid, depending on circumstances) to care for dependents. There are, however, several other key areas in which you can address your work life balance needs and preferences. These are:

Flexi-time working: People working on flexi-time schedules are able to vary their start and finishing times, providing they work a set amount of hours during each week or month. This is not only great for parents trying to manage a household as well as a job, but for anyone who finds working within a strict and continuous routine depressing and demotivating. Everyone s energy levels fluctuate during the day, but not necessarily at the same time, and so flexi-time is a good solution to making sure people always work at their peak. Another great advantage, particularly for city-workers and commuters, is that flexi-time gives you the opportunity to avoid rush-hour probably one of the most time-wasting and stressful parts of the day.
Part-time working: Employees with a part-time arrangement may decide between working fewer days each week or fewer hours a day. This option also works well for people with parental or caring responsibilities. The other people who benefit greatly from part-time working are those returning to work after looking after young children, recovering or suffering from illness, and people who are trying to pursue other interests or careers.
Job sharing: This involves two people dividing between them a full-time workload, with each working on a part-time basis. This is beneficial if you want to maintain something of your career while being able to spend more time with your children or pursue other interests outside work.
Home working or telecommuting: Many jobs now involve computer-based activities that can be done as easily from an Internet-linked PC at home or in a remote (telecommuting) facility. This style of working benefits not only parents and carers, but can help many people without those kinds of domestic responsibilities to work more productively, especially in tasks that require a great deal of concentration, and uninterrupted peace and quiet . It s unusual for someone to work from home or remotely full-time, but some employers do find it a cost advantage to themselves through the reduced need for fixed office space.
Term-time working: This option allows employees to take time off work during school holidays in order to look after their children. This time off is usually taken as unpaid leave, although the salary can be paid evenly across the year. The sorts of employers most likely to operate this scheme are those in industries that experience seasonal peaks and trough.

The variety of opportunities being adopted by organisations to help you achieve the right balance doesn t stop there. In addition to the options outlined above, there is:

Staggered hours: staff work to different start, finish, and break times.

Compressed working hours: staff work their total weekly number of hours over fewer days.

Annualised hours: staff have more flexibility about taking time-off as working hours are calculated over the year rather than by the week

Shift swapping: staff negotiate their working times and shifts between themselves.

Self-rostering: staff state their preferred working times, and then shifts are organised to accommodate as many of those preferences as possible.

Career breaks: as well as paternity, maternity, and parental leave, staff may also be allowed unpaid career breaks and sabbaticals.

Time off in lieu: staff are given time-off when they ve put in extra hours at work.

Flexible and cafeteria benefits: staff are offered a choice of benefits so that they can pick those best suited to them.

Visit www. worklifebalance. ie for further information.

Make an application for flexible working hours

Do your research: First of all, make sure that you qualify for flexible working arrangements. Most people apply for flexible working because of their family situation. Some organisations may also consider flexible working if you need to care for a dependent adult, such as your spouse, partner, or parent.

Check the employees handbook or with your human resources department or manager to see what the preferred method of application is. Most companies would expect a request for a change in working hours to be made in writing. This should be followed up within 28 days by a meeting between you and your manager.

Once you ve checked out your company s policy, speak to friends or colleagues who have applied for flexible working hours or who already are working under a new arrangement. How did the successful applicants approach their request Are they finding it easier or harder than they d anticipated to work in a new way Bear in mind that if your working arrangements are changed, these changes are permanent unless otherwise agreed between you and your employer.

Make a persuasive case: Prepare your case and try to anticipate the questions your manager may ask you when you meet to talk about your application. Requests can be turned down because managers fear that flexible working arrangements may affect the business, so be prepared to give well thought-out, positive responses to questions such as:

Will you still be able be an effective team member
How would a change in your working hours affect your colleagues
What will be the overall effect on the work you do
How could a change in your working hours affect the business positively

Think about when you would want any new arrangement to start and give your company as much notice as you can. This will convey the fact that you re still committed to the company and are thinking about how the potential changes to your working life will fit in overall.

Stress that the quality of your work and your motivation will not change, even if your working hours do. In fact, you ll be more productive as you ll suffer from less stress and will need to take fewer days off sick to look after your children or dependents when they are ill. You could also explain that as part of a reciprocal arrangement whereby all parties benefit, you d be willing to work extra or longer in times of heavy demand. Finally, but no less importantly, explain how much knowledge and expertise you ve built up while you ve been working there and how much the company benefits from it.

Follow up: If all goes well and an agreement is reached, your new working arrangement and an agreed start date should be set down in writing and copies given to all relevant parties (you, your manager, and the HR department or representative if you have one).

What To Avoid

You don t prepare well enough

As with all types of negotiation, you need to make sure that you ve done your groundwork when you make an application for flexible working hours. First, be aware of your rights by researching the issue: visit www. employmentrights. ie which sets out the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees. Second, check your company s stance on the issue, and make sure you follow the procedures properly when submitting a written application. Think through the questions your manager might ask you about the effects of flexible working on your work load and that of your colleagues.

You aren t flexible

Bear in mind that the legislation relating to flexible working hours gives you the right to request them: it doesn t mean that your company will necessarily agree to your application, although they have a responsibility to consider it reasonably. If you re flexible when you meet with your manager and open to compromise if your ideal scenario isn t possible, then it s more likely that you ll end up with a result that suits everyone.

You don t think through all the financial implications

Don t forget that when you reduce your hours, it s not just your salary that may be affected. Pension contributions and other benefits may change too. Be sure that when you take the decision to apply for flexible working hours, you ll be able to cope financially if your application is granted.

This article is reproduced with the persmission of www. learningmatters. com


Shailen Lakhani

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