Americans work an average of 42.5 hours per week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If that seems about right to you, think about it in comparison to Swedish workers, who put in an average of just 29.2 hours per week. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it factors out to a whopping 691.6 more hours a year Americans are working. That’s a lot of extra hours.
Now add into the mix: the post-pandemic labor shortage, global supply chain issues, inflation, and the rising cost of living…is it any wonder that workers are feeling more stressed than ever?
As common, expected, and understandable as some workplace stress can be — and yes, we realize that to a certain degree, stress at work is normal — intensely and consistently high levels of stress are not good.
Some stress can be beneficial in helping you focus and boost productivity. However, too much stress can lead to more than just job dissatisfaction and burnout. Stress is also a known contributor to several mental and physical health problems including:
- Depression and anxiety
- Decreased energy levels
- Cardiovascular disease
- Autoimmune disease
- Abnormal hormone levels
- A host of other ailments and conditions
There’s good news, though. Finding a good work-life balance can lead to a happier, healthier, and more productive life.
What is a Healthy Work-Life Balance?
So, what is work-life balance? Everyone needs money for housing, food, clothing, medicine, and at least a few luxuries and entertainment — but working all the time makes it impossible to enjoy the fruits of your labor. After all, what’s the point of working so hard if you’re not able to enjoy what your success affords you?
Not everyone’s ideal work-life balance will be the same. We all have different needs and priorities. In addition, your work-life balance will likely change throughout different stages in your personal life. Younger workers with families may need to work more hours than those who are nearing retirement and don’t have kids to support.
Ideally, your work-life balance will give you enough time to meet your work obligations while still offering adequate time away from the job to spend time with family and friends, get enough sleep, eat well, and enjoy your hobbies.
“Finding time to prioritize yourself and your family while juggling all of your work-related responsibilities can definitely be challenging! Learning how to balance your values and priorities in all spheres of your life is the sweet spot.”Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT
Tips for Improving Work-Life Balance
How do you achieve this ideal balance we’re talking about? It’s really not as hard as you may think. We have some work-life balance tips to help you find the mix that works best for you and your family.
For most adults, learning how to balance work and personal life starts at a job.
Find a job you love
One of the most essential parts of finding a healthy balance between your personal life and your professional life is to choose a job that makes you happy. If you don’t enjoy your work, it can be stressful to even get out of bed and get dressed for the office every day.
Set specific work hours
Defining when you’re going to work and when you’re going to set work aside is also important.
While jobs generally have set hours, many people work (paid and unpaid) overtime and take work home at night. This balance has become even more challenging over the last 2 years, as the work-from-home model took over.
It can be difficult to separate yourself from your professional obligations when they’re right there in the next room. Don’t let the daily ebb and flow of your job set your hours; be proactive about deciding when you’ll work — and if you are a remote worker, set a stop time, and walk away. Yes, it can be hard at first, but you’ll be better off when you set boundaries around your work hours.
Set realistic goals every day
Does your to-do list have twice as many tasks on it that can reasonably be accomplished in the day?
Do extra tasks just keep getting pushed over to the next day’s list? That’s all too common, but it’s a recipe for stress and anxiety at work, and in turn, a poor work-life balance. It also makes it more likely that you’ll stay at the office far later than you should every day (or come in earlier than you might want to).
It’s better to make your daily list realistic so you can feel that sense of accomplishment as you cross off the last item at the end of your day.
“Being realistic about what can be accomplished during the day and week is an excellent first step. If you have 10 1-hour tasks to complete in an 8-hour workday, giving yourself permission to prioritize your list and pushing a few to the next day for your own sanity is critical! Be sure to communicate with your supervisor and elicit their help in prioritizing your tasks if needed.”Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT
Use a task management program
Technology can also help you find that perfect balance. Task management goes hand in hand with stress management because task management software makes it easy to create, save, and adjust your daily or weekly to-do lists. Using software not only saves time, but it can also help prevent items from inadvertently falling off your list.
Periodic breaks are essential for keeping your focus and staying productive throughout the day. It might seem counterintuitive at first, but we promise that a break every 2 or 3 hours will actually result in getting more done each day and having more time for your private life outside of work. Working long hours with no breaks will just lead to a work-life imbalance that can easily be avoided.
Don’t be afraid to take time off
Taking an occasional mental health day is always a good idea. Getting away from work for a day and concentrating on yourself will go a long way towards reducing stress and boosting your productivity and focus when you return. If push comes to shove and you reach a mental breaking point, you also have other options. Under the Family Medical Leave Act, some employees can be eligible to take a stress leave from work.
Self care is so important — it allows you to give your best to other aspects of life, rather than feeling perpetual burnout and, eventually, wholly unmotivated to do anything.
Be an effective communicator
Perfecting your communication skills can also help you achieve a better work-life balance. Being able to tell people what you expect of them, knowing how to effectively delegate tasks, and feeling confident in talking to your boss about your needs can all help you mitigate and manage stress at work.
When you communicate well, you’ll have smooth-sailing encounters and prevent conflicts that can derail your plans for the workday.
Work isn’t the only place where you can focus on having a balanced life. Below are some work-life balance tips for when you leave the office.
Unplug from work
An important aspect of learning how to balance work and life is making sure you leave your work at work. This not only means limiting how much paperwork you bring home, but it also might mean learning to set boundaries about your personal time. Who can call you at home? What hours are you available (or more importantly, unavailable) to clients and co-workers? Establish these and make sure they’re known.
Find a hobby to look forward to
Having a hobby that you enjoy gives you something to look forward to when you’re not at work. It can be anything from reading to kickboxing. The only requirements are that it’s not work-related and that it gives you joy.
Staying active is another way to strike a good work-life balance. Staying fit is good for your overall health, but it also helps to keep stress in check.
Work with a therapist
A good therapist can be incredibly beneficial in helping you keep work at the office where it belongs. Therapy is a safe place, where you can talk through conflicts and things that are bothering you at work, without triggering gossip that might jeopardize your job.
Chat with friends and family
Friends and family can also help ease work stress. Like a therapist, good friends and empathetic family members can listen to things that upset you at work.
Sometimes, it can be helpful to get something off your chest, before you take things out on your boss, clients, or coworkers.
Be careful though…while it’s good to vent occasionally, don’t let talking shop dominate every interaction you have with other people in your life.
Practice mindfulness techniques
Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, prayer, and yoga, can help you find work-life balance. Such techniques are also good stress relievers and help you refocus on what’s important to you. You can even incorporate this technique into your daily routine by practicing mindfulness eating, going for a mindfulness walk, or breathing mindfully.
Finding a work-life balance that works doesn’t have to be an impossible task. Arrive at that perfect balance by choosing a job you love, setting goals for both work and home, and periodically reviewing your priorities to make sure that your plan is still working well for you. You’ll be amazed at how much happier you can be after just a few adjustments.
Better Your Personal & Professional Life With Talkspace
Better mental health is within reach, with Talkspace. Talkspace offers convenient and secure online therapy with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home. Our goal is to provide convenient access to licensed providers—to support the mental wellness of those in need. We created Talkspace so more people can benefit from therapy, and have the tools to grow, heal and overcome day-to-day challenges.
1. Average hours employed people spent working on days worked by day of week. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). https://www.bls.gov/charts/american-time-use/emp-by-ftpt-job-edu-h.htm. Published 2019. Accessed April 30, 2022.
2. Sweden: average working hours by employment type 2021 | Statista. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/528492/sweden-average-weekly-working-hours-by-type-of-employment/. Published 2021. Accessed April 30, 2022.
3. Schneiderman N, Ironson G, Siegel S. Stress and Health: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2005;1(1):607-628. doi:10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/. Accessed April 30, 2022.