Getting work and life in balance

Only the Japanese work more than we foolish Kiwis

Ever woken up in the middle of the night suddenly remembering something you should have done at work that day? Or perhaps you spend so much time at work that the line between home and workplace has blurred.

In today’s always-on society, it’s hard to have a work-life balance.

According to the International Labour Organisation, 21.3% of the New Zealand workforce works at least 50 hours a week, compared with fewer than 10% in most European countries.

The report says that during the late 1990s, people working more than 50 hours a week in the US and Australia increased from 15% to 20% of the workforce. Among those countries included in the study, only Japan (28.1%) and New Zealand (21.3%) had a higher proportion working more than 50 hours per week.

In most of the EU countries the figure was well under 10%, with the UK unusually high in at 15% and the the Netherlands scoring just 1.4%.

The ILO site says finding the balance between business requirements and workers' needs required working time policies along five dimensions --

promoting health and safety, helping workers to better meet their family responsibilities, encouraging gender equality, advancing productivity and, lastly, facilitating worker choice and influence over their working hours.

In New Zealand there is a Work Life Balance Project to get people thinking about the issue. It advises that options to improve your work-life balance are flexible start and finish times, a diverse schedule (“job shares, four-day weeks, nine-day fortnights, teleworking, home-working, term-time work”), time banking (“this means saving up your work hours as 'credit' to be taken later to fit in with home or other commitments”) and options such as study leave, leave without pay and career breaks.

The site says a 2003 EEO Trust survey of nearly 500 employers showed 14% provided childcare facilities, three out of five provided a flexible work location and four out of five provided flexible work hours.

In a recent Time Tip newsletter Robyn Pearce advised on a variety of 'stopping' strategies if you don’t seem to be able to get away from work.

One was to put “me” time in your diary — appointments with yourself to do whatever you want to.

“Then stick to them. If someone wants that space, you can say with complete truth, 'I'm sorry, I have an appointment then.' We're wired to keep appointments.”

Of course, says Pearce, you can free up the time if you have to, but it helps you take “that vital second” to stop and consider.

She also suggests you diary in time with family and friends. (Is it just me or is that kind of sad? Still, if you’re that busy I guess it make sense.)

Pearce says you should let go of the feeling that you must be always available to your work and she says if you work from home, you should find a trigger that signals to your brain that it's “switch-off” time. The advice equally applies to people who work in an office.

“It might be as simple as shutting the office door or turning off the computer. It may be changing clothes when you finish a day's work, marking at a subliminal level that you're done for the day.”

What about you? Do you have a work-life balance? What tips do you have for people who aren’t able to maintain the balance they want? Or is it all a load of rubbish from lazy people who don’t want to work hard?

Let me know.

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