Five Steps to Take Control of Your Work-Life Balance

Given the intensity of healthcare workers’ schedules – not to mention the intensity of the work itself – work-life balance is a perennial concern for employees and employers alike.

According to The Mental Health Foundation, one third of workers feel unhappy with the amount of time they devote to work, and more than 40% of employees feel they are neglecting important aspects of their life because of work.

Your work-life balance is key to both a fulfilling career and a fulfilling life. And in this article, we’re going to look at five essential steps you need to take to do to take control of it.

1. Draw clear lines

It’s vital that healthcare workers draw a clear line between their work and life. This is often difficult, given the emotional impact of certain aspects of the job. But few are able to successfully balance work and recreation without explicitly drawing up a clear distinction.

While this line might seem obvious, many workers find they actually struggle to maintain it, spending time outside of work consumed with anxieties over decisions they’ve made or upcoming challenges.

A central part of taking control of your work-life is giving yourself permission to draw this distinction very clearly – and continually reinforcing it.

One popular strategy is the use of ‘triggers’ – specific actions or times when you can very clearly say ‘I am no longer at work’ and switch off.

2. Know the problem signs

A paradox of burnout is that workers often don’t notice that they are becoming exhausted – largely because they are dedicated to their work, and therefore not taking sufficient time to introspect.

It’s important for healthcare workers to know what signs to look out for – signals that will let them know they need to take a break or slow down. These can include:

  • Poor sleep or insomnia
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Consistent negative thoughts
  • Strange or distorted mental perceptions
  • A lack of social interactions or becoming distant from friends or family

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list; many people will not experience any of these things, but still find themselves overworking.

However, the important point is that you need to develop a clear mental benchmark that allows you to assess your mental health – consider how you feel ‘normally’, and look out for signs that you are feeling consistently worse.

3. Develop relaxation strategies

In a high-stress environment, many healthcare workers find it difficult to switch off after work. It is often assumed that relaxation is the ‘default’ mode, and any time we are not actively working must de-facto be helping us replenish our energies.

This is simply not the case: relaxation must be actively cultivated, and will involve different things for different people.

Many of us end up in a frustrating cycle: work is tiring, and therefore we don’t have the energy to do what we really want to when we get home. And because we don’t get the relaxation we needed, we feel even more tired at our next shift.

The solution to this is to consider relaxation a design problem: put time aside to actively cultivate a plan for maximising your downtime – making sure you get the most out of it you possibly can – and then consciously make enacting that plan as easy as possible for you when you return home from work.

This could be as simple as putting everything you need to take a bath in one place; it could be preparing food ahead of time so that you can simply switch off and eat, rather than slaving over the stove after a long shift.

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4. Be open with your managers

Too often, employees suffer in silence over their need for a break. While it might be scary, taking control of your work-life balance must involve a willingness to talk honestly and openly about your needs with a manager.

If this is particularly challenging for you, try writing out everything you want to say – this may help organise your thoughts and make your case more clearly. You may even find communicating your needs in an email or letter allows you to be more open – and that is the most important thing.

5. Plan for longevity

Your career in healthcare is a marathon, not a sprint; it’s important to remember that when considering how you negotiate your work-life balance. Many find they can handle a heavy schedule early in their careers, but find they have made too many sacrifices further down the line.

You should try to envision how you will balance the various aspects of your life – not just now, but in the future: how do you see your career evolving? What would like to be able to do in ten years’ time?

These questions should be present in your mind when considering work-life balance – the point of a work-life balance is not simply to ward off burnout, but to actively enable you to build a life you are truly satisfied with.

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