Work-life boundaries: how to separate your work and personal life
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘work-life balance’ more times than you can count. But how often do you stop to consider what work-life balance really means and how it applies to your life? After all, this shouldn’t just be a catchy phrase, but rather, a way of life. Setting healthy and distinct boundaries between your work life and personal life has many benefits, from improved career prospects to better interpersonal relationships.
Unfortunately, while most of us understand the importance of setting boundaries, this is often easier said than done. Despite their best intentions, many people struggle to separate their work life and personal life, with one-third of employees saying it is harder to achieve a work-life balance than ever before.
It can be all too easy to find yourself checking work emails on your day off, calling a client after hours, or working through your lunch break to finish a project. Failure to separate your work life and personal life might seem innocuous at first. However, over time, it can lead to disastrous results, including poor mental and physical health. You also could find yourself overworked due to your inability to unplug. What was once an active and thriving personal life has now made way for work, work, and more work.
To help avoid these issues, we’ll offer actionable strategies to set healthy work-life boundaries and separate your work life and personal life once and for all.
The importance of work-life boundaries
While work-life boundaries have always been important, the widespread move to remote working due to COVID-19 has highlighted this issue. Some people find it easier to achieve a healthy work-life balance while working from home, whereas others think it blurs the lines between your work life and personal life.
To demonstrate this, Fingerprint for Success found that the average workday lengthened by 48.5 minutes following the initial lockdowns in March 2020. Additionally, 51% of employees say they experience burnout while working from home, while 67% feel pressure to be available at all hours of the day. Further, 40% say that unplugging after hours is their biggest challenge.
On the other hand, 67% of people say their work-life balance improved when they started working remotely.
While this is a positive trend for some, 66% of full-time employees in the US say they have a poor work-life balance, and 52% of UK employees say that boundaries between their work and personal life have become increasingly blurred.
Why employees must prioritise their personal life
Poor work-life boundaries can have far-reaching consequences, adversely affecting everything from employee motivation and relationship satisfaction to mental and physical health.
For example, employees who neglect their personal life and work more than 55 hours per week have a 1.66 times higher risk of depression, 1.74 times higher risk of anxiety, and 1.3 times higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Similarly, women with male partners who work more than 50 hours per week are less satisfied with their relationship than those whose partners worked less. A survey by Grand Canyon University backs this up, finding that family relationships (48%) and friendships (47%) suffered significantly for people with a poor work-life balance.
These findings should send a resounding message to all workers: a poor work-life balance can have lasting real-world consequences. Addressing these issues should be a top priority for employees and organisations alike.
Poor work-life balance harms organisations too
A poor work-life balance doesn’t just harm employees, it can also harm organisations. For instance, 72% of employees consider work-life balance very important when looking for a new job, while 33% say work-life balance is the most important benefit a job can provide. 68% of employees also say poor work-life balance negatively impacts their morale and motivation at work.
A majority of people (60%) say that bad bosses that are overbearing, demanding, or mean are the factor that harmed work-life balance the most, followed by frequent overtime, inflexible hours, incompetent co-workers, and long commutes.
In contrast, a company culture that encourages healthy work-life balance can improve productivity and retention while reducing healthcare costs. 85% of companies that offer work-life balance programs report an increase in productivity, while 33% of employees with a good work-life balance say they plan to stay longer in their current role. Finally, companies with good work-life balance programs have 50% fewer healthcare costs.
As such, employers must show a genuine interest in their employees’ work-life balance to create a happier, healthier, and more motivated workforce.
How to establish work-life boundaries
With these statistics in mind, the question becomes: ‘how do I prioritise my personal life and establish healthy work-life boundaries?’
Once you learn to set boundaries based on your obligations and priorities, you will feel more in control, leaving you free to make decisions that allow you to lead a productive life both at home and at work.
While there are many strategies to establish healthy work-life boundaries, a good place to start is ensuring you take regular time off to avoid burnout. A study by Roy Morgan found that, on average, Australians have 16 days of unused personal leave. Further research revealed that 2.4 million full-time working Australians have gone over a year without taking leave, with 86% experiencing some level of burnout as a result. It should go without saying, but this advice also includes taking time off for sick leave when you need to.
Additionally, employees should discuss flexible working arrangements with their employers. According to one survey, 69% of employees agree that companies should offer flexible working to foster a better work-life balance. Normalising remote working has been one of the few benefits of COVID-19, opening a whole new world of possibilities for flexible working arrangements. Many employees can benefit from a hybrid working model or even working from home full time.
67% of people say their work-life balance improved when they started working remotely, while 86% say that working remotely reduces their stress levels. Plus, 97% of people say a job with flexibility has positive impacts on their overall quality of life.
Create a schedule
Once you have committed to setting work-life boundaries, it’s a good idea to put pen to paper and write those boundaries down. Writing down your goals and commitments will help you take them more seriously.
Studies have shown that people who take the time to write down their goals are more likely to achieve those goals. For example, one study found that people who vividly describe or picture their goals are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish their goals.
Therefore, if you have decided that you will disconnect from work every evening by 5 pm to focus on your personal life, make a note of it on your calendar. Create a schedule that works for you, then stick to it.
Unplug from technology
Today, most people are bombarded by technology. As a result, most of us never truly unplug from technology, with one survey finding that 38% of people never unplug from technology, while only 20% say they unplug from technology regularly. This constant connection has blurred the lines between our work life and personal life.
Simply turning off your phone and going for a walk, taking time to connect with your loved ones, or spending a few minutes working on another activity is a terrific way to relax and unwind.
It can also be a good idea to unplug entirely on weekends or when you take personal leave by uninstalling apps such as Slack from your phone to remove any temptation to check them.
Leave the office
Many people find themselves stuck at the office far later than they should be. Whether you’re so focused that time gets away from you, or you have too much on your plate and not enough hours in the day to get it all done, working long hours is a problem. Globally, 11% of employees say they work more than 50 hours per week.
Not only is this not healthy for you physically, but it also eats into your personal life and negatively affects those who care about you. As mentioned, working more than 55 hours a week significantly increases your risk of depression, anxiety, and heart attack, while also reducing relationship satisfaction.
One simple change can alter that. It’s as easy as committing to leaving the office on time, regardless of your workload. No excuses. If necessary, let others know about your commitment, so they can help hold you accountable.
Meditation is an excellent way to decompress and disconnect mentally from work once you arrive home. Regular meditation is a fantastic option for people who have trouble unwinding once they get home because they are still caught up in the day’s events.
Disconnecting from work once you arrive home can also help you be more creative. To get started, Go1’s Daily Meditation Collection is an online course designed to help people get into the daily habit of meditation.
Schedule time for your personal life
Reserve time in your schedule for personal activities that add value to your life and allow you to recharge. These activities could include a weekly social night, daily exercise, a regular date night, or family activities. It is also important to set aside time by yourself where you can relax and unwind. This simple change will give you something to look forward to while also helping you manage your time more effectively.
On a related note, it is also vital to take time for your personal life during the workday. This means not working through your lunch break and taking regular breaks throughout the day to avoid burnout.
Establish boundaries with others
One of the most common problems that people encounter when trying to separate their work life from their personal life is that others continually tempt them to stray from their goals.
Co-workers or even your supervisor might ask you to work later when you should be spending quality time with family and friends, or even just some time on your own relaxing.
To combat this problem, make sure you communicate your boundaries with friends, family, and work colleagues to ensure everyone understands the lines you have drawn to establish healthy boundaries.
If you have decided you will no longer be available to work on the weekends, give your team at work a heads-up. You could also set up an out-of-office response for your email.
If your manager is unwilling to respect these boundaries or your workplace culture is too demanding, it might be time to look elsewhere for a company that encourages healthier work-life boundaries.
Juggling your work life and personal life is rarely an easy task. Yet, it’s imperative that you strike that balance to avoid burning yourself out. Remember, striking an appropriate balance between your personal life and work life is important not only for your physical health and mental wellbeing, but also for other people in your life.
Need some support to establish a better work-life balance? Go1 can help. Start your free trial today to access dedicated courses on Creating a more balanced workplace, Work-life balance tips for employees, and many more.