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Work-life balance

Many of us are 'time poor', constantly rushing to juggle different commitments. Australia has fallen behind the rest of the developed world in trying to achieve a healthy balance between work and life outside work.

A good work-life balance means you have harmony between different aspects of your life, where benefits gained from each area can support and strengthen the others. Work-life integration is a new concept, where many people are learning to blend their work and personal lives successfully.

Follow these tips to improve your work-life balance.

Who is most affected?

The Australian Work and Life Index (AWALI) is a survey that measures work-life interference, or the tendency for work to have a negative impact on other areas of life. It shows that certain groups are more affected than others by work-life interference. They include:

  • women (who generally have worse work-life outcomes than men, and do around twice as much caring and domestic work)
  • parents (particularly mothers, and even more so single mothers)
  • people who are caring for others, such as sick, elderly or disabled relatives
  • the ‘sandwich generation’ (women who care for children as well as elderly or sick relatives have the worst work-life outcomes)
  • people in certain occupations, including managers, professionals and those in the mining industry

Flexible working hours can be helpful, but working from home can be a double-edged sword and can actually have a negative impact on work-life balance.

Years of research have shown that working is generally good for mental and physical health and wellbeing. The benefits of work include:

  • providing activity and a daily structure
  • a sense of meaning and purpose
  • relationships and a sense of community
  • financial independence.

But certain aspects of work can have a negative impact on mental health. Job stress, isolated working conditions, psychological demands, a lack of rewards for effort, job insecurity and a lack of control in the job can make mental health problems more likely.

Stress and burnout

Stress is a natural human response to challenging or dangerous situations. A small amount of stress, such as working to a deadline, can actually be helpful and allow increased alertness, energy and productivity.

However, ‘living on adrenaline’ can only be effective for a short time. If the pressure goes on for too long or becomes greater than our ability to cope with the stress, it can drain our physical and mental resources. Stress can have a negative effect on physical and mental health, relationships, work and wellbeing.

Burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that can occur after a long period of excessive or stressful work.

The 3 key features of burnout are:

  • emotional exhaustion
  • a feeling of detachment from work or becoming cynical
  • reduced efficiency or lacking a sense of achievement.

Burnout also includes the concept of ‘compassion fatigue’ where one loses the emotional capacity to care about others. This can lead to simply ‘going through the motions’ and can be a problem for those in health or caring professions where compassion is integral to their work.

Where to get help

Finding a healthy balance between work and personal life can be hard, but it is easier if you seek help. Talk to your doctor, or see below for online programs and tools that can help.

  • Learn how to deal with stress with This Way Up's stress management course.
  • Download ReachOut.com's Breathe app.
  • Find out how you can reduce stress and anxiety with the Mindspot wellbeing course.
  • Last reviewed: February 2017

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