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Work-life balance

6-minute read

What is work-life balance?

Many people are 'time poor', constantly rushing to juggle different commitments. And Australians work hard — with more than 1 in 10 employees working more than 50 hours per week, which is considered ‘very long hours’ by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

This makes it more difficult to achieve a healthy balance between work and a personal life.

A good work-life balance means you have harmony between the different aspects of your life. The benefits gained from each area are able to support and strengthen the others. Many people are learning to blend their work and personal lives successfully (work-life integration).

Who’s affected by poor work-life balance?

Australians work more hours than most people in other developed OECD countries — with less time to look after themselves. Working long hours can impact your health, increase stress and cut into leisure activities.

At the same time, more people are working in part-time, low-wage and insecure jobs, which can also mean working unsocial hours. Flexible hours and working from home can be helpful, particularly if you have a family. But it can make work-life balance tricky since there’s no separation between work and home.

The benefits of work

Research shows that employment is generally good for mental and physical health and wellbeing. Work can:

  • boost activity and provide a daily routine
  • offer a sense of meaning and purpose
  • promote relationships and a sense of community
  • provide financial independence

Unemployment, on the other hand, is associated with poor health outcomes, a greater mortality risk and greater use of health services.

Poor work-life balance can cause stress

Certain aspects of work can have a negative impact on mental health. Job stress, isolating working conditions, few rewards for effort, job insecurity and a lack of control in the job can increase the risk of mental health challenges.

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 lead to 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 your ability to cope with the stress — it can be physically and mentally draining. Chronic stress can, in turn, have a negative effect on your relationships, work success and general 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 ‘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.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the anxiety, stress and depression Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

8 tips for better work-life balance

1. Know your values

Spend time thinking about what is important to you in life. How much time do you actually spend on your priorities? Consider your passions and interests and make time for the things that make you feel alive.

2. Practise time management

Calendars, apps and to-do lists are all useful strategies for keeping track of how you spend your time. Review your typical week and cut down on time ‘wastage’. Shop online, reduce your commute if possible, avoid social media or cancel non-essential meetings.

3. Set boundaries

Set limits on your work time and set aside time for other activities. Switch off the phone, limit your access to work emails or go internet-free for a few hours. Learn how to say ‘no’.

4. Enjoy your work

‘Do what you love and love what you do’ has become a popular catchphrase. While all work can be tedious or stressful at times, if you really hate your job or it’s making life impossible, consider changing jobs or even careers.

5. Consider your finances

Do you really need a new car? Could you be happy living in a less expensive home or location? Research shows that once our basic needs are met, a higher income does not necessarily lead to happiness. Spending less money could mean fewer work hours and more time for a rewarding life.

6. Nurture relationships

Positive relationships and social support help build resilience and help you cope with stress. But these take time to nurture and develop. Prioritise time with your family, friends, neighbours or loved ones.

7. Focus on your health

Regular exercise is proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Get enough sleep at regular times, eat healthy food, drink alcohol in moderation and avoid illegal drugs.

8. Have down time

Rest periods are just as important to success since they ‘recharge your batteries’. Schedule regular time off for yourself each week to read a book, play sport, spend time in nature or just do nothing. Choose any activity you enjoy.

Where to get help

Finding a healthy balance between work and personal life can be hard, but help is available.

  • Talk to your GP, who can help you with mental-health concerns.
  • Learn how to deal with stress using This Way Up's free online stress management course.
  • Download's Breathe app.
  • Learn how to reduce stress and anxiety with MindSpot's free online wellbeing course.
  • Lifeline offers free telephone counselling (24 hours a day), online support (7pm-midnight) and text support (6pm-midnight). Call 13 11 14 or visit
  • Beyond Blue provides free telephone counselling (24 hours a day) and online support (3pm-midnight). Call 1300 22 4636 or visit
  • MensLine offers free 24-hour phone and online counselling to men. Call 1300 78 99 78 or visit

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Last reviewed: November 2020

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