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Work-life balance

3-minute read

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?

Australians work some of the longest hours of anyone in developed countries, and we spend less time looking after ourselves outside work. Working long hours can be bad for your health, increase stress and give you less time to spend on other activities like personal care or leisure.

At the same time, more people are working in part-time, low-wage and insecure jobs, which often mean they must work longer hours or at unsocial hours. 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. Research shows that working too many or too few hours according to your needs can affect your wellbeing.

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 more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2018

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