How to balance work and life

Winding down and switching off from a stressful job in social care
is easier said than done, writes Josephine Hocking. Mobile phones
and e-mail can make you feel constantly on call. Eighty-five per
cent of people worry about work even when they are on annual leave,
a survey by employment law firm Peninsula has found. Public sector
union Unison campaigns on work-life balance in response to what it
calls increasing pressures on people at work and at home, the
growing expectations of employers and expanding demands on public
services. Unison wants work to be arranged “more effectively” and
organised “more intelligently.” Change is on the way. Eighty per
cent of staff say some form of flexible working is now on offer,
with part-time and variable working hours the most common,
according to a 2004 survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel
and Development (CIPD).

Be productive
In some organisations there is a long-hours culture (which does not
necessarily mean better productivity). But such attitudes are
considered by many to be outdated and not conducive to achieving a
healthy work-life balance. What is important is how productive you
are, not how long you stay in the office. “Managers need to focus
on outcomes and outputs of work,” says Yvette Adams, head of human
resources for social services at Hammersmith and Fulham Council in
London. Forty-one per cent of staff working long hours (48 hours or
more a week) told the CIPD they could keep up the same level of
productivity by cutting their hours. So why don’t they?

Work flexibly
Find out what your employer offers in terms of flexible working.
Staff often do not know about it. One inner city council recently
found most employees were using only the option of flexitime to
meet their work-life balance needs. Staff were unaware of other
options or felt that their managers would not support other kinds
of flexibility. Staff wanted all the options to be publicised more
widely. Meanwhile, Birmingham Council specifically promotes
work-life balance when recruiting social care staff because “care
isn’t a nine-to-five job”. “We are pleased to consider requests for
working arrangements which suit the needs of you, your family and
our service users,” says its website. These include variations in
starting and finishing time, number of days in the working week,
number of weeks worked in the year, number of hours in the working
day, term-time contracts and job shares.

Set boundaries
You are not indispensable. Learn how to let go and delegate.
Understand the difference between urgent and important and know how
to prioritise. Sometimes you just have to say no. Resolve to leave
work at a set time each day.

Consider a career break
If you can afford it, find out about career breaks or sabbaticals.
Taking time out to travel or study may not be just a dream.
Islington Council in London has a career break scheme for all
social services staff, lasting from six months to four years. The
idea is to “encourage employees to have a long-term career” with
Islington social services, although there is no guarantee that
staff can always return to the same post or work at the same

Look after yourself
We all know how to keep healthy. We should exercise regularly,
drink alcohol only in moderation, eat plenty of fruit and
vegetables, give up smoking, and get enough sleep. This is
difficult to achieve if you are overworked.

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