A fine balancing act

Finding the right balance between work and leisure can be difficult. Australians reportedly work more hours than most people in other developed OECD countries but working long hours can increase stress and affect people’s health.


And with more people working in part-time, low-wage jobs, the work hours for many are more unsocial and less convenient.


However, as we saw through the recent pandemic lockdowns, flexible hours and working from home can be helpful, particularly for families. On the flipside, the work/life balance can be problematic because there’s no separation between work and home.


Fortunately, Australia’s unemployment rate is very low at present. Research shows that employment is 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 and provide financial independence.


Unemployment, however, is associated with poor health outcomes, a greater mortality risk and greater use of health services.


There are times when work can impact negatively on mental health. Job stress, isolating working conditions, 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 be helpful and lead to increased alertness, energy and productivity.


But chronic stress has a negative effect on relationships, work success and general wellbeing. Some people experience burnout which is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that can occur after a long period of excessive or stressful work.

Some tips for a better work/life balance include:

  • Spend time thinking about what is important in your life. How much time do you actually spend on your priorities?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • ‘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 is making life impossible, consider changing jobs or even careers.
  • 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.
  • Positive relationships and social support help build resilience and help to limit stress. But these take time to nurture and develop. Prioritise time with your family, friends and neighbours.
  • Regular exercise reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat healthy food and drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Schedule regular time off for yourself each week to read a book, play sport, spend time in nature or do absolutely nothing.


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