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How to achieve the perfect work-life fit

Say ‘no’ to your employer

You need to draw boundaries between your work and home life, says Peter Fleming, professor of business and society at Cass Business School in City, University of London. “Make it clear to your employer that time off is essential. Norms for late-night emails slowly emerge and then are difficult to change when institutionalised.”

It is possible to come across as a hard-working employee without responding to emails out of hours or working over-time. “Understand the line between enjoying work and wanting to be a responsible employee on the one hand, and being taken advantage of on the other. Know your rights and be sure to switch off your phone at 6pm,” adds Fleming.

It’s important to set boundaries, agrees Annie Ridout, founder and editor of online parenting and lifestyle magazine The Early Hour. “You shouldn’t be expected to work, unpaid, out of working hours. When your boss asks, say: ‘I’d love to do this for you, I’ll get to it as soon as I start work tomorrow’. Keep things positive and keen, but make it clear that you’re not available outside of working hours.”

Pinpoint the worst part of your day and fix it

Making small changes to the way you organise your life can make you feel calmer, says Tracey Eker, chief executive and founder of FlexiWorkforce. “Think about the most stressful part of your day and see if there is a way you and your employer can work something out. For example, does the rush-hour traffic mean you spend hours in the car? Make a request to change start and finish times so you skip rush-hour traffic.”

Gary Wood, chartered psychologist and author, says this also benefits your employer. “The work-life balance question suggests that it’s a zero-sum game, however our brains become fatigued if we stick to one type of mental activity. So with less stress, we can achieve more.”

Add good things into your week

Though it seems counterintuitive to do more when you’re busy, adding exercise, hobbies or leisure activities into your working week can help you relax. “Make time for activities that nourish you, whether that is a hobby, exercise or being with friends,” says Sarah Archer, co-founder of CareerTree.

You will find that as you make your personal life a priority, it will become easier to do more at work, says Eker. “Schedule coffee dates with your friends, for family time and hobbies, and make sure you enjoy life.”

Zero-hours contracts are not the answer

Employers often argue that casualised work helps people achieve a better work-life balance, but Matthew Creagh, policy officer at the Trades Union Congress, says the reality is the opposite. “Casual workers often have to be on call to work at short notice and are often not paid enough to enjoy life outside work. There is also the irony that those in flexible employment are not entitled to employment rights that help them manage family and work life, such as the right to request flexible work.”

Archer agrees that going freelance isn’t always the solution to a hectic work-life fit. “While in theory zero-hours contracts can give you choice about when you work, the reality is the insecurity means you take whatever is offered and you can’t enjoy your downtime because you’re worried about finances.”

Make your health a priority

As far as possible, prioritise your health and wellbeing at work, says Claire Gilbert, employment lawyer at Technology Law Alliance. “If you feel close to burnout, consider speaking to your GP and try to make sure your employer is aware of the effect long hours and a high workload are having on you before your health is seriously affected.”

One way to do this is to be open and maintain good relationships with your colleagues, says Dan Fawcett, a senior employment law specialist at Bond Dickinson LLP solicitors. “If you feel work is interfering with your home life, have an upfront honest conversation with your line manager. That conversation is likely to go better if you have a good relationship and can show you are committed to your employer.”


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