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Rethinking work-life balance for SMEs

Rethinking work-life balance for SMEs

Posted 02nd May, 2019 by William

Work-life balance. If you’re an entrepreneur, member of a start-up or run a small business, you might think you’ve got more chance of finding a four-leaf clover or the Holy Grail than balancing your professional life with your home life.

While the concept of a work-life balance is nothing new, it’s one that has been in the spotlight repeatedly throughout the start of 2019.

Richard Branson recently wrote a blog on the importance of it, stating “Work has changed so much since I started out, more than five decades ago. Technology has given us the freedom to work anywhere, at any time. But that doesn’t mean we should be compulsively checking our emails 24 hours a day... You can’t operate at full speed all of the time and not give yourself time to rest - you will burn out. The negative effects burn out can have on your health can be startling – and, like most things, prevention is easier than cure.”

In the first quarter of 2019, a Work-Life Balance agreement went through the European Parliament and Council. Although this agreement is primarily aimed at improving parental leave following the birth of a child as well as carers’ access to leave, it shows how seriously the issue of work-life balance is currently being taken on a global scale.

As such, we’ll take a brief look at the issue of work-life balance before offering up a few achievable tips for levelling up the work/home-life scales.

The grizzly truth about work-life balance

Recent research from Hitachi found that a quarter of small business owners take fewer than five days holiday a year, while 15 per cent takes none at all. This five-day figure rose to 31 per cent for start-ups, with 19 per cent taking no leave.

However, poor work-life balance has been linked to a raft of side effects that occur later in life. Medical journal The Lancet reported on a study that suggested that people who work 55 hours or more a week are at greater risk of having a stroke than those who work a 35 or 40 hour week.

Meanwhile, the Mental Health Foundation suggests that 27 per cent of people that work long hours feel depressed, 34 per cent feel anxious and 58 per cent feel irritable on a regular basis.

Tips for improving and rethinking work-life balance

Break well

It’s easy for outsiders to suggest that entrepreneurs and business owners take breaks throughout the day. You might think you’re so busy, you don’t have a microsecond to spare. However, some of the most successful business people in the world take breaks. In our recent blog ‘Business advice from the top leaders of the twenty teens’, we explained how LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner scheduled ‘buffer time’ into every day.

Similarly, Richard Branson is a big believer in not just taking breaks, but breaking well. Throughout the day, the tycoon will stop for a cup of tea, take a short walk or chat with those around him, even if it’s just for five minutes. Plus, when he takes a break, he stays away from all things digital. His downtime is 100 per cent analogue, warm-bodied and aimed at rest and recuperation.

Factor in life-work balance days

In her article ‘Re-framing the idea of work-life balance’, Kayla Ferguson suggests that we need to relook at the linguistics of the term 'work-life balance'. She suggests that by putting the word ‘work’ first in the sentence, it encourages us to prioritise it over what comes next: life.

In particular, she writes: “When we say ‘work-life’ balance what are we inherently understanding to be the most important thing in that pair? Probably work. Because it comes first, and from a greater social context, the modern American society is firmly pressured into believing that work is life and is the defining characteristic of success during this lifetime. Don’t get me wrong — I think a fulfilling career is incredibly valuable and we should enjoy and feel inspired by work since it takes up such a large portion of our waking life. But it isn’t everything.”

Of course, when you’re running a small business or getting a start-up off the ground, you can’t always put work second. There are many times you have to put it first. However, that doesn’t have to be every day. Even if it’s one day a month, allow yourself a life-work day when you put your life commitments at the top of your to-do list at the start of the day.

Manage your energy not your time

In their book ‘The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal’, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz investigate why some people seem to achieve more in a day than others do in a week.

Their conclusion? That people who manage their to-do list based on their energy, as opposed to their time, get more done.

In particular, Loehr and Schwartz identify four types of energy. There’s physical energy that relates to elements such as breathing, sleep, when and what we eat, levels of fitness and a person’s ultradian rhythm, which recognises that humans experience natural peaks and troughs of energy throughout the day. There’s emotional energy that encompasses factors like self-confidence, self-control, empathy and social skills. There’s mental energy that incorporates the ability to mentally prepare for things, visualisation techniques and creativity. Then there’s spiritual energy that refers to character, commitment, integrity and passion.

The writers suggest that we work at our best when we split the working day up into sprints and adopt healthy practices – through diet and sleep hygiene, for example – for preserving energy reserves. When we take this approach to life, we’ll work more efficiently, freeing up more free time for out of office life.

Categories: Tips, Blogging, Small Businesses

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