If you felt your enjoyment of work take a dive during the pandemic, know you are not alone. Only 5% of employed workers experienced significant work stress pre-pandemic, but since March 2020, that figure has risen to 18%. Additionally, 75% of workers have noted experiencing increased burnout at work within the past year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
By this definition, it’s clear that mental health affects all aspects of life, which is why it’s essential to take stock of how you can enact positive mental health in your work life. In turn, this should enforce a healthy work-life balance and promote better mental health generally.
Whether you’re working remote, hybrid, or looking forward to getting back in the office, here are some simple work-life balance tips to encourage a better headspace and safeguard work-life balance no matter where you work.
1. Set clear work boundaries
While some employees found they had more personal time while working from home during the pandemic, many others felt that the lines between work and home were blurred. The importance of work-life balance was suddenly thrown into stark focus.
With the workspace integrated into the home, switching off and detaching from work can be more challenging. The workdays can be elongated when there’s no commute, and meetings and work requests outside regular work hours can become the norm. Similarly, as some of us start to return to the office, it can be easy to fall into old patterns of long workdays, busy commutes, and overcommitting to projects and tasks.
If you have the opportunity to set work boundaries, try to create and abide by them. Mark your work hours in your calendar, speak to your manager if needed, and avoid accepting meetings or taking on work outside your defined work hours where possible. Also, politely remind your teammates to respect your hours. Set a daily time for lunch, mark it in your calendar, and try to stick to it each day so colleagues know when they can reach you.
It’s also essential to carve out time for breaks throughout the day. Try to set up a routine for mid-morning and afternoon downtime to make sure you’re taking the time to check in with yourself, move your body and briefly switch off.
2. Stay social with colleagues
Social interactions play an essential role in wellbeing, and this extends to the workplace. Positive social interactions at work increase productivity and employee engagement overall.
It’s critical to stay connected at work even if you don’t always feel like it. Many of us have experienced burnout and Zoom fatigue in the past year, but staying engaged with co-workers, whether you’re at home or in the office, can help to maintain a positive mental attitude towards work.
Whether it’s carving out a coffee hour each week to chat about all things non-work-related, a catch-up with a colleague at the start of a meeting, or a quarterly team event, keep your social calendar at work thriving to feel more positive towards work in general.
3. Optimize your workspace
We’re not experts in Feng Shui, but we know that configuring your workspace can positively impact your productivity and how you approach work every day. The science says that “people who work in a cluttered environment usually suffer from unrecognized stress and may feel overwhelmed.”
If you’re working from home permanently or as part of a hybrid arrangement, try to choose an area at home that you can associate with work as opposed to relaxation or downtime. If you have the means to choose soothing colors and functional storage units, you can create a clutter-free, calming space for your creativity to flourish.
Even more important than the general ambiance is your physical comfort and support. Where possible, invest in a good office chair that’s supportive of your back. If you’re looking for a way to get more steps in or stretch your legs, something like the StorkStand is an excellent way to achieve the benefits of a standing desk without needing to invest in one.
4. Speak up when work is overwhelming
If you have the space to speak with your employer or HR team about what the company can do to create an atmosphere conducive to better employee mental health, make sure to do so. Many policies can be implemented to create a healthy work-life balance for employees. For example, Citigroup has met this challenge head-on by publishing its plan to “reset” work boundaries.
The company announced several initiatives to counteract long workdays and employee burnout. The first initiative is “Zoom-Free Fridays,” designed to reduce Zoom fatigue, provide employees with a meeting-free day to focus on the work they need to get done and allow some breathing room after a busy work week.
They also focus on healthy work boundaries, encouraging employees to limit emails, messages, and meetings outside regular working hours. Employees are encouraged to use their vacation days and enjoy a companywide day off each year called the “Citi Reset Day.”
Managers and employees should actively pursue employee well-being and the need to instill a healthy work-life balance. We’re at a point where the structure of work is changing, so it’s the perfect time to reset boundaries and adopt healthier work expectations. If every employee understands their limits as we move into a new phase of work, well-being and balance should be intuitive for employees, whether in-office, remote, or hybrid.
5. Practice self-compassion above all else
The most important thing to remember when approaching work during difficult or stressful periods is to be compassionate towards yourself. It has been a trying year for everyone, and naturally, some days will be better than others.
Take the steps you need to make work more manageable for you. Make sure to take your vacation days and use the time to switch off and disconnect entirely. Day to day, focus on doing activities that bring you joy and help you to decompress. If you’re having a tough day, take it easy on yourself, decrease your workload where possible and take regular breaks.
And remember, at the end of the day, we’re only human.