Achieving work/life balance

The work v life balancing act is a tricky one to get right. With children, partner and career all vying for attention, it's little wonder we often feel the strain. But it's easy to get things back on track. Here's how..

Work/life balance

It's a family affair

If you're working an eight-hour day with a round-trip commute of an hour plus, odds on you'll be yearning for more you-time. And if you have kids that may mean you're missing out on bedtime stories and goodnight kisses. Thanks to new employment law your employer is obliged to consider flexible working hours for parents with children under six. But here's the rub. Your employer won't offer it, you have to ask for it. And that means doing your research and presenting a persuasive argument.

The hard sell

Smart employers know it makes good business sense to provide flexible working opportunities, but if yours hasn't seen the light you'll need to do a convincing job. Highlight the advantages of retaining skilled staff, reducing recruitment costs, raising staff morale and reducing absenteeism and stress levels. If there is a valid business reason that flexible working will not suit, your employer is entitled to decline.

Options...

Six-month sabbatical anyone? Fancy a four-day week? The good news is that there are heaps of ways to flex your working hours and employers are increasingly obliging. Take Boots for example. When they introduced their job-sharing scheme the number of women returning from maternity leave jumped from 7% to 77%.

Shifting core hours courtesy of flexi-time is another boon for the employee, with increasing numbers taking control of their hours to suit their lifestyles. Alternatives are compressing full-time hours into longer working days, such as an 8-6 shift four days a week; working term-time only or school hours working.

Working from home can be a godsend for some. Cutting out the commute and going to work in your PJs is indeed a restful way to start your working day, and with email and the internet we're seeing virtual offices pinging up everywhere. But if you thrive on social interaction, working from home can feel like solitary confinement. Think carefully before you go down this route.

Work taking over?

Workers in Britain put in a staggering £23 billion worth of unpaid overtime each year. Not surprising then that burnout and fatigue are common symptoms. But do you really need to stay so late? Are you actually achieving by putting in the extra hours? Take a critical look at your day. Cut out emailing friends, surfing the net and chatting and your productivity will soar. The macho culture of being last to leave has had its day, and if you’re really so snowed under that you consistently work late you need to delegate. And please, leave your laptop at work on a Friday night.

Downshift

Downshifting your career can mean upgrading your life, according to the highfliers who have swapped the city for the countryside. But it needn’t be that radical. You can downshift and still live in the same location, or even work for the same employer by taking a lower level job. An estimated 200,000 British workers downshifted in 2004 alone, most of these to escape the pressures of lucrative, yet unfulfilling, jobs. If you think downshifting could be for you, do your sums. Even if you release equity from your home you’ll still need a reasonable financial cushion to keep the wolf from the door.