Management & Strategy

Achieving a good work life balance

With modern technology enabling us to work from home, restaurants or even the beach, cold water has been poured over the notion of a work-life balance. But does being able to work anywhere improve the balance, or tip it towards working all hours?


It seems a little strange to talk about the perfect work-life balance when millions of people across the UK are struggling to find a job at the moment – for these people it’s more of a job-search-life balance. This fact, coupled with a relaxation of rules affecting the working day (both legally enforced and volunteered by companies) means the work-life balance is less of a hot topic than it was a mere five years ago.

But for entrepreneurs the problem is still there, simmering away in the background. Technology, fuelled by unstoppable demand, is evolving at lightening pace and is giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to work on their business whenever and wherever they want to, day or night.

The work temptation

The problem arises when entrepreneurs decide they really do want to work all the time. They might be motivated by growth in the business and hot sales leads or by problems in the business that should have been addressed yesterday.

Either way, entrepreneurs – much more than employees – are susceptible to working hard and playing soft, or not at all. Yet making sure that work time is offset by a period of relaxation is critical to effectiveness, efficiency and good decision-making; not to mention mental health.

So why aren’t entrepreneurs relaxing a little more? The answer is because it’s too easy not to. Everyone has read the out of office message that says, ‘I’m on holiday and for once I’m turning off my BlackBerry, iPhone, HTC or Samsung’ (delete as appropriate) – the implication being that it’s on for the rest of the year.

It’s too tempting to access emails when they pop up on the phone, even when you’re relaxing in front of the telly, or having dinner with the family. We worry that by ignoring the demands of our business even for a few hours we are essentially leaving it to coast.

The fear is that if you’re not working on your business, your competitors will get ahead. You have staff to consider, bills to pay and ambitions to meet. By not keeping up with the piles of work that keep coming in, you risk the lot.

The solutions

Out to lunch: In the good old days everyone had a proper lunch break. Today, most of us sit at our desks and wolf down a sandwich in between replying to emails. If entrepreneurs do go out, it’s generally for a working lunch, which might involve a nice restaurant but will also inevitably be spent talking shop with customers, suppliers or business partners.

It’s time to reclaim lunch for ourselves. At least once a week, take an hour off and leave the office (leaving your phone behind to avoid any work temptations). Sit in the park or take a table in a nearby café or sandwich shop. If you do go to a nice restaurant, make sure it’s a friend sitting opposite, not a work contact.

Get organised: The absolute key to a healthy work-life balance is getting yourself organised. Far too many business owners waste time looking for things, trying to remember things or chasing information they should have at their fingertips.

If you get yourself organised – a Filofax is good, cloud-based software is better – then you’ll have more time to work productively, which in turn will give you a chance to leave the office before the last train.

Delegation: A key issue for all entrepreneurs is knowing when to let other people do some work. Your business is your baby, but as it grows you’ll find it more efficient to hand aspects of the operation (finance, HR, marketing etc) to experts. 

Phone off: The ubiquitous mobile smartphone is both the champion and the destroyer of the work-life balance. Sure, it helps you complete tasks on the way into work or when you are offsite, but if you find yourself responding to emails before the sun comes up then you know it’s time to turn it off. If it’s switched on and close by, you’re essentially on call.

Holiday: If you’ve forgotten what packing a suitcase for pleasure feels like then a holiday at least once a year is an absolute must. It doesn’t have to be two weeks in the Seychelles, but a period of time away from the business will not only help you rest but it will re-energise your approach to your work.

Many experts recommend time off from the business for strategic thinking. Of course, you will never be able to switch off completely, but physically removing yourself from the daily grind will give you time to take a step back and consider the bigger picture.

Consider your staff

It’s vitally important to spread the love when it comes to your work-life balance. If you’re popping off on spa breaks every other week and working flexi-time, it will cause a stink if your staff are beavering away all hours.

The fact is that many businesses get it wrong. According to the TUC, Britain’s employees work the longest hours in Europe and the number of people claiming to work more than 48 hours a week has increased by 700,000 since the 1990s, to 4 million. One in six people puts in a 60-hour shift every week and the average working week in the UK is now 43.5 hours – three hours longer than the European average. Meanwhile, research by hotel chain Premier Inn found that nearly half of UK workers check their email at weekends.

A good solution is to draw up a work-life balance charter for your business. Make sure staff members know what is expected of them and what constitutes working ‘too hard’. Try to ensure that long days are the exception, not the rule. Also, keep your eyes peeled – it’s easy to spot people who are putting in long hours: they’re still at their desks when you leave the office.

Getting the work-life balance right doesn’t mean slacking off. Regular short breaks for lunch or coffee, relaxation time in the evenings and a decent quota of holiday will make you and your staff more efficient, motivated and energised for work, which can only be good news for your business.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK