We need to get better at separating our personal lives and work lives.
But it’s easier said than done.
Since the first lockdown in March 2020, working from home has been on the rise. While some people will have returned to the office, hustle culture and toxic productivity have allowed work to creep in and take over a lot of our personal lives.
Research found that UK workers have increased their working week on average by 25%, partly because the usually daily commute has been replaced by extra hours sat in front of a laptop screen.
With social media apps such as Linkedin and work emails on all our mobiles, it’s hard to create boundaries. It can be tempting to click on the notification when you are relaxing on your phone.
58% of employees have been using their personal devices for work since the start of the pandemic.
You might think it’s OK because you weren’t ‘busy’ anyway, but if you start allowing your work life into the rest of your life, you will begin to burn out.
Being constantly connected to work takes a toll on people’s mental wellbeing. Data conducted by Just Eat for Business’ Digital Detox study shows that 43% of workers say they feel burnout ‘sometimes’ while 13% ‘always’ feel burnt out, and a fifth of workers struggle to switch off after work.
‘The transition to WFH during the pandemic blurred the lines between professional and personal, and people are struggling to stop focusing on work during their downtime,’ said Avinash Akhal, a Behavioural Analyst at Canvas8.
‘22% of workers who use work-related apps like Slack and Teams check their notifications every hour whilst not at work.
‘It’s likely that workers keep checking their devices after hours as a result of feeling pressure to meet employer expectations, rather than because they’re so invested in their job.’
And with only 17% of Britons who say they love their job, we need to start working on our bad habits and putting a stop to our toxic work culture.
How to create boundaries when work is over
Monika Metodieva, a digital PR Executive at Yard, has been working from home since November.
‘I am the type of person who really doesn’t like routine, so being at home all day was challenging. I found switching off especially difficult,’ she says.
‘What helps me the most is exercising and moving as much as possible. On my lunch break, I go for an hour-long walk. After I finish, I try to go to the gym, a yoga class or have a stroll in my local park. It’s my time to switch off and relax completely.’
Monika says she also turns off her notifications once she has finished work for the day.
‘I keep my phone away in a completely different room, so there are no distractions. My number one advice for switching off would be to keep a schedule and stick to it.
‘If you work a 9 to 5, try to turn off your laptop, work phone and any technology you use when you finish.’
You could even delete work-related apps off your phone or set time locks onto them.
She recommends setting boundaries with colleagues. ‘Where I work, no one messages on the weekends or after we have finished work for the day.’
Monika has also taken up painting as a new hobby. ‘I have absolutely zero talent, but I just find it so therapeutic,’ she says.
‘I try to squeeze it in at least once a week. I play my favourite tunes and completely switch off for a couple of hours.’
Use physical boundaries
Paula Allen, senior vice-president of research and total wellbeing at LifeWorks, suggests creating boundaries between work and personal time.
‘It’s never been easier to bring your work home with you. As a society, we’re still very much in a working from home experiment, but just because you are staying at home more doesn’t mean you will avoid things like burnout and stress,’ Paula explains.
‘Create physical boundaries between you and your work by either working in a separate room or tidying things away each night.’
She also addresses the importance of ‘protecting’ the things which give us energy.
‘When schedules are hectic, we sometimes rob ourselves of the things we need to be happy and healthy. This could include unstructured, fun time with people we care about or alone time doing something creative or personally fulfilling.
‘These things do not need to take a lot of time, but ignoring them will make you feel more overwhelmed and resentful.’
Move your body
Paula also suggests going for a quick walk after you finish to help finalise your day.
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals like endorphins, dopamine and adrenaline, all of which are responsible for reducing stress and anxiety. Taking care of your physical shape will then, in turn, help you stay happy, positive, and stress-free.
But in order to implement exercise into your routine, make sure you are doing something you enjoy.
You could also take breaks in the day to get up, stretch and walk around your room. This will give your body and mind a temporary pause.
If the sun is out, try and go outside to get some vitamin D.
This will boost your mood and give you some fresh air and a change of scenery.
Replace your commute
Jane Sparrow, an author and co-founder of The Culture Builders, says we should try to create ‘portals’ between our work and other areas of life.
‘Without the commute, you now need to find other ways to transition,’ she explains. ‘This could be changing your clothes, putting music on your headphones and going for a walk. If you work in the evening, set an alarm to stop and give yourself enough time to unwind before bedtime.
‘Think about putting your “commute time” to good effect. When I ask people how they use their commute, the answer is often “I check and answer my emails”. Whether you’re on the train or transitioning between work at home, use that time to do something for you instead.’
Working from bed
For some people, working from bed is essential. While this makes switching off slightly harder, there are some things you can do.
Go for a shower or change into comfy clothes. This will give you time away from your bed and allow you to wash off the stress from the day. It also gives you the chance to have a change of scene.
‘Think of the other senses,’ says Tracy Forsyth, Executive Leadership and Wellbeing Coach.
‘If possible, at the end of the day, change the lighting to something more soothing, treat your olfactory senses to a different smell, such as a diffuser or candle and give your eyes a different view. If you’ve been scrunched over the computer, change your line of sight.’
Tracy also suggests playing some music to signify the end of the day because ‘music can create such an impact and change of scene.’
What should companies do?
Paula says we also need to put some responsibility onto our employers to encourage a work/life balance.
‘They should offer a flexible work schedule,’ she explains. ‘Flexibility can lead to significant improvements in overall productivity, raises staff morale and leads to better job retention in the long-term.
‘When flexible work arrangements work, people are often less tired and better rested, reducing the risks of fatigue, burnout and stress.’
She also says that companies should be prioritising the well-being of their employees.