Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Work life balance

You’ve probably seen headlines circling around recently about “the 4 day work week”, and the huge success it has on employee productivity and happiness. The particular study that many of these articles are referring to is a multi year trail done in Iceland between the years of 2015 and 2019. In the study, 2,5000 workers (more than 1% of the countries working force) reduced their typical 40 hour work weeks to 35–36 hours. Workers reported having increased productivity, creativity, and sharpness in their daily tasks. The shorter days at the office also meant more time to do errands, accomplish other chores, get out to exercise, and spend more substantial time with family and friends.

Essentially the study proved that employees, and companies alike can greatly benefit from a shorter work week. This resulted in shift towards a less stressful and more enjoyable routine. For businesses and companies these results are particularly compelling since it could mean paying their workers less without sacrificing output.

So if the idea that having shorter work-week means you end up getting more done and are more motivated in your daily life, what’s stopping the rest of the world from adopting a similar practice?

The truth is it’s more than just working less, there needs to be a massive shift in how we view work, and more importantly how we balance its role in our lives.

The desirable “work life” balance that many nordic countries enjoy is deeply rooted in their culture, and stems from how they approach their work and social lives. A huge element of this is the fact that many nordic countries have already normalized remote and flexible working hours. Being able to determine your location and timing for at least half of your working hours has big benefits as it allows you better fit your work into your personal activities and tasks.

Another feature of the nordic work life balance is the consistent breaks taken during the day. In Sweden this is known as Fika time — which is an interrupted break from work where you can enjoy a coffee and a sweet treat, usually as cinnamon bun, and socialize with others. The socializing with others here is important to highlight, “lonely” coffee breaks aren’t quite the same thing. Having breaks during your work day is a very valuable since our brains function in sprints, meaning in order to stay focused we need to regularly rest and recharge before getting back into the grind.

Another significant practice is the collective mindset that many nordic countries foster, and this is directly translated into many of their workspaces. A communal and social design to shared spaces in the office allow for greater levels of creativity and give the opportunity for workers to feel more seen and heard in their teams, and in turn are more content at work and enjoy themselves.

Additionally, a work life balance cannot be maintained without a practice of setting boundaries that protect your social and personal space/time. This means that prioritizing time with friends and family is crucial to balancing your work life with your personal life. The practice of unplugging after a work day is big part of this, as is resisting the urge to check emails and phone calls when you’re ‘off the clock’. This allows you to remain more present and engaged in your time off and enjoy yourself more. With burnout becoming a growing issue, it’s especially vital to have more conversations around ways to better balance our work and personal life. The glorification in overworking, and high levels of expectations for output are simply not sustainable. A study done by the Savvy Sleeper analyzed cities with high burnout rates such Tokyo and Seoul, and concluded that workers there on average get less sleep, take less vacation time, and are spending a lot of their day commuting to and from the office. This was greatly reflected in their work, with reported lower levels of motivation, and higher levels of stress.

Ways to achieve a work life balance don’t have to be drastic, often smaller incremental changes lead to sustainable, longterm results. For those working in the office, one approach could be to establish spaces that allow for more communal engagement. Another approach is to push yourself to take more breaks where you properly unwind and recharge — this is especially important if you work from home, and are stuck inside at a desk. Going outside for a walk, or standing up to stretch are other easy steps.

However, I don’t believe there is a simple solution to getting everyone, everywhere a perfect work life balance because as is many things in life, there is no one size fits all. For example, fields such as social work and medicine are more complicated to fit into this conversation since they’re often mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. These fields also tend to be done in shifts which makes it not necessarily possible to be done remotely, or with the option for flexible or reduced hours. This means that a healthy work life balance for a nurse with shift hours will probably be different than a government worker with a “9–5”.

Therefore, it’s really important to ensure we all share in the freedom and opportunity to best prioritize our routines, and personal life to suit our own specific needs. Beginning with conversations around what best practices can be taken for your work place is an excellent first step, and will take support from both your employer, and your co-workers.

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