Most people will have periods at work when they struggle to get out of the office on time. Sometimes it’s also difficult to avoid taking work home with you.
But when not being able to switch off from the office becomes the norm, rather than something that just comes around now and again, you may feel as if your life outside work is passing you by. Working in the financial sector can be quite a stressful and all-encompassing job, meaning you end up working longer hours, leaving little personal time for yourself. In other words, your work-life balance is out of kilter.
When this happens, your health – both emotional and physical – can suffer. Here’s how to find out whether or not your work-life balance is in good shape, and some tips on how to improve it.
Work-life balance in Finance
The finance industry is notorious for being a difficult sector to achieve a good work-life balance. This is because of the long work hours required in a huge competitive industry. Recent surveys have found that financial service stress levels are at their highest since the 2008 financial crisis. With some financial analysts admitting to 50 and 70 hours a week, that toll on a person’s mental health can be damaging to their home life. In fact, the Mental Health Report of 2018 showed that every HR leader in the financial sector rated mental health at 7/10 or higher in terms of importance, despite many still considering it a taboo in the city.
There are things employees can do to combat their work-life struggles.
Recognise the signs
The first step to balancing work life and your personal life is to recognise the signs that there is an imbalance. Start by asking yourself these questions:
1. Do you find it difficult to relax when you’re not working?
2. Have you been neglecting your hobbies and interests because of work commitments?
3. Is your health suffering because you work long hours?
4. Do your friends and family complain they hardly ever see you?
5. Do you struggle to finish work during the working day and hardly ever use up all your annual holiday entitlement?
Answering ‘yes’ to one or more means your work-life balance needs some improvement.
Create a designated work area
If you work from home make it clear to your family when you’re at work and when you’re at home. Having a dedicated space only used for work allows you to “leave the office” at the end of the day, both physically and mentally.
Manage your time
Honing your time management skills can help you find more hours in the day to spend on the things that matter. Start by identifying your most productive time. Are you an early bird? Or do you function better after lunch? Tackle your most pressing tasks when you’re at your best to get through your to-do list more efficiently. It's also important to set a time to leave work and focus your time and energy on other things in your life.
Instead of working through your lunch hour, get outdoors and stretch your legs. Exercise helps relieve stress by releasing feel-good hormones called endorphins. Taking regular breaks throughout the day to rehydrate and get some fresh air will help you maintain energy, focus and productivity.
Learn how to say no
It may not make you popular initially, but being assertive and learning to say no when you're already pushed to the max will help you balance work and your social life, improve your wellbeing, reduce stress and therefore your productivity.
If your colleagues know you can’t be contacted outside work - even if it’s only at certain times - they will be less likely to email or phone you when you’re trying to relax. Make a point of letting them know that you’re out of bounds at specific times, and - most importantly - stick to your word.
Some examples of boundaries could be…
I’ll check my emails until 6 pm on Monday to Thursday, but not after 5 pm on a Friday
I want to pick up my children from school 3 days per week
I don't want to be contacted on social media regarding work matters
Keep a log of how many days or weeks you stick to your boundaries to help you monitor if they’re working for you - reflect and consider if they're realistic - ask yourself what you can change?
If you have an impossible workload that’s keeping you at work beyond normal office hours, pass some of your tasks on to a colleague. Similarly when you go on holiday put someone else fully in charge of your work. You’ll feel more inclined to switch off if a capable colleague is covering for you.
Consider flexible working
If you’ve worked for your employer for at least 26 continuous weeks, you’re entitled to ask for a flexible working arrangement e.g. flexible start or finish times, job sharing, working from home or compressed hours.
You can only put in one request for flexible working (a statuary application) in any 12-month period, so it’s important to get it right. Here’s what you need to know:
Your application must be made in writing and include the following:
1. The date
2. A statement explaining that this is a statutory request for flexible working
3. Details of the kind of flexible working you’d like to do and the date you’d like to start
4. An explanation of how the business might be affected and suggestions for how this could be managed effectively. For instance, could specific work colleagues cover your responsibilities when you’re not there, or could you offer to work extra hours in the case of emergencies
5. Details of any previous applications for flexible working you’ve made in the past
You’re not obliged to say why you want to work flexible hours in the letter, but most experts agree that the more information you give, the stronger your case may be.
Your employer has up to 3 months to consider your request. If they agree, they must write to you outlining the new arrangements and confirming a start date. The terms and conditions of your employment contract will also need to be updated within 28 days.
If your employer refuses your request, they must write to you explaining why. Reasonable grounds for refusal include:
It would harm the company’s ability to meet customer needs
It would result in extra costs that would damage the business
It would have a detrimental effect on other staff members
If you disagree with your employer’s decision, the next step would be an employment tribunal. For more advice and information contact us.
Identify Companies that encourage work-life balance
Another option for you if you’re unsuccessful with your flexible work request is to find a company that does encourage a better work-life balance. More of the biggest companies will offer flexible work schedules to retain their best employees as a critical part of their growth. If a big business isn’t where you see yourself, smaller companies will encourage its employees to have a better work-life balance.
If you’re thinking about finding a new job in finance to get that better work-life balance, ICAEW Jobs post the latest roles every day for all members.
Explore what a healthy work-life balance looks like for you and discover how to achieve it. Book a place on our free course, Make a living, have a life.