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Getting the right life/work balance

Work/life balance

We’ve all heard the phrase, “work hard, play hard.” A quick Google search tells me this mantra dates back to 1827 and the British physician William Newnham, who wrote: “Whatever is done, it should be habitually done with earnestness; in every pursuit, exertion should be employed; work hard and play hard; always recollecting that quiescence, the stillness of inactivity is destructive to the mental welfare, and approaches very nearly to the winter of the faculties, the torpor of a hibernating animal, the unprotected state of sleep, or the complete cessation of life.”

Not as pithy as the four words we now know but the question is, is he right?

The last three years have been hard on all of us. The pandemic, inflation, economic uncertainty, and just the feeling that our nation is going through a period of massive upheaval have left many of us feeling anxious. Our lives have been disrupted in ways society hasn’t experienced in 70+ years and this has led to many people experiencing mental and physical health problems. 

When you are affected, it can feel like you are the only person with this insurmountable problem. But, the truth is, it can happen to everyone and if it isn’t you then it may well be the person sitting next to you. You may not see it because people are proud, so they don’t want to ask for help and they don’t want to cause a fuss - so they try to leave their problems at the door. 

The problem is keeping your problem hidden inside will only make it worse. A festering problem grows and grows until it overwhelms. It no longer resembles the original problem because, along the way, it has gathered extra problems to justify itself – a break down in your relations or regular trips to the pub. 

The answer is to talk to someone who can help you see the reality – give you the mental headspace to see things clearly. The problem is, as you will see in many news reports, access to NHS services is oversubscribed with huge waiting lists and private options may be too expensive.

I believe this is where companies need to step up to the plate. At Cleankill, employees, their partners and any children (aged 16-24 and in full-time education) who live in the same household are given access to a confidential service that lets them speak to a trained counsellor at any time. It covers a wide range of issues, offering expert advice and compassionate guidance. There is even a mobile app to help them track their own health.

Sometimes what people need is simply someone to talk to who is not involved. During periods of high anxiety, we should never overlook the importance of being able to articulate a problem to a third party. The act of speaking about a problem without the fear of it causing an argument will often let us see the problem for what it actually is.

However, therapy can’t solve everything. These are tough times for many people and while ‘work hard, play hard’ might seem to be a mantra for a more balanced life, is it?

Working hard = good. Playing hard = good. Yes!? Well, not necessarily. Many psychologists would now point out that this mentality means we are putting unnecessary expectations on ourselves that can create additional hardships. They note that if all we do is work hard and play hard we are opening ourselves up to a whole range of problems – sleep deprivation, alcohol issues and burnout. 

There needs to be a third ‘hard’, but the very word ‘hard’ completely misses the point. To find the right life balance, we need to work effectively, play completely and relax totally. 

At Cleankill, our success is built on the hard work and dedication of everyone in the company, but I’ve always said, ‘work to live, not live to work’. There is nothing wrong with working hard because it gives you a sense of accomplishment and value, things that we need in our lives. The problem is that if those are the only positive inputs into our lives, work can become all-consuming which is never good. So, ‘work effectively’ but only as a part of your life.

Outside interests are a vital part of any work/life balance. Personally, I sing in a local choir, play tennis, support Crystal Palace FC and run a Scout group. These give me highs and lows, moments of stress and release – the whole gamut of life experiences. They also give me the opportunity to mix with people of all kinds, ages, outlooks and backgrounds which keeps me open to new ideas and inputs.

The same can be said for the rest of Cleankill’s directors. Ian Miller plays the guitar and is a member of the England veterans’ hockey team. Clive Bury is a beekeeper and drummer in a local band. Jon Whitehead is a member of both the local Round Table and 41 Club, plays walking rugby and is interested in model railways. 

We all have outside interests away from work that keep us busy and it is amazing how often the next brilliant idea for work will actually occur to us while we are doing them. That’s another of the benefits of ‘playing completely’. 

Of course, neither work nor play should ever be allowed to squeeze out valuable personal time with friends and family or on our own. This is the time we actually get to live as human beings and not as employees or members of a team/group. There must be times when you can just relax, when expectations (both internal and external) are lower – a time when you can ‘relax totally’.

If we find the right work/life balance, we will find ourselves refreshed and more able to navigate the problems we face. This will benefit not only the individual but also the business and its customers.

In times of economic uncertainty and strain, we can easily find our lives overwhelmed. The problems we face may be real, but if they become all-consuming you won’t be able to find a way out. Making sure you have the right work/life balance will give you the energy to see your way through any issues that may arise.

If a problem is bigger, then ask for help. Talk to experts like those available through Cleankill’s employee assistance programme. At our heart, we are communal beings designed to work together, listen to others and offer advice based on experience. Talking isn’t always about getting a definitive answer, it’s about airing your problems to either a trained professional or a trusted group of friends so that you can view the problem from the outside and not just from the confines of your crowded and anxious brain. 

Most of all, though, find a work/life balance that gives your body and your mind the chance to experience achievement, success and pleasure while also allowing it to refresh properly – “work effectively, play completely, relax totally.”