GTP20: How to better control work-life balance (and how to help your people do so)

Diverse Minds UK Ltd

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2020 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2020 this involves 8 free workshops taking place between 2nd March and 27th March, culminating in a full-day Growth Through People conference on 2nd April. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Prime Accountants Group, Aston University, Curium Solutions and CIPD - all workshops are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend Growth Through People workshops here, and the Growth Through People conference here.

We are never far from discussions about work-life balance and how we can achieve it. Often as a result of the increasing levels of stress in our everyday lives. Everyone knows we are too reliant on our technology, we check emails at all hours, children’s homework is issued online, and we use gadgets at home. All in the hope of trying to save time, but this often means we do not have time with constant buzzing, pinging and ringing of various devices. The OECD’s Better Life Index in 2017 found that c.12% of UK employees were working 50+ hours per week.

So, what exactly is work-life balance?

Work-life balance can be defined as:
The balance that a working individual needs between time allocated for work and other aspects of life, this can include personal interests, family and social or leisure activities.

I don’t think there is a one size fits all ideal model. For some, it’s a case of work being vital to their wellbeing, which could result in a 70%-30% split. For others it’s spending less time in an office and more time with their friends and family akin to a 15%-85% split. It will also depend on your current life stage and where you want to focus your time. Trying to obtain a 50-50 split if often unrealistic. What is known is too much work and not enough time for yourself impacts negatively on mental health and wellbeing.

How does wellbeing fit into this?

Wellbeing is how you manage your day-to-day life and how you are feeling on a given day. Wellbeing incorporates physical and mental health to create an overall picture of being well. Mental wellbeing is how we manage ourselves, all our relationships and participate in life in the way we wish to.  Wellbeing is influenced by the environment we work in and as a result it will fluctuate.

Mental Health at Work

In the most recent workplace mental health report published in January 2020: Mental health and employers Refreshing the case for investment, by Deloitte. They estimate that poor mental health among employees:

  • Costs UK employers £42bn to £45bn each year. This is made up of absence costs of c. £7bn, presenteeism costs ranging between £27bn to £29bn and turnover costs of c. £9bn.
  • This is an increase of c.6bn and 16% on the figures in the 2017 report, driven primarily by a rise in presenteeism coming to work despite poor health and underperforming.

What about resilience? Aren’t we simply getting too soft?

Resilience can be defined as the ability to adapt following set-backs and difficult life events, whilst maintaining positive mental health. I think of it as an internal rubber band, so when the shape alters in some way, you have the tools and techniques to bring it back into a workable shape that is unique to you.

However, resilience isn’t a plaster to be stuck on when negative incidents occur or your team are struggling. Resilience isn’t about avoiding life’s challenges by pretending they’re not there or ignoring them but noticing when pressure appears and taking proactive steps to manage those pressures. It also incorporates sustainability, thus providing lasting benefits for our emotional health.

What can be done to support yourself and staff with their work-life balance? 

  1. Negotiating on deadlines and tasks

It may not be possible to change set deadlines, I appreciate this. Nevertheless, it could be worth considering. Think about:

  • What is draining your energy and time?
  • Are there tasks you really resent doing, that add to your mental load
  • Is there anything that you can delegate in the home and/or workspace?
  • Which roles are up for negotiation and change? How could things be reconfigured?

Another option is to find ways to manage tasks with the technology we have at our fingertips via apps. Setting out how it could make your and your team’s life easier.

  1. Not yet instead of no

Saying no or being assertive can be a real barrier to achieving work-life balance. One way to manage this is to say not yet. This shifts the focus away from not being a team player and negative. By saying not yet you are outlining that the time is not right, but that in the near future you will be open to exploring the scope of a project or new challenge. This doesn’t always mean you will get what you want. However, it does mean you respect yourself and the other person and sets a standard for boundaries. It also sends a message to your team to say you are all capable of achieving, adapting and being flexible.

  1. Do you spend time recovering?

After a long week at work and/or caring how do you unwind? Are you able to set aside time to do something you really enjoy? Carve out space for yourself, even if it is two 30 minute sessions. This could be going for a walk, baking a cake, DIY, motorcycle maintenance-anything at all! If you think you will struggle to do this, send yourself calendar invites to help you ring fence the time. Encourage your team to do the same. You may even like to check-in in a gentle way at a team meeting.

Finally, knowing when to realise that you are taking on too much prior to things reaching a crisis point, is a great starting point. You don’t have to make changes quickly adding to your workload! Rather, it’s about identifying where you want to start and addressing elements step-by-step

Leyla Okhai
CEO and Director
Diverse Minds UK Ltd


Leyla Okhai is the CEO and Director of Diverse Minds UK Ltd. Creating positively productive workplaces through training, coaching and consultancy. Diverse Minds centres on wellbeing, mental health and cultural communication. Using her 16 years’ experience as a trainer, coach, and mediator Leyla has developed effective tools to empower leadership teams. Leyla has implemented diversity and inclusion programmes for the world’s top universities and private sector on their strategies. Leyla speaks regularly on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and delivers training programmes across all sectors. Previously, Leyla was the Head of Centre for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Imperial College London, from 2012-2017.