Balancing Act: getting that work-life balance

The average person spends around 82,000 hours at work throughout their lifetime. For people consistently doing overtime, this skyrockets. Two employees share their experiences of overtime and flexitime.

In Western Europe, the UK has the worst work-life balance, with British employees working 325 more hours each year than their European counterparts.

That roughly equates to eight weeks extra work every year. Working overtime can be extremely stressful and can cause burnout. But, what is it like to work past five o’clock?

Ros Nash

Ex-Magazine Editor

“My job could be fun at times, but it was hard work. It was impossible to get everything done without doing a lot of overtime. Part of the problem was that so much of my time during the work day was taken up by editorial admin, it didn’t leave much time for the core part of my job, writing articles. This meant that I’d end up doing the majority of the writing at home at the weekends, where I could work away in peace.

“At one point I’d done 50 hours overtime in three weeks. I’m a natural born worrier, so I was never very good at separating my home and work lives. I often had trouble sleeping at night; I was uptight and couldn’t relax, thinking about all the things that needed doing the next day.

“I took a fair bit of time out after quitting my job. I travelled around Europe in a campervan with my husband for six months, came home and sort of drifted for a while. I now live and work in a forest in Caithness, which is about as different as it’s possible to be from my old life in the centre of Glasgow. My lifestyle is infinitely healthier than it used to be.

“I think most people have it drummed into them as a kid that you must work hard and not give up. And you never ask for help, you just get on with it. Of course you can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but I’m better at managing my stress levels now, more aware of my behaviour and how it impacts my mental health.

“My advice would be to learn from my mistakes and make plans to escape before you reach crisis point. The thought of giving up a good job can be very frightening,  but there’s a whole world out there to explore. No job is worth risking your health.”

For Sarah, her experience of work has been significantly different.

Sarah Usher

Process Manager

“I struggled with post-natal depression after my son was born and I didn’t really realise that’s what it was until I attempted to go back to work at my previous job. I told them that I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him for 40 hours a week, and asked if it was possible to work one day less.

“They said no, so I suggested job share and they said no again. They offered me a demoted post instead, to allow me to work more flexibly. I felt that was a huge slap in the face as I’d worked really hard to get to where I was. I was already questioning my abilities as a mother and I felt like maybe I couldn’t have it all: maybe I couldn’t have a career and be a mum.

“When I started my current job, my boss said all I had to do was come to the office one day a week, and the rest of the week I could work from home.

“I started working about 15 hours a week, and I now do 27. I work in the office on a Monday and every second Friday. I can cut and paste my hours: as long as I get it done it’s absolutely fine. I’m trusted to manage my own time.

“I can split my days, so I can spend a bit of  time with my husband and maybe go out for lunch and do some chores. I can take an hour out to help at my son’s nursery, or pick him up early and have a playdate.

“I’m in that sandwich between having elderly parents and young children and for many people of my age, that’s really difficult and stressful. I don’t find it stressful. Flexitime has enabled me to go back and forward to see my parents. Forcing myself into a full-time job wouldn’t have allowed me the downtime to do that.

“Having a good work-life balance is good for your mental health. It’s definitely a less stressful way to live and allows you
to appreciate the smaller things in life.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, you can speak to the Samaritans ( on 116 123, 24 hours a day.

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