Living to Work or Working to Live? Finding your Work-Life Balance

In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on finding a work-life balance that will make you happy, especially now that a lot of work has become more remote-based. According to a survey done by the Mental Health Foundation, those who spend more time at work are more likely to develop mental health problems. Nearly ⅓ of participants said they were depressed and unhappy about the time they devoted to work and nearly half neglected other aspects of their life due to work. Thus, it is important to find the healthy balance that works for you.

Living to Work

Those who live to work revolve their life around their career and make it their main priority. They are often described as ‘workaholics’. They are very ambitious and goal-driven, and are more willing to sacrifice their personal life in order to grow their business or climb the ranks of their company. There are advantages and disadvantages to this mindset, of course. People who live to work are passionate about their job and are happiest most when working, especially if it means they are paid well. But, the downside to this is it may result in various health problems and damaged relationships.

Working to Live

Those who work to live, work simply for the purpose of earning money. Perhaps they have dependencies and need to make ends meet. But, this does not necessarily mean they are unambitious. Unlike those who live to work, their job is not their main focus as they have other priorities. There are also advantages and disadvantages to this mindset. Those who work to live get to enjoy much more time with people they care about and have more free time, such as being able to go out on the weekends. However, they are more likely to be unhappy as they are spending 35+ hours of their week doing a job that they do not like.

Finding your Balance

Japan is very well known for being a nation that doesn’t rest. They are seen as very hard-working and indeed, 30% of men and over 20% of women in Japan work at least 50+ hours a week. In comparison, about 18% of men and 11% of women in the UK work these hours. This may not seem like a big difference, but Japanese companies are also obliged to give only 10 days paid leave, and that is after working at a company for at least half a year. Japanese employees are then entitled to 20 days leave after 6.5 years of service. Compared to the UK, a full-time employee would typically be granted 25 days, plus bank holidays, regardless of their length of service. Additionally, there is the social pressure of actually taking days off, which is why the Japanese typically do not even take their entitled leave. This becomes a serious problem when you take into account that the Japanese have the term ‘karoshi’ (death from overworking) in their daily lexicon. Not only are they more likely to endure stress and health problems, there is also a notoriously high rate of work-related suicide in Japan, especially in men.

You may be wondering why I am comparing the UK to a country as extreme as Japan, particularly when there are several differing cultural factors, but the point remains the same — we need to find a balance that suits us or we may find ourselves being affected by karoshi on a smaller scale. There are several benefits of a better work-life balance including:

  • Better mental health — as previously mentioned, working longer hours means that we are more likely to develop mental health problems. To combat this, take responsibility and learn to say no. If the workload is too much, your employer needs to be aware of this and address them. Your colleagues may also be suffering so by speaking up, the workplace may become more enjoyable for everyone. For those who work to live in particular, you might want to find a career that involves something that you love, or enjoy, to improve your mental health considering we spend most of our week at work. Don’t spend most of it only looking forward to the weekend. Alternatively, try to build better relationships with those at work so that it becomes more enjoyable
  • Better physical health — we are more likely to develop burnout and stress-related diseases, such as cardiovascular problems if we work too much. Excessive work can also lead to developing unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking. It is important to take time to focus on things such as a healthy diet and exercise, so that you feel good physically, which consequently helps mentally. Also, take proper breaks at work, as it is especially important for those who live to work. You will not be able to enjoy the career that you love if you are spending it in hospital or have to take time off work due to exhaustion.
  • Better productivity — when you are feeling good mentally and physically, you will also see better productivity in your work. You will be more motivated to do work, so your work quality will also be better. You will need to learn to sort out your priorities, so that you do not stress yourself out. Set yourself a certain amount of time for some tasks and try to avoid wasting time on unnecessary meetings. Work smart, not hard. Specifically, for those who work to live, doing something that you love is truly the only way to do great work, so don’t waste your time being unproductive and unhappy at a job you don’t enjoy.
  • Improved relationships — by allocating less time at work, you will be able to spend more of it with friends and family. This can help avoid issues at home as you are less consumed by your career. If you work from home, then try to separate business and personal life, such as making an office, or simply designating a work space. You might find yourself distracted by the thought of work when trying to take a break because your workspace is in the other room. In that instance, find a cafe to work at instead.

Mental health is a topic that has become less stigmatised over the years and as we are able to talk about it more freely, we need to discuss ways that will help and that is why there are several benefits of having a good work-life balance as seen above. Finding that balance will improve your mindset and help make you a happier person. We need to keep in mind the situation in Japan that has plagued them for decades, and take lessons from that so that we don’t find ourselves in the same situation.

By Phi Minh Duong

WellBe is spearheading the way to a brighter future for corporate wellness. Our innovative portal is scientifically designed and tailored to each individual employee to improve their wellbeing. We specialise in a range of services from coaching and therapists, to meditation and reading materials. Our aim is to reduce workplace stress that costs UK businesses £42 billion per year. Get in touch with us by visiting our site wellbe.global for more information.