Do you live to work or work to live? As technology and our mobile devices makes it harder to switch off from work after hours, on weekends and even during holidays, our appreciation for and the value we place on work-life balance has grown immensely.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report found Australia ranked 27 out of 35 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries when it comes to levels of work-life balance.

Data in the report showed 20 per cent of Australian men and 7 per cent of women worked 50 hours or more per week in 2015, down from 26 per cent and 8 per cent respectively, in 2004. Despite the reduction in hours, Australia is still among the bottom third of OECD countries when it comes to working long hours.

Barry Sandison, Director and Chief Executive at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said what mattered was whether the number of working hours matched an individual’s personal preferences.

“The report illustrates that regardless of the number of hours worked, if an individual’s preferences did not align with their working hours, they reported lower levels of satisfaction and poorer mental health than individuals whose preferences aligned with their working hours,” Sandison explained.

Who is most affected by a poor work-life balance?

The Australian Work and Life Index is a national study designed to measure how much work has a negative impact on other areas of life. The index shows certain groups are more affected than others by an imbalance in work and personal time, including:

  • Women who typically have less adequate work-life balance than men, and do around twice as much caring and domestic work on average
  • Parents particularly mothers, and even more so single mothers
  • People who are caring for others, such as sick, elderly or disabled relatives
  • The ‘sandwich generation’, which are women who care for children as well as elderly or sick relatives
  • People in certain occupations including managers, professionals and those in the mining industry

Those who have a poor work-life balance are more likely to experience high levels of stress and burnout – a state of emotional and physical exhaustion, which can occur after a long period of excessive or stressful work.

RELATED: How to maintain work-life balance

How can organisations help improve work-life balance for employees?

Although external factors influence a person’s ability to achieve an ideal work-life balance, organisations can nonetheless do their part to help their employees.

  • Provide staff with flexibility

Flexible working options including part-time work, job sharing and working from home have been shown to increase job satisfaction, productivity, and motivation. Therefore providing more flexible work arrangements to employees can also lead to reduced staff turnover, increased staff retention and reduced absenteeism.

  • Adopt family-friendly policies

Initiatives like generous parental leave policies, subsidised childcare and return-to-work programs make juggling family life and work life easier for working parents, especially those with young children. Adopting policies that recognise the importance of family time can go a long way towards improving employee’s work-life balance and their performance in the workplace.

  • Encourage employees to take annual leave

A study found, on average, Australians have 16 days of unused leave. Further research found 2.4 million full-time working Australians have gone over a year without taking leave, with 86 per cent experiencing a level of burnout as a result. Encouraging employees to take leave throughout the year and, if possible, having a mandatory shutdown period at the end of the year can help avoid the negative repercussions of working too long without having an adequate break.

  • Put work-life balance on the table for discussion

Every person will have different needs and preferences when it comes to managing their work-life balance. As such, it is important employees feel they can openly communicate their individual requests to you. Take time during one-on-one meetings to ask how employees feel they’re handling their workloads with their other responsibilities, and what you can do to facilitate a healthier work-life balance if needed.

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