The Importance of Work-Life Balance Explained

Smiling businessman lying on grass
Andreas Saldavs /

For many modern employees, it can sometimes feel like your entire life revolves around what goes on in the office. Even when you’re off the clock, there may be calls to be taken, emails to be answered or reports to be written. While your friends are out partying, you’re probably poring over the latest spreadsheet figures, desperate to put something tangible on the boss’s desk the next day.

But why do we put ourselves through so much toil and misery? We all want to climb the ladder and earn a bigger pay packet, of course, but what use is it if you haven’t got a life in which to enjoy it? There’s nothing necessarily wrong with your career defining you, either, but human existence is about more than what you achieve at your place of work. So why pretend that it’s healthy to push ourselves to such extreme limits?

The simple answer is that many people fail to realise what they are doing to themselves until it’s too late. After all, it’s impossible to maintain such an unworkable lifestyle without there being eventual consequences – and, unfortunately, a lot of committed, driven employees are too blinded by the prospect of success to recognise this. Therefore, it’s essential to take stock and understand the wider importance of work-life balance.

What Is Work-Life Balance?

If you spend your entire life at your boss’s beck and call, then it’s likely that you’re unaware of what a healthy work-life balance actually is; to help you out, here’s a quick definition.

Work-life balance is a conscious effort to separate your work life from your personal life and to not let the former dictate the latter. It sounds simple in practice but, depending on your profession and your industry, you may be required to work all kinds of hours – and often without any financial recompense, too. While it’s essentially your decision on whether you’re happy to make these kinds of sacrifices and commitments, remember that you only have one life, and there’s far more to it than memos and revenue projections.

Why Is Work-Life Balance Important?

To demonstrate how burning the candles at both ends is such a bad idea, we’ve listed some of the benefits of balancing your work schedule and your personal life, so that the next time your boss calls you in the middle of dinner, you’ll think twice about what you’re really willing to sacrifice for your job.

This is what you need to know.

1. It Preserves Your Mental Health

There’s absolutely no doubt about this: if you’re putting in crazy hours at the office and basing your entire life around work, then you will suffer burnout. It really is as simple as that. Whether you manage to keep up the charade for weeks, months or even years, at some point it will catch up with you – and it won’t be pretty when it does.

Burnout is the culmination of increasing stress, so make sure you’re aware of the signs and what to do if you notice any of them. Meanwhile, although more companies are starting to realise their responsibilities in regards to mental health, there is still a long way to go; if you don’t feel like you are getting the support you need from your employers or your concerns are simply being ignored, then it might be worth taking your services elsewhere.

2. It Preserves Your Physical Health, Too

Severe stress doesn’t just cause you to develop mental health issues – it’s well documented that it has direct physiological effects, too, such as high blood pressure (which can, in turn, lead to serious heart-related problems). In 2013, for example, a finance intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch suffered a fatal seizure due to the demands being placed upon him. In Japan, meanwhile, the phenomenon is becoming so common that there is even a designated term for it: karōshi, which translates literally as ‘death by overworking’.

In addition, a sedentary, office-based lifestyle isn’t grounds for a particularly healthy lifestyle as it is, so if you’re spending large amounts of your time sitting at your desk – with little opportunity outside of work to hit the gym or follow a healthy diet – then you can expect to develop health problems further down the line, too.

3. It Benefits the Company

A tired, stressed out employee that’s been worked to the bone is hardly going to be a productive and effective member of any organisation, an obvious truth that is luckily becoming apparent now to many companies. Therefore, it’s in their own interests (through wellness and mindfulness programmes) to ensure that staff are maintaining a healthy balance and coming into work refreshed and ready to do their best work each day.

Unfortunately, of course, not all companies see it this way. The finance industry, in particular, is regularly accused of taking advantage of bright and determined workers and then replacing them with willing new recruits when they eventually quit or burn out. As previously mentioned, if you find yourself in this sort of situation, then consider switching to a company that takes your wellbeing a little more seriously.

4. It Allows You to Pursue Personal Relationships

It’s a tried and tested formula in many Hollywood productions where the brilliant and mercurial lead character will often enjoy enormous success in their career, while their personal lives crash and burn. Harvey Specter from Suits, for example, might be the best corporate lawyer in New York, but his lack of closeness and ability to sustain any form of personal relationship – romantic or otherwise – is hardly healthy.

Yet, despite the dramatisation, there is still a strong element of truth to these depictions. It is difficult (although, of course, not impossible) to maintain meaningful relationships when your number one priority is work; even more so when or if there is family and children involved. Our personal relationships arguably influence us to a greater extent than any other part of our lives, so ensuring that we make time for them is vital to not just our happiness, but our personal development, too.

5. It Discourages Resentment

In a world where job satisfaction is now just as important a retention factor as salary, the significance of doing something you enjoy for a living cannot be overstated. However, if that job begins to take over your life, then at some point you will start to resent it and what was once your passion can quickly turn into a nightmare.

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As with most things in life, the key to enjoying something is to know that you have to spend time away from it, too. By disassociating yourself from work when you leave the office every day, you can focus this positive energy on other parts of your life as well.

6. You’ll Develop as a Person

Despite various misconceptions, the hobbies section of your CV is there for a reason: employers are actually interested in what you like to do outside of work, as well as the kind of person you are when you’re not at your desk.

This is because the office, believe it or not, isn’t the only place where you can develop highly sought-after soft skills such as communication and teamwork. If you’re working all the time, then you won’t have space to fit any hobbies in. Therefore, you owe it not just to yourself to spend time doing the things you genuinely enjoy, but also to your employer, who will undoubtedly benefit from the external skills and experiences that you can bring to the table.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is about more than giving yourself some free time to simply binge-watch Netflix or party with your friends. It’s about protecting and preserving your mental and physical health for an extended period of time and enabling you to live a balanced, well-rounded and normal life.

Employers have a very serious responsibility to ensure that their staff are given this opportunity, and while there is still a long way to go in regards to achieving this, it is also your own personal responsibility to look after yourself and realise when things are getting too much.

As the old saying goes: nobody lies on their deathbed and wishes they’d spent more time at work, so always remember to put your own wellbeing first and to strike that balance of success both in and out of the office. You’ll likely be happier and, besides, if nothing else: you might just live a little longer.

Why do you think a healthy work-life balance is important? Join the conversation down below and let us know.