Work/Life balance: in conversation with Elena

Work/Life balance: in conversation with Elena

The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population.

One in six of us will experience a mental health problem in any given week, and mental health awareness day research this year suggests that a majority of Britons have experienced some kind of mental health problem, with young adults especially open about this when surveyed.

What’s clear then is that in our workplaces and in our circles of friends, there are people living with mental health problems, or just keeping themselves afloat, whether we know it or not. Work related stress already costs Britain 10.4 million working days per year. But the human costs of un-managed work-related stress extend far beyond this. A key way to protect your mental health against the potential detrimental effects of work related stress is to ensure you have a healthy work-life balance.

We spoke to Elena Nistor-Lustermans, internal audit manager for IT, chairwoman of the Return to Work Network, mother and step-mother of two young children and a young student,to find out how she maintains a healthy balance in her busy life.

What are the challenges in maintaining a healthy work/life balance as a full-time professional with young children and many other family commitments?
To begin with, I disagree with the term work/life balance. In my experience, there is no such thing as a balance but rather a constant interactive and dynamic pull and tug between time spent working and time spent with family. Together with all this there is also the matter of finding time for yourself. Picture your capacity to do things as a pie. Work, family and pleasure will comprise the pieces. If work takes up more than half the pie, it eats into time spent with family and time doing other things. If you insist on trying to do everything, you push beyond your capacity and that leads to stress which can cause other problems and negatively impact overall wellbeing.

How do you avoid going beyond your capacity?
Firstly, I make sure I know my limits and I share them with my circle both in and outside work.

Secondly, I ask for help when I need it even though asking is not my strength. What I have learnt over time is that if I don't ask for help I won't get it.

Thirdly, I make time for myself even if it is 7 minutes, twice a day, when drinking my coffee or my tea I am blocking out all the ''noise'' and focusing on the Now! That is one of my favourite mindfulness exercises. Practising mindfulness has helped me a lot and I encourage everyone to follow some simple exercises - it's such a small change to your routine that can make such a big difference. Additionally, I don’t aim for perfection. I know that perfection is unachievable and encourages a negative mind set of focusing on what is not good enough rather than what has been done well. I like to establish goals (personal and professional) that give me a sense of purpose and keep me focused on what matters for me.

Lastly, I make sure I don't worry about things I cannot change and let those feelings of worry and frustration go. I have to recognise this is easier said than done, especially with young children, but I am working on it. My Mental Health First Aider* training was a source of great insight in terms of good practice because as our trainer said, we cannot help others if we don't know how to help ourselves first. For that purpose, he spoke about how important it is to understand and be aware of imbalances we might have in our life that need attention.

What would you use as an example of mental health good practice in the workplace?
Having a well-defined job role is a good start. Knowing how you add value and where you add it increases your confidence and allows you to be more aware of how you can maximise the effectiveness of your work. For example, continuously taking on additional tasks that are irrelevant to your core work objectives or you are not necessarily passionate about cannot only reduce the amount of time you have left for your own work but it can also drain your energy and increase your stress levels, resulting ina negative impact on the overall quality of your work outcomes. Learn when to say no and be brave about it.

How can an employer contribute to mental health good practice?
In many ways. One example that comes to mind is showing trust and empowering its people. A culture of trust and open-mindedness across the organisation can allow employees to be their best selves. By showing trust, I mean line managers and team colleagues allowing that freedom and space for their team members to make decisions, manage their own workload, prioritise, strategise and challenge the status quo about how to achieve objectives.

At the same time it is important to be non-judgemental and find ways to get the best out of each team member by focusing on their strengths. We should not forget that every individual has strengths and being encouraged and trusted to give the best of their abilities contributes to a sense of ownership for their work, it is empowering and it increases the self-esteem. 

Overall, maintaining a healthy work/life balance, or should we say continuously and effectively juggling all aspects of our lives, demands a certain level of self-awareness and a daily life strategy which never forgets number one. In terms of work culture, it is important to feel control and ownership of our work and to do so we need to feel trusted and supported when needed.

For more information on mental health and wellbeing join us on Time to Talk Day (Thursday 1 February, Moorgate meeting room, 12-2pm) to talk about all things mental health and visit our new wellbeing website. Also on the day, be sure to share your tips on Yammer about how you relax after a long day using the hashtag #TimetoTalk.