TNL Careers: Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Some jobs are easy to leave at the door when you leave in the evening, and some aren’t. Working in an early years setting can be wonderful as you enjoy the excitement and variety that comes with working with little ones – you never know what they’re going to throw at you next! However, when things get tough or very busy, it’s more difficult to just switch off after a day of work.
To make sure you don’t burn out and look after your mental health, it’s important to maintain a healthy work-life balance, but how do you know if you’ve tipped the scales too far in the wrong direction?
Even if we don’t feel it, underlying stress can cause the muscles and brain to work overtime, taking a toll on your energy levels over time. In addition to this, stress can cause a lowering in the immune system so you’re more likely to get sick.
If you find you’re often thinking “I’ll just finish this before I go” and leaving much later than planned, your work life is definitely cutting into your home life. Trying to leave on time is difficult, but if you’re finding you can’t get everything done in your allocated work hours, you may just have too much to do. It might be time for a chat with your setting manager.
Bringing work home
A common way we try to balance work and home is by doing things like taking paperwork with us on an evening, with the intention of “relaxing” at home but still getting stuff done. In reality, this doesn’t really work – you’re not fully working but also not fully relaxing, meaning the boundaries between work and home are blurred and you’re not getting the rest and relaxation you need before another busy day. Do your best to not fall into this habit!
Not knowing what to prioritise
If you’re ending your day with too many unfinished tasks it can be hard to work out what’s your biggest priority, or fall into trying to finish multiple things at once. Try to be harsh and work out what is absolutely essential and focus on one task at a time (as much as possible while looking after your early years). If you’re still finding you aren’t getting things finished, you may just have too much on your plate.
Losing patience easily
Underlying stress can make us feel irritable and more likely to snap. If you aren’t necessarily feeling stressed but notice a change in your patience levels with your children, you may not be coping as well as you think.
Messy personal space
An imbalance in work and home life means some things get put to the bottom of the list. If you find you are struggling to find the time or energy to carry out home tasks like cleaning, a reassessment of your work life may be needed.
Always thinking of work
Sometimes it can be difficult to switch off, but if you find that every evening is spent not concentrating on home life but on thinking about the day ahead, you need to find a way to try and switch off. For some tips on how best to do this, take a look at That Nursery Life’s article on How to Switch Off.
So, now we know the signs, how do we try to make sure we have a healthy work-life balance?
Respect your own time
It may be difficult at first, but make sure you’re firm with when you arrive at and leave your setting. Make sure you respect your own time as much as you would another person’s – if a colleague kept staying late would you encourage them or tell them to go home and rest?
Turn off your devices
Even if other people are sending work emails after hours, it doesn’t mean you have to reply to them then and there. Turn off your phone (or just the work notifications) and resist the temptation to check if anything has come in. Let yourself focus on a book or tv program without distractions to properly de-stress.
Know when to speak up
If you are struggling, talk to your manager. All too often our sense of pride and, possibly, imposter syndrome mean that we’re scared to speak up or say we’re struggling. You may be stressed out of your mind but keeping up the appearance of coping so well that your manager has no idea. If all you do when not at your setting is think about your setting, talk to your manager about your workload and ask if you can discuss any adjustments to make your workdays easier.
Don’t forget people outside of work
If all we do is work, it’s easy to just rely on colleagues to meet your social needs. While being friends with colleagues is great, it’s important to spend time with people outside of your setting, so you can truly get away from the work mindset. Make the effort to call or visit friends and you’ll reap the benefits.
Learn to let it go
Working with early years is different from other roles. They are surprising, exciting, tiring, confusing, amusing and, sometimes, heart-breaking; in a normal day you could have anything from an activity plan falling flat to contact with social services about a child. Because of this, it’s impossible to not take things to heart and dwell on them long after you’ve waved goodbye to them at home time. This can lead to more stress, however, and it’s important to learn to let things go as much as necessary to make sure you’re not causing extra stress to yourself.
Overall, we know it’s hard to try and balance work and home life. We wouldn’t be working with early years if we didn’t care about them deeply and want the best for them. However, self-preservation is absolutely key to being the best EY practitioner you can be - you’ll be no use to those children if you’re burnt out!