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More free time, less stress?

How you can avoid chronic stress in private and at work

The boundary between work and personal life is becoming increasingly blurred. One reason for this is that people have become constantly reachable and consequently – and this is a very common expectation – constantly available. This state of affairs is deplored by psychologists in what they term as a lack of work-life balance. Staff who can be contacted by their manager or colleagues even in the evenings are far more likely to burn out. But more free time does not always equal less stress. People who are constantly active and on the move in their own spare time, yet don't schedule in enough relaxation time, do not necessarily experience less stress.

Work is only one aspect of life

Whether it's housework, employment or any other kind, work forms a part of most people's daily lives. As the popular phrase 'work-life balance' is a simplistic differentiation between employment and life, many prefer the expression 'life domain balance'. This term is a much better representation of the idea that work is only one of the many different areas of life that need to be taken into account when considering each individual way of life. The sum of all areas of life, apart from occupational employment, is termed 'private life'.

A healthy balance between all the different areas of life is becoming more and more important for many people. And as gainful employment makes up quite a significant proportion of this, the compatibility of work with private life as a whole is very much in the spotlight.

Company size is immaterial

These measures can benefit both parties. Staff are happier and more motivated because their work is more easily adapted to the stage they are at in their life. Thanks to greater commitment and an improved atmosphere at work, efficiency levels improve and costs, for example for personnel, go down. A positive image increases a company's appeal as an employer and puts the company at an advantage when recruiting talented workers.

Small and medium-sized enterprises can also benefit from a corporate commitment to a better life domain balance for their staff. And they can do this without having to put together a package of costly measures. Quite the opposite, in fact. Due to the flat hierarchies, it is much easier to develop individually tailored solutions together.

The fact that an improved life domain balance only has to incur minimal costs, or that the benefits outweigh the cost, is illustrated in the 'SME Handbook on Career and Family' published by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). According to SECO, SMEs can make use of the following measures to avoid chronic stress for their staff:

Flexible working hours facilitate the compatibility of career and family – regardless of workload. Part-time working and family-friendly leave allow young parents in particular to find the right balance between looking after the children and everyday working life.

Re-think the organisation of your working procedures. In this way, you can avoid idle time and therefore increase staff motivation, for example through direct communication or allowing teams to make arrangements amongst themselves.

Not having to travel to work, or being able to complete certain tasks on the way to work, can reduce stress levels. That's why it makes sense to introduce work location flexibility – insofar as it is operationally viable.

Create a positive working environment and encourage open communication – for example via regular discussions with staff. This builds trust amongst staff and increases satisfaction.

Offer your staff development prospects, for example by supporting them in their professional development. This will reduce staff turnover and ensure that your company retains its competitive edge in a fast-changing market. 

Beginning is easy: a checklist

Many companies already implement certain measures. Health Promotion Switzerland have developed a Checklist for a Life Domain Balance especially for SMEs, to help them analyse the current situation and to offer a substantiated foundation for planning and implementing further activities. It shows where a company stands and supports the people in charge in defining the next steps.

 (in German only)