Work-life balance in the era of non-communicable diseases

Stress is one of the leading causes of lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and stroke. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

Attaining a satisfactory work-life balance has become increasingly elusive for many workers.

Work-life balance does not mean to devote equal amounts of time to paid work and non-paid roles. In its broadest sense, is defined as a satisfactory level of involvement or ‘fit’ between the multiple roles in a person’s life.

Four broad categories associated with work-life balance are role overload, work-to-family interference, family-to-work interference and caregiver strain.

The reality is, work will interrupt life and life will interrupt work. The challenge is finding a way to effectively integrate the two.

There was a time when the boundaries between work and life were fairly clear — in 1910, a “normal” sleeping schedule was considered an average of nine hours per night, while today this has fallen to around seven hours.


Today, a large number of employees point out two main factors that hurt work-life balance the most — time-related issues and the people they work with and/or for with dependent variables being an employee’s age, the age and number of children in the household, marital status, the profession and level of employment and income level.

With urbanisation, traffic jams and inflation, employees are torn between commuting to work, juggling heavy workloads, managing relationships, family responsibilities, and off work interests including ‘side hustles’. In this rush to “get it all done” employees end up sacrificing health, diet, physical fitness and families.

Adverse working conditions, such as job strain and effort-reward imbalance have been identified as key risk factors for poor health, including musculoskeletal conditions, obesity, cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease, weak immune systems and mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression and stroke.

Indeed, studies have shown that individuals who work 55 hours or more per week have a 1.3 times higher risk of stroke than those working standard hours.

Other personal and societal consequences of work-life imbalance include lower-life satisfaction, family strife and divorce, violence, drug and substance abuse, growing problems with parenting and supervision of children and adolescents and escalating rates of juvenile delinquency.

Organisational consequences of this imbalance include: absenteeism, reduced productivity, decreased job satisfaction, lower levels of organisational commitment and loyalty hence employee turnover, and rising health care costs for organisations.

Today, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are replacing or, in some settings, co-existing with the burden of communicable diseases (CDs) — they are expected to cause 73 percent of global deaths and 60 percent of the disease burden by 2020.

Predisposing risk factors to NCDs are related to lifestyle to some degree-including inadequate rest, stress, obesity and lack of exercises.

Prevention or modification of these risk factors can be achieved through healthy lifestyles including food choices, rest and physical activity which are dependent on work-life balance.

Thus, employers are targeted by NCDs interventions one of the 12 key healthy lifestyle stakeholders and their overarching roles are the creation of a healthy lifestyle environment within the workplace and offering healthy lifestyle programming to employees.

When work-life is balanced and employees are happy, they are more productive, take fewer sick-off days, and are more likely to stay in their jobs.

A worksite is an optimal place for promoting healthy lifestyles.

The workplace environment should emulate a healthy lifestyle made up of healthy food choices in the cafeteria, walking paths, stationary walking treadmill work stations, a smoke-free policy, flexible working hours and leave arrangements, and on-site workout facilities and fitness classes, staff discounts at local gyms, provision of Fitbit’s and promotion of workplace health competitions, psychosocial support and opportunities to work on creative projects.

The key to managing stress lies in that one magic word: balance, yet one cannot manufacture time! At the individual worker level, consider these ideas: cut or delegate some activities; keep a daily to-do list at home and at work to maintain focus.

Learn to say no when overburdened — remember that it’s okay to respectfully say no. Leave work at work, take advantage of your options such as Flexi hours, a compressed workweek, job sharing, telecommuting or other scheduling flexibility, shorten commitments, minimise interruptions, set manageable goals each day, be efficient with your time at work, take five-small breaks and stagger your leave days across the year to allow cooling breaks, eat a healthy diet ideally the Mediterranean diet, get enough sleep, make time for fun and relaxation.

Also, participate in selective volunteering, bolster your social support system and exercise.

The writer is an implementation scientist.