A healthy and sustainable employee work-life balance has become a priority for many employees and an increasing number of employers. But not all companies can promise their employees the luxury of a nine-to-five workday – with the finance industry being infamous for challenging work-life balance expectations.
With the Australian Bureau of Statistics finding that almost two-thirds of full-time workers log more than 40 hours per week, it's not surprising that many might see “work-life balance” as little more than a catchphrase thrown around during team-building exercises or retreats.
But can a work-life balance still be achieved along with career success in the finance industry? And when those long spells at the desk can't be avoided, how can you avoid the pitfalls of workplace stress?
Reduce time-wasting activities
The Pareto principle – also known as the 80/20 rule – says that only about 20 percent of your work activity is responsible for 80 percent of its value. If you find yourself constantly checking news, social media or cat pictures throughout the day, it may be a good idea to install productivity software like Freedom or RescueTime. However, with finance industry workers often juggling meetings, reports and client demands, it's not always so easy to distinguish between what's important and what isn't.
Lisa Hou, Financial Controller at Hilti Australia, says it is important to identify the activities that contribute the most value to your day, and then develop clear boundaries around them.
“I find that many people, regardless of industry, feel stressed in their jobs because either they have not invested time to plan appropriately, or cannot focus on completing one task at a time. The pressure often comes from having conflicting “urgent” requests at the same time.”
In such cases, she recommends using a tool like Covey's Time Management Grid, which categorises tasks by their urgency and importance – so as to distinguish between what needs to be done now, and what can wait until tomorrow or later.
“I believe that [using] techniques such as the Covey grid is a quick way to alleviate some of that stress, and focus on prioritising and differentiating what is important and what is just noise.”
Remember to unplug
Like other sectors, the finance industry has seen its productive efforts boosted by technology, but it's also blurred the line between work and home. A 2014 Pew study of US companies found 39 percent of employees say technology has given them more flexibility. However, 35 percent also said internet, email and mobile phones have increased their overall work hours.
Jon Wood, GM of Finance at BroadSpectrum, recommends being more mindful of our use of technology, especially email.
“Rightly or wrongly, long hours have always been a part of working in finance and I see technology as just another thing to manage. It is becoming a cliché now, but avoiding checking your emails every five minutes, particularly just before bed, is important in maintaining the work-life balance. Getting into a good inbox discipline so that you deal with emails at set times also helps avoid the constant need to check.”
Unplugging has been found to have real health benefits. A Kelley School of Business study found that people who exert more control over their work environment have lower stress and live longer.
At the end of the day, Jon Wood says it's about being confident in the value you deliver to your company.
“Being responsive is obviously very important. But if you set consistent and reasonable boundaries and do a good job, why should you be worrying if someone has to wait until the morning for an email response?”
Be flexible and make the most of your day
Unplugging at a set time every day from a finance industry job isn't always practical if you have a rigid deadline or need to think creatively. If you have to work late on one evening, for example, you could arrange to block out the following evening to spend time with friends and family.
Above all, flexibility should be about making the most of your downtime. Rather than viewing each day as simply something to endure until your end-of-year holiday rolls around, Jon Wood says it's important to seize the day.
“Take advantage of flexible work arrangements and, more importantly, be protective of family time. I think it’s equally important to make sure you find some enjoyment in your day-to-day life. Don’t just wait for holidays, [as] they are few and far between.”
Lisa Hou says spending enough time with family is a matter of choice, and like any work project, should form part of the prioritisation process.
“Many companies are open to flexible working arrangements such as working from home. This may be an option to be explored to save travel time, which means having more to spend with family.”
A study by the Harvard Medical School found that walking fast for 35 minutes every weekday can be a significant mood elevator, and exercise has also been shown to reduce stress, blood pressure and protect against disease.
Whether it's going to the gym, taking a warm bath at the end of the day or just curling up with a good book, it's important to have a regular time each day when you can unwind.
Enjoy your career in the finance industry
So, does a work-life balance exist in the finance industry?
It certainly can, if you're willing to make it happen and you’re prepared to work around the challenges. Rather than something that solely exists in the future, it's better to think of work-life balance in finance as a daily habit of self-care that keeps you healthy, energised, and connected to friends and family.
And, of course, it should also be about acknowledging your successes. You worked hard to get to where you are, so why not enjoy the rewards?