The importance of a healthy work-life balance

Posted on May 28, 2021

Creating a healthy work-life balance

Latest estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have shown that long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, increasing 29% since 2000.

Although the estimates are based on pre-pandemic data, it seems unlikely that this trend will have altered in the past 12 months. WHO and ILO estimate that, in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week. 

The study shows that work-related disease is most prevalent in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions. However, the global shift to remote working triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many people worldwide to work longer hours as the boundary between home and work life has become blurred. Another study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation found when working long hours more than a quarter of employees feel depressed (27%), one third feel anxious (34%), and more than half feel irritable (58%).

According to Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization, “Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard. It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.3


The COVID-19 effect

With people working longer hours to make up for time lost while on furlough during coronavirus lockdowns, or not taking their full entitlement of annual leave due to travel restrictions, it’s reasonable to assume that many of us have spent more time working than normal since March 2020. With this reminder of the impact that overworking can have on our health, maybe it’s time to reassess your work-life balance to create a healthier distinction between work and leisure time.


Five ways to find a better balance

  1. Protect your personal time. Make plans for activities that you enjoy and stick to them. This could be as simple as scheduling in half an hour for a walk or a phone call with a friend after working hours. Scheduled walks or a phone call with a friend are less likely to be cancelled or overlooked. 
  2. Switch off from emails. Avoid reading or replying to work mail out of hours to create a healthier distance from the office. Logging out or switching off your laptop/computer as you would if you were in the office, should also be followed whilst at home.  Having defined working hours will also help you set healthy boundaries for yourself, your employer and your colleagues, so you can enjoy hassle-free downtime.
  3. Make your workspace work for you. A comfortable workspace will improve productivity during working hours, reducing the need to work late to get the job done. If you are working from home, where possible create a dedicated workspace that you can leave at the end of the day – even if that simply means clearing your work clutter from the kitchen table.
  4. Ask for flexibility. Increased awareness of mental health, combined with a rise in remote working, means more employers are open to flexible work arrangements. If possible, speak to your employer about creating a schedule that balances work with your own wellbeing.
  5. Take your annual leave. Even if you don’t have a trip booked, make sure you take the annual leave you are entitled to. Time off will give you a chance to recharge, ready to return and be productive after a long weekend or week away. Take this time to do the things you would have not normally thought of doing locally. 


  1. Pega, F., Náfrádi, B. and Momen, N. C. et al. . (2021). Global, regional, and national burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke attributable to exposure to long working hours for 194 countries, 2000–2016: A systematic analysis from the WHO/ILO Joint Es. Environment International.
  2. Mental Health Foundation . (2021). Work-life balance. Available: Last accessed 25th May 2021.
  3. Johnson, C. and Jasarevic, T.. (2021). Long working hours increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke: WHO, ILO. Available: Last accessed 25th May 2021.