Women's wellbeing: Finding a healthy work-life balance

Woman walking outside with backpack

For this month’s Health & Wellbeing Update we’re focusing on women’s wellbeing.

We spoke to women across the APM Group of businesses, to see how they maintained their wellbeing and what advice they had for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Together the team shared valuable insights, advice and experiences of how women – and everyone – can better support their wellbeing.

Women from APM who contributed to this month's health and wellbeing blog

This month's contributors are:

  • Vimi Dogra, Senior Consultant Psychologist at Communicorp
  • Jenna Baskin, CEO of MCI
  • Kate Nowlan, Psychotherapist and Strategic Advisor at CIC
  • Anna Matthews, Exercise Physiologist, Konekt Workcare
  • Louise Cadby, NSW State Manager for APM WorkCare
  • Beulah Joseph, Psychologist and Service Excellence Manager for Assure

a hand balancing pebbles on a beach

Why is work-life balance important?

VIMI: On average, we spend up to 90,000 hours and most of our waking lives at work.

That’s why it’s so important that we have energy at the end of the day to do the things we love and spend meaningful, quality time with the most important people in our lives (fur babies included!).

JENNA: For me, work-life balance assumes that at any one time we can find balance between home/personal and life. I rather believe in a work-life 'blend'.

Many people get caught up and stressed about finding balance, and the energy sucked into finding balance could be better spent in making a work-life 'blend' more comfortable for you.

Being conscious about a 'blend' is acknowledging that periods of both work and home/personal life will ebb and flow, and many times it will all happen at the same time.

We need to have a blend of our work and home life experiences over time to make sure that we are physically and mentally performing the best we can.

KATE: The helping professions are particularly vulnerable to burnout – working long hours with a passion for improving lives.

The increase in mental health issues during COVID-19 crisis has stretched employees in the industry – increasing fatigue and exhaustion.

Work-life balance is critical to addressing this, particularly for those working from home with families, juggling responsibilities with no let up.

ANNA: Without work life balance I would not be able to achieve all that I do. Planning my days to allow for training, work commitments and quality time with my children allows me to be all the things I need to be to be a happy confident whole person.

LOUISE: The work we do to support our clients can be very emotionally challenging if you don’t have a good separation between work and home life.

Similarly, as managers we have to be present and available for our team members whenever they need us and often at a moment’s notice.

We have to project a positive and supportive attitude no matter how busy we are.

Some days, I’ll admit I go home at the end of the day feeling like my tank is empty, so I try to ensure my self-care occurs regularly and in different ways to ensure my tank is refilled before the next day.

BEULAH: When we feel overwhelmed or imbalanced, it makes it harder for us to be effective in what we do and to find joy and purpose in life.

We can become stuck in unhealthy cycles that can easily escalate.

To achieve balance is to enable ourselves to thrive, grow and enjoy our lives. This has a flow on effect to everyone we come into contact with.

Woman exercising at home

What do you do when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed?

VIMI: I find it helpful to walk away from the stressor and do something that will help calm me down in the moment (eg: breathing exercises, making a coffee or stepping outside).

It’s very hard to think clearly when your mind is in overdrive! After work, I like to decompress by catching the sunset at a beach. This helps me feel relaxed for the next day.

JENNA: Exercise is my stress relief. An intense gym or spinning class helps, but so do walks. I block out most mornings for exercise to proactively set up a stress-free day.

KATE: I get outside into fresh air.

ANNA: Breathe. Mindfulness is something I act on every day to help me focus on competing priorities. I also do love making a list. It always helps me stay organised.

LOUISE: It’s important to have “one thing” you are passionate about. Mine is being part of a female community choir which I attend weekly, as well as the odd performance.

It completely relieves my stress and allows me to exist within a tribe of really supportive women.

We raise money for people impacted by domestic violence, and this allows me to give back to my community whilst also singing every week - which is something I do completely for myself and has nothing to do with work or family.

BEULAH: I cuddle my dog and cats as they remind me to take a moment and breathe. They are so much wiser than I am sometimes!

Woman smiling at her desk with a dog sat next to her laptop

How do you try to maintain a healthy work-life balance?

VIMI: It’s very easy to let our time be filled with competing priorities and for our work-life balance to take a back seat.

I find that scheduling in time for self-care during the day helps me stay accountable for my own wellbeing. Maintaining healthy boundaries at work is also key by making sure I take my lunch breaks and switch off all devices at the end of the workday.

JENNA: Besides pre-booking 6am exercise time slots so that I cannot sleep in, I try to forward plan my weeks to see where I can book in catch ups with friends or time with family. Adding variety to your free time to include walks, coffees, movies, or even a picnic can help create more meaningful uses of your time.

KATE: Gardening. Go for a walk. Read. Phone a friend.

ANNA: I’m a triathlete so I get up at 4am every day (six days per week) and exercise. I train until 6:30am and then have breakfast with my children before taking them to school.

I then work until 3:30pm and pick up my children. Some days they have sport after school which I take them to and do more work while I wait for them to finish.

Other days we go to the park or beach after school or hang out at home.

I try not to work in the evenings or on weekends. Saturday mornings I train until 11:30am and then the rest of the weekend is for family time, catching up with friends, relaxing and fun.

And yes, I do go to bed by 9:30pm (sometimes earlier) every night as I actually do like sleep. Sundays are for sleep ins!

LOUISE: I try to avoid working on weekends. I also ensure I make the most of my energy levels which are at their highest in the mornings. I start work earlier so that I can get a lot done without a lot of interruption.

This then means I don’t feel guilty about finishing the day at a decent time and getting out for a swim or to make time for family activities.

BEULAH: I exercise regularly at the gym and walk the dog. I go to a café and treat myself to scrambled eggs on toast while I read a book without looking at my phone.

I connect with my girlfriends who remind me to slow down and look after myself as I sometimes forget. I go for walks with my partner and we sit on a park bench and hold hands.

Two women working at a table in an office

What advice would you give to help colleagues improve their work-life balance?

VIMI: It’s so important that we remember to put on our oxygen mask first before we put on someone else’s. In the first instance, I have found it more helpful to check in and ask what would be best for them to achieve work life balance rather than giving specific advice.

You may be surprised that people generally have the answer within themselves!

JENNA: Be mindful and conscious with your time. You don't need to plan every minute of your free time and it is okay to consciously use your time to watch TV or binge a show on Netflix, as long as it is purposeful.

I would also encourage you to share plans with your team members. This could inspire them to try something new on the weekend and create variety with their own time.

KATE: Take regular breaks. Every day. Take your holidays even if you can’t travel far at the moment. Talk with colleagues by picking up the phone – don’t stay hidden behind emails.

Reach out to other trusted colleagues when you feel lonely, tired, or lost.

ANNA: Figure out what is important to you, what makes you feel alive and happy and how you can include it in your life.

Anything is achievable if it is truly important to you. If it isn’t, don’t do it. Support others to do the same.

LOUISE: Prioritise and plan. Without this your stress levels are likely to rise. Planning doesn’t mean making a to do list that is too long. I try and pick the top three things I need to do in a day, without fail. Once these are done, everything else is a bonus.

By keeping your to-do list achievable you feel like you’ve succeeded.

If your list has 20 things and you only get through 10, you won’t feel like you’ve achieved what you set out to and you’ll feel more stressed.

I also tell my team to be realistic about their standards – my expectation for them is that they come to work every day and do the best they can and then go home again feeling like they’ve achieved and that they’ve added value to our client’s and customer’s lives.

Without patting ourselves on the back sometimes and realising what value our work has, it just feels like work, and it’s so much more than that.

BEULAH: We do such important work, and it can be hard being in the helping profession to care for your own needs.

I would say that we need to remember that we can’t save the world by ourselves and that we need to take breaks especially after the 2019 bushfire season and the pandemic. The world needs us now more than ever but burning ourselves out is not going to help anyone.

Woman taking a break and planning with a notebook

What’s one piece of advice for others?

VIMI: Our capacity to switch off mentally when transitioning from work to home can be a challenging one! One way to do this is by getting into your 'third space'.

Between your first space (work) and your second space (home), reflect on the day that was, rest by engaging in an activity that will help you be present in mind and body, and reset by intentionally thinking of how you will show up for your next role as a parent/partner/pet owner/or simply yourself.

JENNA: Spend less time feeling anxious about striving for balance, and more time being purposeful with a blend.

KATE: Walk and talk with friends or colleagues. Allow yourself space every day for something you love and that gives you energy.

ANNA: Don’t feel guilty. Fill up your cup before you can fill up everyone else’s. Being the best version of yourself makes you a better professional, a better friend, a better parent, a better athlete, and work colleague.

If some days you don’t succeed keep trying, growing and learning. Success and failure are parts of life. Enjoy the journey despite the challenges. Celebrate your victories no matter how small. This is the ultimate way to achieve balance in your life.

LOUISE: Find your one true thing that gives you joy and make sure you do it regularly. We can’t be at our best at work if we are not fulfilled outside of work.

BEULAH: Block out time to do nothing. This is just as important as being ‘productive’. Allow yourself to just be. You deserve it.

Additional resources

Download these tip sheets from Assure for more insights: