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We sleep for approx. 2,555 hours each year. Leaving 4,536 hours for ‘life’. This suggests that work is 19% of our existence, we sleep for 29% and ‘life’(including holidays and weekends) is 52%.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) indicated in 2013 that in the UK the average annual hours worked was 1,654. We sleep for approx. 2,555 hours each year. Leaving 4,536 hours for ‘life’. This suggests that work is 19% of our existence, we sleep for 29% and ‘life’(including holidays and weekends) is 52%.

Does this reflect your experience? Do these percentages sound right to you?

Is your work/life balance 1 / 1.7? In other words, do you have nearly twice as much time for ‘life’ than you have for work?

My experience is that knowledge of these statistics causes emotions of incredulity, resentment and disbelief in some employees, whilst others agree with them wholeheartedly.

The above figures are average working hours and many people today have varied working arrangement options. There are patterns that focus on:

  • How much time an employee works – full time, part time, job sharing, term-time working and overtime options
  • When employees do their work – flexitime, compressed working hours, annualised working hours, shift work and home working
  • Breaks from work – maternity, paternity, sabbatical
  • Company benefits (childcare, elder care, phased or flexible retirement)

There are many emotions induced by work/life balance (or lack of it) and even some of the above arrangements, designed to improve the balance, have been found by some to be stress (ill health) inducing.

Guilt and resentment are the most common emotions I encounter in relation to work/life balance. Comments like “I never saw my children grow up, I was working so hard” and “I seem to be constantly juggling work, children, parents and shopping and getting very little right” as well “as I love gardening/golf/swimming but I never seem to have any time for it!” Such emotions, if unchecked, flood the body with their associated chemicals causing illness and malaise.

Earlier, I made the comment that some people believe they have cracked the balance between working and ‘living’. These people are usually clearly focussed individuals who have assessed their life and clarified their priorities; they have a high level of control over what they accept and usually negotiate well to get the balance they want. The higher up an organisation people are, the more control they should have, but if they have an addictive work habit, all the control in the world will not stop them over working.

What is the answer? I guess it is as individual as each one of us and we need to be clear what we want out of work and life before we can begin to attempt to achieve it.


Ann McCracken is a Director of AMC2 and the vice president of the International Management Association (ISMA UK) – the professional body for stress management Practitioners.

She specialises in developing a positive and resilient working culture in organisations by introducing effective strategies in performance and wellbeing at all levels. The effectiveness of such a positive working culture is measured and assessed using AMC2 Corporate Diagnostic innovative surveys which include measurement of psychosocial factors, stress and wellbeing. Having initially trained as a scientist, she carried out research with DEFRA and consultancy in the NHS.

She spent 10 years in Education before retraining as a stress management practitioner in 1996. She is the author of Stress Gremlins©, regularly writes/broadcasts and is an external lecturer at Westminster University. She is also a Key Note/Motivational speaker/Conference Chair.

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