Work-Life Balance – moving towards a more integrated approach.

Maintaining a work-life balance has grown to mean maintaining a strict separation between your work life and the rest of your life. As technology has developed we bemoan the blurring of that separation seeing it as both the cause and a symptom of stress.

Some of us do jobs where the distinction is an absolute. We work in jobs where we have to be in a certain place during our working hours. We don’t have flexibility or autonomy. But many of us do. We work flexi-time, or part of our time from home, we are in creative roles, we work for ourselves or we are lucky enough to work for an organisation that focuses on our achievements and not the hours we are sat at a desk.

Continue reading Work-Life Balance – moving towards a more integrated approach.

Unaffordable Britain

There was an article in The Guardian this week about young Brits leaving London for more affordable Berlin. The reason people gave for leaving London were high rents and long working hours:

“I was working seven days a week and paying £800 for a shared flat in Lewisham. We kept moving further and further into south-east London, until I felt the need to leave entirely.” (Dani Berg)

Consumer prices are 30% less, and rental costs are 70% lower in Berlin. The downside of this of course is that rents are now being driven up much to the resentment of Berliners.

The idea that the UK has become unaffordable has really struck a cord with me. I live in the expensive South of England (my husband has his business here) – we are back in a rented property struggling to find a house that we can afford or that we want to live in. We both run our own businesses and work hard (“hardworking people” is a phrase I have grown to dislike since its cross party adoption). I have a number of friends who in recent years have fallen off the property ladder and now acknowledge that they are unlikely to ever get back on. I have come to realise how precarious our financial lives are; and they shouldn’t be.

Work is important, I know that it is good for our physical and mental health but it is not the be-all and end-all of our lives. Having time for family and friends, for relaxation, for cultivating other interests, for exercise, for academic pursuits – are all things that we know are protective factors for keeping us physically and mentally strong – and for giving us a more fulfilling life. But life has become so expensive that for many of us we can not afford to do anything other than work extensive hours or pursue uncomfortable promotion in order to afford the mortgage of a property we don’t get to enjoy because we are working so hard.

I don’t know the answers; I know it is going to get worse for younger generations as property prices become more and more unaffordable. First time buyers are now spending 30% to 40% more on their first homes than they would have done in 1969. I feel caught between my parents’ generation who have benefited from the increase in property prices and my son’s generation for whom home ownership isn’t even a tangible dream. Something has to change, or the impact on our health of the mortgage treadmill will become even more devastating.

Are You Addicted To Your Work?

addicted to work


Do you just love your job, or are you a workaholic?

Researchers from the University of Bergen have identified seven criteria to measure work addiction. If you reply ‘often’ or ‘always’ to at least four of these criteria, then there is some indication that you may be a workaholic:
1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.
2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.
3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and/or depression.
4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
6. You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of work.
7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

There is a very strong element of compulsiveness, rigidity and excessiveness in the behaviour of workaholics. This isn’t just about enjoying your work and/or working long hours, or making sacrifices as you build your career or business. This is about compulsive behaviour that damages your relationships and your health. The same core symptoms your see in workaholism you see in drug addiction such as working to escape something, withdrawal symptoms, negative impact on other areas of your life, and problems with relapse.

Workaholism isn’t as yet a formal diagnosis so we don’t have a developed set of treatments to offer people, but the need is certainly there. Studies suggest the prevalence rate for workaholism is somewhere between 5% and 10%.

If, looking at this list, you can see that work is actively damaging you health and your relationships – then it really is time to do something about it. Visit your GP to ask about talking therapies, speak to a mental health professional or visit our website to see how we can help.


Cecilie Schou Andreassen et al (2014) The Prevalence of Workaholism: A Survey Study in a Nationally Representative Sample of Norweigan Employees. PLoS ONE, 9(8)

Three Steps to Problem Solving

thinking2One of the things that we love at WorkGuru is evidenced-based practice. Finding the things that we know work – not just because experience tells us so (which is always important) but also because academic research has proven that it works.

There are many different problem-solving techniques out there, the one that we are going to describe has been adapted from Self-Examination Therapy by psychologists at the University of Amsterdam (see reference below), we have also included further refinements based on our experience of using this technique both on ourselves and with other people.

There are three stages in this process:
1. Reconnect with the things that really matter to you.
2. Describe and prioritise your problems.
3. Identify and implement solutions.

 Reconnect With The Things That Really Matter to You

It is helpful to begin a problem solving process by reconnecting with the things that really matter to you. This helps you to learn to focus your energy on things that are important (and to begin to let go of the things that aren’t important).

We all have core values; deeply held beliefs about what we think are important or are good. These are the things that make our lives meaningful – but they are also the things that we can become disconnected from. As we get on the treadmill of life we can forget about the values that give our life purpose. Spend some time reconnecting with those values. In the WorkGuru on-line stress management programme you are invited to complete 2 questionnaires; a questionnaire on life values and a questionnaire on work values. Both of these are really useful as they help lead you through a process that enables you to identify and prioritise your values.

If you don’t have access to the site you can imagine the advice that the adult you would give to the child you about the things that are important in life – what are the snippets of wisdom about life and work that you would pass on to the child you?

Another exercise that may be useful is to imagine your own obituary. What do you think people might say about you when you die, and what would you LIKE them to say about you.

Both of these exercises can help you to reconnect with the things that are important to you.

Describe and Prioritise Your Problems

Brainstorm the things that are bothering you, write a list of all the things that are currently worrying you. Reflect on the list in relation to your core values. Are these problems important? Do they deserve your energy to help solve them?

In WorkGuru we describe the Control, Influence, Accept model of stress reduction. In this model you look at each problem and ask yourself:

Can I CONTROL it? The only things in life that you can directly control is yourself and your decisions. It is a waste of valuable energy to try and control things (or people) that you have no control over.

Can I INFLUENCE it? There are many situations and people that we don’t have direct control over (our kids, our colleagues, our parents) but we can influence them.

Can I ACCEPT it? If you cannot control and you cannot influence the problem, the only course of action left available to you is to learn to accept it and to let it go. Worrying and complaining about the situation will only take up your valuable energy (and exhaust the people around you) and take away your focus from the problems that you can do something about. To look at ways of learning to let go have a look at our blog on rumination.

When you have identified the difficulties that you can control or you can influence, write them down:

On a scale of 1 to 10 how important is each one to you?

On a scale of 1 to 10 how much energy/commitment do you have to solving each problem?

Identify the problems that are important to you and that you are committed to solving. These are the problems to start working on. It doesn’t mean you ignore the other problems, just that you wait until they become more important or you are more committed to working on them.

 Identify and Implement Solutions

In WorkGuru we have a module on creative ways to problem solve. One creative way is reverse brainstorming. This follows similar lines to brainstorming, so you:

  • Write down as many solutions as possible without evaluating or editing the ideas at this stage – you just get them all down on paper.
  • You then decide what criteria you are going to use to judge your ideas (are they cost effective, are they practical, are they realistic, is it within your gift etc?) and edit your ideas using these criteria.

When you Reverse Brainstorm, instead of seeking solutions to your problems you brainstorm the things you could be doing to exasperate them! So for example if you are having problems with certain colleagues instead of identifying possible solutions to that problem you would look at ways that you could make the problems even worse.

After you have brain stormed all the things you could be doing to make the problem worse, you then reverse those factors to begin to see how you could be creating solutions. You then evaluate the reversed solutions using the same process as brainstorming (identifying the criteria you are going to use to evaluate and crossing out the solutions that don’t meet that criteria).

Select your preferred solutions and put them into a SMART goal format (Specific. Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed) to help you achieve and monitor them.

This process may feel complicated, but working through it one step at a time really will help you to identify the difficulties with focusing on and identify workable, pragmatic solutions to those problems.

friendsAND FINALLY and most importantly, if you are experiencing problems ask for help. Difficulties can feel less insurmountable when more than one person is looking for a solution.





Warmerdam, L., van Straten, A., Twisk, J., Cuijpers, P., (2013) Predicting outcome of Internet-based treatment for depressive symptoms Psychotherapy Research 23(5)

Are You Suffering From Nomophobia?

mobileDo you answer yes to a number of these questions? The chances are you could be suffering from nomophobia – the fear of being out of phone contact:

1. Do you regularly use a mobile phone and spend considerable time on it?
2. Do you have one or more devices and always carry a charger?
3. Do you feel anxious or nervous at the thought of losing your handset or when you can’t use your phone because it has been misplaced, doesn’t have coverage, has a flattened battery or lack of credit?
4. Do you avoid as much as possible places and situations in which you cannot use your mobile phone?
5. Do you constantly look at your phone’s screen to see whether messages or calls have been received?
6. Do you keep your mobile phone switched on 24 hours a day, and sleep with it next to you?
7. Do you prefer to communicate using technology rather than face-to-face?
8. Do you incur debt or great expense from using your mobile phone?

I defy most of us to not answer positively to many of those questions, suggesting that we are suffering from nomophobia.

Nomophobia (named by conflating ‘no mobile’ and ‘phobia’) describes discomfort, anxiety, nervousness or anguish caused by being out of contact with a mobile phone or computer – it is the fear of remaining out of touch with technology.

According to a 2008 survey by the post office more than 13 million British people are suffering from it, which is about 53% of mobile phone users.

Academics are making the argument for the inclusion of nomophobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is currently in its fifth version and is the standard classification of mental disorders in the United States and influential around the world.

But does this really describe a new psychiatric disorder, or does it describe for many of us the reality of living and working in a modern world?

The Helsinki Institute for Information technology has found that, on average, people check their phones 34 times a day. ‘Over dependence’ on our phones and/or other technology doesn’t necessarily describe a new medical condition it could just be a sign that much of our work and social lives are now conducted on our mobile phones.

Yes for some people this anxiety will be very real and disabling, and it’s absolutely essential for them to be seeking professional psychological help to help them manage that anxiety. But for most of us we just need to practice prudence and common sense.

• Keep your work mobile phone and your personal mobile phone separate. That way you can turn off your work mobile phone at night or when you are on holiday.
• Even if you use your mobile phone as an alarm clock, most handsets will allow you to turn off the ring tone but still use it as an alarm clock.
• Very few of us have jobs where we have to be instantly contactable. Let your phone go to voice mail and respond to the call at a more convenient time.
• Turning off your phone means turning it off – not putting it on vibrate. The constant vibration of your phone is just as annoying as the ringing.
• Before sending that text message or making that call, stop and think – do you really need to communicate that message now? Is it essential that your partner knows what you had for lunch, or that your office knows that you are delayed by 5 minutes or that you are ‘just coming into the station’ – or can that news wait until you see them face-to-face?

If you want to cut back on your mobile phone use, then lead by example – cut back on your communication and other people will follow your example. Manage your technology, don’t let it manage you.

For more information:

Bragazzi, N.L., Del Puente, G., (2014) A Proposal for Including Nomophobia in the new DSM. Psychol Res Behav Manag 7 155-160