Being a researcher is a demanding role and it is rarely a nine-to-five job! However, it is important for your physical and mental well-being to maintain a balance between work and the rest of your life.
Maintaining a healthy work/life balance can be especially difficult for researchers who have young families or caring responsibilities. Fortunately, institutions are now required to provide extra support for staff in these situations, including flexible and part-time working arrangements if needed. The Equality and Diversity pages on this site have more details of these options.
Make time for you
There can be many pressures on a researcher to work long hours. The need to have papers written or results to present at a conference; deadlines for funding applications; the necessity of juggling activities which compete for your time. In some research institutions a ‘long hours’ culture can develop, where researchers routinely stay on site well beyond their contracted hours. In these circumstances, pressure from your peers or even your line manager can make you feel that you have to do the same.
The ‘long hours’ approach is rarely very efficient – or very effective, if it becomes a habit. It can develop into a source of stress and have an adverse effect on your health. So make sure that you plan some time when you can disengage from your research and do something that is completely unrelated.
Some ways of doing this include the following:
- take proper lunch breaks. The law requires your employer to allow you regular breaks, so make sure you get some benefit from these
- join a sports club or exercise class
- take up a creative activity – such as art, crafts, creative writing, or playing a musical instrument
- consider doing some voluntary work – ideally, somewhere that is unconnected with your university or research institute
- keep in touch with your friends. Make regular time to see them.
These activities will stimulate different parts of your brain, and help you to maintain all-round mental wellbeing. They can improve your physical health and boost your energy levels, helping to reduce stress. They can ensure that you leave work on time in the evenings and avoid the ‘long hours’ trap. And they help you to connect with people outside your everyday work environment.
Your institution may have facilities like sports clubs, a gym or evening classes which you can join at a discounted rate as a member of staff.
Get away from it all
Another one of your employment rights is the right to time away from work in the form of annual leave. It is surprising how many researchers are reluctant to use their annual leave allowance, or feel pressured into not taking the holidays that they are entitled to.
Make sure that you do take all your annual leave. This is an opportunity to ‘get away from it all’, spend quality time with family and friends, and perhaps visit new places and meet new people. It is a truism that “a change is as good as a rest” – most researchers return from leave feeling mentally refreshed and better able to tackle the stresses of the job.
Eat healthily, stay fit
It may seem obvious, but looking after yourself means eating regular meals, enough fruit and vegetables, and being aware of your intake of alcohol, fat and sugar.
Regular exercise and sufficient sleep are also important to keep the mind and body at its most effective and to maintain a balanced outlook.