What is the Meaning of Work/Life Balance

Written by Dr Kathy Barrett

I was heartened to see from your contributions to the recent Careers in Research Online Survey in response to the statement “I am satisfied with my work-life balance” that more than half of those of you who responded (66%) agreed or agreed strongly.  I hope that the articles in this blog series on work-life balance helped the remaining 34% of you move in the satisfied direction.

At an early stage in my professional training as a Careers Consultant I was introduced to the theories of Donal Super1.  Super’s theory, summarised by his rainbow (Figure 1), struck several chords with me.  One of these was about work-life balance.  We tend to think about work-life balance as simply between work and life, rather than a complex mix of roles that we take on in our lives.  Super reminds me that work is a part of living and we are free to define for ourselves how big a part it is.

Rainbow 2







Super’s theory says that we take on several different roles during our lifetime.  These are child, student, leisurite, citizen, parent, spouse, homemaker and of course worker.  The amount of time we spend on each of these roles will be defined by our life stage and our priorities.  For example we will be a child for most of our lives, firstly as a dependent child and later potentially as a caring child of an elderly parent.  Most of us will also take on the role of worker, but only intensely from the end of our education to retirement, after which we generally stop working.  The amount of time we spend on each of these roles will also vary, for example it is unusual to be parents before the age of 20 and our children need us less and less as they get older.

The rainbow also reminds me is that there is so much more to life than being a worker.  When considering how to balance our lives towards fulfilment rather than frustration we should take into account all of these roles, their relative importance to us as individuals and the amount of pleasure they each bring.  Of course we also need to consider reality, such as the need to earn enough to keep ourselves and our dependents alive, but would this really mean we need to spend all our waking hours working?

I have seen people gain great insight into how they can make improvements by increasing or decreasing the time spent on one or two of these roles.  Try creating a pie chart of the proportion of your time you actually spend on each of them and a second one of the time proportions you would like to spend, identifying the reasons why you make these distributions.  You may find that it already helps you to improve your perspective on the importance you place on each role and lead to setting a more fulfilling balance.

1. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/089484537500200204

Managing your Workload

By Dr Sarah Robins-Hobden

It’s the nature of the research environment (especially at a research-intensive HEI or institute) that there is much pressure to perform, to publish, to win funding, to build your reputation, to further your career, to collaborate, to contribute, etc. There is potentially more work to do, than hours available in which to do it. Just trying to attempt to keep up could be causing a sense of overwhelm and fatigue. And you might be putting your health and wellbeing second in line behind all that work.

If you are a researcher, you probably don’t need time-management skills – I bet you already have those skills and use them to survive and thrive in the research environment. There may be scope for improvement and refinement, but you might make a bigger impact on your wellbeing and productivity by focusing your efforts on managing your workload, rather than letting it manage you. Here’s why.

Plan for a whole life, not just a work-life

Six reasons why managing your workload is important and will improve your wellbeing:

  1. Reduce stress – function better
  2. Gain clarity on your goals and motivations – increase motivation, enjoy what you do
  3. Decrease time spent on tasks that are less important – reduce frustration and boredom
  4. Release time to spend on other areas of your life outside work – e.g. relationships, family, social, emotional, health
  5. Make progress on the things that really matter to you, rather than just the things that matter to others

Here’s three tips towards taking control of your workload. Do join us for the workshop on the 26th May to discover more, and develop your own personal action plan for taking control of your workload.

Triage new opportunities ruthlessly

Every time you say ‘yes’ to doing something, you are saying ‘no’ to lots of other things. The hours in a day, week, year, and decade are finite. We often say yes to work that we’d really rather not, e.g. If we’re feeling under pressure to give an immediate answer, or if we fear saying no (even though we’re already overloaded) might mean we miss out on an opportunity. If you allocate time to doing things that you don’t enjoy, aren’t rewarding, or don’t move you towards your goals, your workload is not your slave, it is your master. Use the remaining five tips to help you triage your work.

Ideas to experiment with:

  1. Ask yourself what you will not be doing if you accept the task, and whether it is more important to you than the task you are about to accept.
  2. Ask yourself: if this were tomorrow, would I still say yes? We are rubbish at anticipating how we’ll feel in the future, but better at working out how we feel right now. By bringing a future task into our imminent future, we’re better able to decide if we’re doing it because we want to (or it serves our need) or because we feel we ‘ought’ to.

Know what you want and why you want it

Not everyone has a five-year plan, and some of us (e.g. me) don’t have much more than a three-month plan at any given time (I struggle with strategic thinking). No matter the extent of your future vision, working out what you want and why you want it will clarify your goals and motivations. Use this knowledge to guide your workload decisions, and you’ll feel more focused, energised, and purposeful in your work.

Ideas to experiment with:

  1. What are your three most important goals, right now? What would be the next step to move your progress towards them?
  2. Rate your commitment to each of your goals. If it’s less than 8 out of 10, you are unlikely to prioritise working towards that goal. Perhaps you could review your goals (e.g. The desired outcome, timespan, measures, plans, milestones) until you feel more committed.

Pick the sweetest fruit

Look for the added value in the work you take on, and be creative in looking for alternative ways to get that value. For example, if you are tempted to accept a place sitting on a committee or working group, define why you want this opportunity. Pin down which of your goals this would contribute to. Then look around for other opportunities to achieve the same thing, that might be less time-consuming, or more enjoyable to engage with. For example, if your motivation for sitting on the committee is to increase your visibility in your department (rather than because you like committee meetings), then you might achieve the same thing by organising a symposium, exploring the possibility for collaborating with your colleagues, or choosing to engage with more teaching – whatever you feel is more rewarding to you.

Ideas to experiment with:

  1. Analyse what you want to achieve from engaging with a piece of work. Be creative, and list as many possible ways you can think of that would achieve the same result for you.
  2. Then rate all the options for your preference, and actively seek out those opportunities.

Not every tool will work for you – experiment with as many as you like, test them out and discover what’s going to be most useful for you. Ultimately, wrestling your workload under your control, and cultivating self-awareness to better define your direction and motivations will serve you well in freeing up time and headspace to invest in the other areas of your life that contribute to your wellbeing.

Stay on Top of your Wellbeing

By Nudrat Siddiqui 

Most careers, no matter how enjoyable or stimulating, present periods that are stressful. Coupled with the complexities of our personal lives, this can often lead us down a tunnel of self-doubt and low mood. The world of academia is no exception to this phenomenon. The issues you face might not have an immediate, overnight fix, but there are small, basic steps that you can take to shift into a more positive frame of mind and gain perspective on how to tackle these challenges.

Reach Out to Others

As run-of-the-mill as it sounds, repeated research has shown that positive and fulfilling interactions and relationships can boost our sense of worth and wellbeing. Conducting research can be a lonely business with the long hours spent working in solitude in libraries or alongside the same team of people in labs. The number of experiments or book pages that require your attention might seem interminable, but structure in time in your diary to engage in a social activity on a weekly basis. Treat it like an immovable meeting, as it’s easy for plans in our personal lives to get shelved as we give precedence to work commitments.

Is there a hobby or activity that you’ve been considering pursuing? Take a class or join a group that engages in it and forge new contacts along the way. The Modern Language Centre offers lunchtime, evening, and weekend classes on 23 different languages that are discounted for staff. Put your vocal cords and writing abilities to the test by joining King’s Staff Choir and King’s Staff Writing Group, VIP Wordsmiths.

For the occasions when you don’t feel up to venturing outside to connect with others, join an online community such as EleFriends, which is run by mental health charity, Mind, to share experiences and gain support virtually.

Learn Resilience Techniques

Invest time in learning skills and techniques from professionals to buffer challenges. To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, the Centre for Research Staff Development is running courses throughout the month of May to equip you with practical skills to beat various hurdles, from Imposter Phenomenon to excessive workloads. Don’t forget that you are entitled to take ten days of professional and personal development training per year.


Transiently distancing ourselves from our problems and contributing some of our time and talents into a cause that helps others can be enormously motivating and fulfilling, while also offering a space in which to meet others and reassess how we perceive our own issues. Explore volunteering opportunities around London here.

Be Active

Sometimes the spike in adrenaline that comes with sports and fitness activities can go a long way in helping us feel more positive about certain situations. Slot in regular time to play a sport or work out. If you’re not sure about what the best fitness activity for you is, sample some of the free fitness classes that King’s Sport is running this month on a range of sports from jujitsu to Pilates.

If you’ve tried all these things and your low mood still persists, don’t hesitate to seek professional help by engaging with the Employee Assistance ProgrammeKing’s Counselling or speaking to your GP.  A healthy and happy mind will put you in good stead to face whatever comes your way.


Mental Health and Stress

Written by Dr Tracy Bussoli

Everyone is talking about it these days! Celebrities such as Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry have been discussing it for a while and now Prince Harry and the Duke of Duchess of Cambridge have jumped on the band waggon. We are, of course, talking about mental health.

Statistics from the Mental Health Charity, Mind, state that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue every year and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as anxiety, each week.  Despite all the publicity, Mind suggests that the incidence of mental health problems has not increased significantly over the last few years but worries around issues such as money and jobs are making it more difficult for people to cope.

The Guardian’s  Academics Anonymous covers the topic of mental health in academia on a regular basis. One recent contributor highlighted how difficult it is to look at negative student feedback as their depression makes it impossible to look at the comments objectively to improve their teaching. A 2014 study by the University and College Union (UCU) also stated that 64% of the 2250 UCU members surveyed said their stress levels were either high or very high.

So why is it so important to keep our stress levels ‘in check’ and maintain good mental health? Put simply, when we are free of anxiety, depression, excessive stress and worry, addictions and other mental health issues, we work productively and live our life to the fullest. This means that we are more able to handle the natural ups and downs of life and the challenges that it throws at us, which is essential in the tough world of academia today.

So how much stress is too much? The stress response curve created by Nixon in 1979 (below) shows that a certain amount of stress or arousal serves as a motivator and encourages us to stay engaged and focussed on our work. However, too much stress can tip us into an area where our performance is impaired and our mental health suffers.

Nixon Stress Response Updated

Nixon’s Stress Response Curve

The blogs in this series will provide some tips and advice on how to keep our mental health in check and ensure that we are working either within our comfort zone, if that is where we want to be, or at the peak of our performance, just beyond our comfort zone!