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Work and family balanceConsciously relaxing in the face of work-life stress

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3/4 of Dutch mothers find it difficult or impossible to combine work and family, and 30% suffer constant stress. As a young parent, how do you find enough time to relax at work and in your private life? Occupational psychologist Prof. Dr. Maria Peeters explores the options.

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Career and parenthood - this combination demands a lot from modern people. Research conducted by the childcare agency Sitly shows that Dutch parents are struggling to balance work and family life. Women in particular experience a lot of pressure: 62% of mothers do not find any time for themselves next to work, family and household chores. 30% experience constant stress since having children, 44% feel inadequate in terms of their family commitments and no less than 52% would prefer to give up their careers for their children if they could.

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From stress to burnout

These figures are shocking, but are no surprise to Prof. Dr. Maria Peeters. As an occupational and organisation psychologist, professor at the University of Eindhoven and senior lecturer at the University of Utrecht, she regularly encounters studies like this. 'This friction leads to many problems. It can start off as something small: from exhaustion and stress to giving less attention to your work private lives, mental and physical issues, tensions in your relationship or marriage, and of course burnout. 1 in 7 working people have issues with burnout'.

Inadequacy

Working mothers with young children in particular often feel inadequate when dealing with both work and family. You can guess the cause. Peeters: 'This is because there is still a strong culture of motherhood in the Netherlands, with women traditionally feeling more responsible for childcare duties than men. Women are also more likely to feel guilty. This final factor is a major cause of stress'.

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'Family-friendliness'

The core of the problem is not so much the number of working hours, says Peeters. 'A full-time job must be able to be combined with family life. Where it goes wrong is when there is a lack of 'family-friendliness'. Do employees and management think it is normal that you want to be home on time for your children? Do they accept it when young parents have to say 'no' to overtime? It is not only a question of whether facilities are flexible and sufficient on paper, it is also about a mutual atmosphere'.

Micro, meso and macro pauses

According to Peeters, the solution is made up of two parts. 'The first is a family-friendly working culture in which colleagues do not see each other as 'production units' but as people, with respect and regard for each other's private lives'. Additionally, according to Peeters, taking enough long and short 'recovery moments' at work helps enormously. 'These are crucial for reducing stress. There are three levels: micro, meso and macro pauses. Micro pauses are the moments between different tasks. Meso pauses are coffee and lunch breaks, and macro pauses are weekends and holidays. You can keep stress at bay by consciously using all three of these'.

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Werk en privé duurzaam in evenwicht houden

Latest trend: job crafting

Another way of getting a better work-life balance is through job crafting. Peeters gives regular training sessions about these: 'We first help people to gain insight into matters at work which use up energy and things that provide energy. What do you want less of, and what do you want more of? People often mention things like 'good social contact with colleagues/management', 'a nicer workplace' and 'more feedback on my roles'. If you can become aware of these things, small changes can help achieve a lot and get rid of a lot of stress'.

Consciously plan moments of relaxation

Look for relaxation

Less stress at work is one thing: you need more in order to maintain a work-life balance. For this you need to consciously plan moments of relaxation. In addition to running around after things, you will also have the chance to relax together, for example during weekend breaks and holidays. 'Making time for the things you like certainly helps', adds Peeters. 'Hiking, skiing, enjoying a bike ride or just a lazy afternoon on the beach. This gets rid of stress'. According to Peeters, these beneficial effects last the longest if you ensure you do not fall back into old habits once you have returned to the hectic pace of everyday life. In order to permanently combine your work and private lives, you sometimes have to change the structure of things. Peeters: 'Dare to make choices: you don't have to want everything and excel in all fields'.

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